Temple Football Ranked for First Time Since 1979

The Owls are 24th in the coaches' poll and 22nd in the media poll. How high can the Owls realistically go?

 Temple Owls head coach Matt Rhule reacts against the UCF Knights during the second half at Lincoln Financial Field. The Temple Owls won 30-16. | Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Temple Owls head coach Matt Rhule reacts against the UCF Knights during the second half at Lincoln Financial Field. The Temple Owls won 30-16. | Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Temple Owls are now ranked in both the coaches’ and sportswriters’ polls. In football.

We’ve been charting Temple’s success for a few weeks now. The Owls are now 6-0, tied for the best start in team history, after their 30-16 win over Central Florida on Saturday night. Temple is now eligible for a bowl game.

As a result, Temple is ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press Top 25 media poll, and is No. 24 in the USA Today coaches Top 25. Per Temple, it’s the first time the Owls have been ranked in the AP poll since 1979, and the first time they’ve made the coaches’ poll since USA Today began sponsoring it in 1991.

Sophomore running back Jahad Thomas ran for three touchdowns in Saturday’s come-from-behind win; he scored twice in the fourth to help Temple rally from a 16-14 deficit. (Yes, Temple went for two successfully after each fourth-quarter TD. How fun!) Thomas rushed 31 times for 199 yards. He has 756 yards (5.2 yards a carry) and 10 touchdowns this season.

“I’m really proud of our players and it’s a tribute to them that people have noticed how they have played to this point,” Temple head football coach Matt Rhule said. “I am thrilled that we have been able to get off to a 6-0 start. But I’ll repeat what I have said before, it’s a long season and I’ll be happier if we can finish the year ranked among the best in the country.”

So how high could Temple conceivably go? What’s the highest they could be ranked? Could the Owls go undefeated?

As for an undefeated season, there’s not really much of a precedent. In recent years, only the 2008 Utah Utes and the 2006 Boise State Broncos began the season unranked and finished undefeated.

But Temple… will not go undefeated. The Owls are 2-point underdogs for Thursday’s game against ECU. They will be huge underdogs at home against Notre Dame on Halloween. They could be underdogs at home against currently-undefeated Memphis on November 21st; the Tigers beat Ole Miss on Saturday and are currently ranked 18th by AP. There is an infinitesimal chance Temple finishes the season 12-0, wins the American Athletic Conference championship game, then wins a bowl. (If this miracle stretch were to happen, the 14-0 Owls would finish in the top-10.)

The key game is Thursday night against ECU. East Carolina is good, but they’re only 4-3. They’ve played a much tougher schedule than the Owls, and are playing at home, so they’re favored. Lose to an unranked 4-3 team and Temple might not make the rankings again this year. But win and go to 7-0 with a game against Notre Dame to come, and Temple lines itself up for an extended stay in the Top 25. (Even if they lose to the Fighting Irish, putting up a good fight should keep them in the polls.)

Realistically, Temple can end the season ranked if it only drops 1 or 2 games the rest of the way, wins the American conference championship game and wins its bowl game. It’s going to be a tough order. But Temple has won its first 6 games of the season, a start no one saw coming. Who knows what the future will bring?

The Owls play East Carolina on the road on Thursday at 7 p.m. It’s on ESPN2. Win big, and they could be moving up into the top-20 by the time Notre Dame comes into town on Halloween!