Finding out you’re playing Duke in a postseason game often can ruin your appetite.
But no offense to Duke’s David Cutcliffe, these aren’t Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils — filled with All Americans and surefire NBA Lottery picks — the Temple Owls will be facing them on Dec. 27 in the Walks-On’s Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
However, that’s not to suggest this 7-5 Duke team that finished sixth in the ACC but beat bowl-bound Army and Northwestern along the way will be a pushover for Geoff Collins’ gang.
Yet, it’s certainly a game the 8-4 Owls can win, especially when you consider they’ve already knocked off Maryland, Navy, Houston, South Florida and gave unbeaten Central Florida a big scare this season in Orlando, FL.
For Temple’s seniors, who’ll be going to a bowl game for a school-record fourth straight year, while becoming the winningest class in school history (35), it’s a chance to put a cap on their memorable careers.
“As the all-time winningest class we want to leave our mark,” said defensive tackle Michael Dogbe, who recalls the skepticism around him when he was being recruited to join a 2-10 Temple team.
“There wasn’t much to say about the program then. What motivated a lot of guys was the opportunity to change the program,” he said.
“Being part of that turnaround and making Temple a winning team means a lot. I think back to my freshman year when we went 6-6 and unable to go to a bowl game, and seeing seniors like Kenny Harper tell us not to let that happen again.”
And to Temple’s credit, they haven’t. Over the last three years, the Owls have played Toledo, Wake Forest and Florida International in the Boca Raton, Military and Gasparilla Bowls, respectively, dropping the first two before posting a 28-3 win over FIU in St. Petersburg last season.
Now those seniors don’t only have a chance to even their bowl record but leave on a high note.
“We just can’t wait to show the country what Temple football’s made of,” said wide receiver Ventell Bryant, the Owls’ career leader in receptions (169) and yards received (2,143).
“We’ve beat some prestigious programs, why not finish the season with a bang beating Duke? They’re an ACC team, so we want to show we’re at their level matching up. We have a lot to prove,” he added.
But having gone to four bowl games four years in a row, the Owls know the routine. While they intend to savor the moment, they also know their main goal is to come home with a “W.”
“Bowl games are extremely hard to get to and hard to win,” said Bryant, who credits former teammate Keith Kirkwood, now with the New Orleans Saints, for much of his improvement.
“Once you get down there, a lot of things can sidetrack you from the ultimate goal. If you’re not familiar with going to a bowl game, it’s tougher to prepare yourself,” he explained. “This is not a time to have fun, kick back and relax.”
The seniors, who learned that the hard way, now want to impress that to the younger guys.
“We want to go out there and have fun, but also take care of business,” said Dogbe, who’ll be going up against Duke’s explosive quarterback Daniel Jones, who has passed for 2,251 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“I remember the first bowl game I went to, guys were pretty excited and didn’t know how to handle the situation. Now our mindset is to try to get that ninth win.”
Meanwhile, Collins, out on the recruiting trail and deflecting rumors he might be in line for the Georgia Tech job — where he once served as an assistant—will focus on getting ready for Duke.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to play an ACC opponent who’s well coached and talented,” said Collins, who refused to comment on the condition of quarterback Anthony Russo, who missed the Connecticut game with some kind of arm injury.
“Coach Cutcliffe and his staff do a phenomenal job. Their quarterback is arguably one of the best in the country, so it’s a big challenge.”