PHILADELPHIA - 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 today against South Florida in their first Big East Conference game since they 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.
When the automatic wins were no longer worth the embarrassment of being attached to an unsuitable team such as 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 today's homecoming game at Lincoln Financial Field.
"We don't resemble the Temple program or the culture that was asked to leave the Big East in January '01," Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw said.
Steve Addazio was hired as coach 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.
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.
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 open 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 today.