Musing about how rigged college football has become in this space last week makes you appreciate how fair it once was.
One such year was 1979.
Only two teams finished unbeaten that season, eventual national champion Alabama (12-0) and runnerup USC (11-0-1). Pitt was 11-1.
Temple, with any luck, could have played Alabama, maybe beat them, in the Sugar Bowl and hoisted that national title trophy instead of the Crimson Tide.
The Owls played a much-tougher schedule then, lost to Pitt only by one and led Penn State by a point at halftime before inexplicably going away from a run game that worked in the first half to a passing game that didn’t in the second half of an eventual 22-7 loss. The crowd at Beaver Stadium that day was the largest ever to watch a Penn State game to that point. (They would eventually expand the field from 82,986 to 100K plus shortly after that.)
Even to this day, a couple of the offensive linemen who played for Temple that day told them Penn State defenders came up to them and said, “Why did you guys stop running the ball?”
Water under the dam now but, if the Owls had scrounged up 17 more points they would have finished unbeaten and untied.
A couple of interesting scores that year indicate the Owls would have been more than competitive against the Tide had a game materialized.
Tennessee, a team that lost to Rutgers, 13-7, that year, gave Bama a relatively competitive game in a 27-17 loss. Temple smoked that same Rutgers team, 41-20, on the road. Temple beat California, 28-17, by a greater score than that USC did (24-14).
You can take comparative scores with a grain of salt, but those scores indicate Temple’s 1979 team had nothing to fear from anyone.
Only the 1934 squad could put up an argument that it was better than the 1979 team but I will take the 1979 team all day long. First, the 1934 Sugar Bowl team lost. The 1979 bowl team won. Back then, everybody was Power 5 and Temple was in the elite of that group.
The 1979 Owls captained by Mark Bright and Steve Conjar not only beat every team they were favored to beat but pulled a couple of upsets in a big way. They were not favored to beat Syracuse–with future NFLers’ Art Monk, Joe Morris, and Bill Hurley–but they destroyed the Orange, 49-17. They were not favored to win the Garden State Bowl but beat California, 28-17.
Consider that: TEMPLE winning a National Championship in football. It was thisclose …
Those were the days in college football when there were no participation trophies. You had to be really good and not just one of the best 80 teams to earn a bowl bid. Only 30 teams were extended bowl invitations.
There are now 40 bowl games. In 1979, there were only 15. Temple won one of them. The Owls finished ranked No. 17 in both polls (then, UPI and AP).
On a cold January afternoon in 2021, the mere thought of that 1979 team is a warm one. It might be as close as Temple ever gets to playing on an even field in this sport again.