PHILADELPHIA (AP) For seven winding years in exile, Temple morphed from winless to bowl winners, played as an independent and a mid-major, always with eyes on the prize of returning to the conference that gave the Owls the boot.
The wait is over. Finally, Temple has come back to the Big East.
No hard feelings.
The Owls will play Saturday against South Florida in their first game as a Big East team since they predictably lost 34-17 to Boston College on Nov. 20, 2004. Led by second-year coach Steve Addazio, the Owls hope they play their way into the win column faster than they did in their first miserable Big East stint: They lost every Big East game from 1991-1994, until finally beating Pittsburgh 29-27 on Oct. 14, 1995.
The Owls would go almost two years before winning another Big East game.
Losing was an accepted fact of life for the Owls in their 14-year run of futility in the Big East.
They won only 14 conference games over that span - with five of those wins over Rutgers. Perhaps their two most memorable games were against Virginia Tech. They beat the No. 14 Hokies on the road 28-24 in 1998 for one of two conference wins that season. In 2003 at Lincoln Financial Field, the Owls lost 24-23 to the No. 12 Hokies when they missed a tying extra point in overtime.
``Ten years from now nobody's going to remember who won this game. They'll remember how they played in it,'' Temple coach Bobby Wallace said after the loss.
Odds are, if a team played against Temple, they'd remember they won.
When the automatic wins were no longer worth the embarrassment of being attached to an unsuitable team like Temple, the Big East ousted the program.
The Owls were evicted from the Big East after 14 years for failing to meet minimum requirements for membership, most notably in attendance, facilities and fielding a competitive team.
Fast forward to Saturday's homecoming game at The Linc.
Times change - and so do pick-pocketed conferences stretched coast-to-coast in desperate need of teams. Temple was the ugly duckling that ditched the glasses, straightened the hair, lost the pocket protector and became more attractive the second time around.
``We don't resemble the Temple program or the culture that was asked to leave the Big East in January `01,'' Temple AD Bill Bradshaw said.
Temple might be out of the football business had the program continued down the path it was stuck on when the Big East gave it the heave ho. The Owls went 1-22 as an independent and the future was as bleak as the past it left behind.
``We were an independent and it was disastrous. It was disastrous on many fronts,'' Bradshaw said. ``If you're not Notre Dame, Army or Navy, you don't have a chance as an independent.''
They found their footing and their home under coach Al Golden in the Mid-American Conference. Before bolting for Miami, Golden was doing his best Bill Snyder impersonation to resurrect the Owls among the football living. He went under the hood of the program and recruited kids on blind faith that they could play a part in a special turnaround. Sure enough, one win turned to four wins and that turned into the program's first bowl game since 1979.
Addazio was hired last season and led the Owls to a 9-4 record and a win in the New Mexico bowl.
The Owls set a team record for wins in three consecutive seasons (26) from 2009-11, won nine games twice, and won their second bowl win in school history and first since 1979 over that span.
Addazio addressed the Owls (1-2) this week and told them he could not wait to kick off a Big East season.
``I was just really fired up,'' he said. ``I was like, here we go, we're in Big East conference play.''
The Owls have a sturdier foundation for their second run in the Big East, even if the final record won't look that much different this season.
``Every way. Name what way,'' Addazio said. ``The university is totally committed to this in terms of the resources to put the facilities in place, to be able to fund the program properly, the commitment of the whole athletic department, everything. It's real clear that everyone at Temple is aligned.''
The largest impact of Temple's addition, though, may be in men's basketball next season. The Owls give the league another perennially strong program to help make up for the eventual losses of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Owls were picked to finish last in the Big East and, because of quirks in the schedule necessitated by the conference move, are coming off their second off week.
``You can argue that last year or the year before would have been a better time to come into the Big East,'' Bradshaw said. ``But timing is sometimes interesting. I'm certain that we'll be back in the Big East competing for the championship soon.''
South Florida knows how difficult it can be chasing a conference title. The Bulls have yet to win a Big East title, much less flirt again with the level of success they achieved while climbing to No. 2 in the country in October 2007. An uncharacteristic 2-3 start has drawn attention to a shaky won-loss record that suggests USF's meteoric rise not only has leveled off, but is in gradual decline.
``We can win conference championships here. We can win national championships here,'' coach Skip Holtz said.
The Owls, once headed for extinction, would gladly settle for their first winning record in the Big East.
That journey starts Saturday.