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Temple expects better results in Big East sequel

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PHILADELPHIA (AP)

The Big East preseason poll was released, and there were the Temple Owls, picked to finish in last place.

It was like 2004 all over again. Or 2003. Or 1995 and 1996.

Heck, pick any season the Owls played in the Big East their first time around and the odds are strong that one of the worst programs in college football history would be buried at the bottom of the conference standings.

The Big East had plenty of strong reasons to shove Temple out the door almost a decade ago. But there are just as many factors why the conference reversed course and put out the welcome mat in 2012.

The Owls return to the Big East for the first time since 2004, not, as the media poll would suggest, as the same pushovers that put the program on the brink of extinction.

Under second-year coach Steve Addazio, these Owls are for real. These Owls are proven winners.

''I always felt this would happen for us,'' Addazio said. ''It was a natural fit. The program was in the right direction for it to happen. It was really, honestly, the right thing to do. It should have happened, and it did.''

Bring on Pittsburgh and Syracuse and Louisville. Just forget about those 62-0 losses.

There's a heavy dose of optimism around the team thanks to a string of three straight winning seasons, two bowls over that span, and unanimous support of the program from the top of the administration on down to the deep-pocketed boosters.

Oh, and don't forget Addazio, a high-energy motivator, rallying the team with his ''Vitamin Addazio'' speeches.

He vowed the dark days at Temple are over.

''We had a run that wasn't very productive for a while,'' Addazio said. ''It just all come together negatively at one point in time.''

Talk about an understatement. The Owls had 10 seasons of one or two victories spanning their Big East years of 1991-2004. The Owls were evicted from the Big East after 13 years for failing to meet minimum requirements for membership, most notably in attendance, facilities and fielding a competitive team.

Forget getting voted out of the Big East, the Owls were almost voted out of Temple.

The team received a second life in 2004 when a panel decided by one vote to keep the program alive. Temple Athletic Director Bill Bradshaw worked an arrangement to get the Owls in the Mid-American Conference, but not before suffering more lean seasons.

The Owls found misery in two seasons as an independent - a 1-22 record, that included a 1-11 mark in former coach Al Golden's first season in 2006.

But Golden rallied the Owls in the MAC to four wins, then five. Golden led them to a 9-4 record in 2009 for the first winning record since 1990 and their first bowl game since 1979. Golden left for Miami a year later and Addazio, plucked from Urban Meyer's staff at Florida, kept the transformation alive with a 9-4 season and a win in the New Mexico Bowl.

With the Big East on life support, as members defected, and with no long-term TV deal in place, the conference needed new members in a hurry.

Enter a revitalized Temple.

The school bolted the MAC for a fresh start in the Big East for football this season and all other sports in 2013. Temple's other programs, including men's basketball, will remain in the Atlantic 10 this year.

''We've had a buzz since I got here and it hasn't slowed down,'' Addazio said.

The university is putting the finishing touches on a $10 million, 15,000-square-foot expansion and refurbishment of the football complex.

Up next, it's time to decorate.

Addazio is putting his national championship rings from Florida in a trophy case to wow recruits and Temple's bowl trophy will find a new home. Bradshaw said solid plans are in place for an indoor practice facility and the Owls remain locked in to playing at the home of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.

The Owls originally hoped home games at Lincoln Financial Field would help attract top recruits. With the rare exception of Penn State helping to pack the place, crowds are thin, and the dreary atmosphere can sap the fun out of what the Owls envision as a lively, 30,000-fan, home-field advantage.

''There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that if we continue to play well and win,'' Addazio said, ''the fan base will keep rising and rising.''

The coach also said, in three years, he'd, ''be surprised if this isn't a 35- to 40,000-a-game deal.''

This season will be tough, though. There are no expected victories like in the MAC days and there's a concerning lack of depth. The Owls only return nine starters. Quarterback Chris Coyer was selected the New Mexico Bowl's offensive MVP, and Matt Brown and Montel Harris form a talented backfield, but there's not much after them.

Before the Big East kicks off, the Owls open the season Aug. 31 against Villanova in the annual Mayor's Cup game. Then it's Sept. 8 vs. Maryland and a Sept. 22 game at Penn State, before the Owls play South Florida in their first Big East game since a 34-17 loss to Boston College on Nov. 20, 2004.

''I'm not delusional, I know it's going to be tough,'' Addazio said. ''But I know we've got a group of guys that, if we're healthy, we'll compete.''

Tagged: Temple, Florida

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