Al Golden finally feels like a football coach again. For the better part of his four years on the sideline at Temple, which has had three winning seasons in the last 30 years, a sizable chunk of his duties concerned matters having little to do with X's and O's. Instead of worrying about all the games the Owls were losing—25 of 35 from 2006 through '08—he lost sleep over a raft of disciplinary issues and academic sanctions that didn't allow him a full complement of 85 scholarship players until this season. The way Golden sees it, he has been playing Division I-A football with a I-AA roster. It took a toll: By the end of last season he had put on 50 pounds.
This is an article from the Nov. 16, 2009 issue
This year is different. A slimmed-down Golden has raised Temple from the ashes. After nipping Miami (Ohio) 34--32 on a field goal in the final seconds last Thursday night, the Owls are 7--2 overall and 5--0 in the Mid-American Conference. They're also eligible for their first bowl game since 1979. "I'm not the dean of discipline anymore," says Golden. "This is the first year that every coach on this staff has gotten to do what we do best."
Temple has received a major boost from the emergence of true-freshman running back Bernard Pierce, who is third in the country with 134.6 rushing yards per game. Against the Redhawks the 6-foot, 212-pound workhorse ran for 178 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries, toting the ball 15 times in the third quarter alone.
Pierce is the sort of player Temple might have missed before Golden arrived after five years as an assistant at Virginia. While predecessor Bobby Wallace pursued far-flung junior college transfers, Golden has emphasized a local approach, rarely pursuing players who live more than a three-hour drive from Philadelphia. The roster boasts 68 players from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Pierce was a football and track standout at suburban Philly's Glen Mills School—as a senior he ran the 100 meters in a state-best 10.6 seconds—who didn't want to stray far from his mother and grandmother. Golden offered him the chance to be the centerpiece of an offense that runs the ball 65.6% of the time.
Nobody's ready to pencil Temple into the BCS just yet. After season-opening losses to I-AA Villanova and to Penn State, the Owls have beaten teams with a combined record of 19--46 (though the 27--24 victory at Navy on Oct. 31 looks better after the Midshipmen's 23--21 victory over Notre Dame last Saturday). But with games left against Akron, Kent State and Ohio, 10 wins and a spot in the MAC championship game are very real possibilities.
Now on SI.com
Look for the SI 16-team playoff bracket and poll every Sunday at SI.com/bonus