No. 44: Temple
By Paul Myerberg // Jul 21, 2010
I’d like to say I saw this coming. But I didn’t, to be honest. I’m talking back in 2006, when Al Golden, formerly of Virginia, stepped into the worst environment in college football. The Owls were 0-11 in 2005 — outscored by 391 points on the year — and 3-31 over the previous three seasons. Off the field, the program was an “train wreck,” to use Golden’s own term. His first season, at least on the field, went along the same lines: 1-11, outscored by 365 points. Then came four wins in 2007. Five more in 2008. And nine in 2009. Winning football — at Temple. And a program built for the long term. Will Golden remain a part of it?
16 (9 offense, 7 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 3
- Sept. 9
- Sept. 18
- Sept. 25
at Penn St.
- Oct. 2
- Oct. 9
- Oct. 16
- Oct. 23
- Oct. 30
- Nov. 6
at Kent St.
- Nov. 16
- Nov. 23
Last year’s prediction
I doubt we’ll see an easier schedule. I see only one game where Temple will be outclassed (Penn State), and only one other game where, as of now, I’m predicting Temple to lose (Navy). Other than that? There is no doubt that Temple can play with, and defeat, the other 10 teams on its schedule. I have Temple winning the MAC East division with a 7-5 record — with the potential of breaking through completely with an 8-4 finish — and reaching the MAC title game. This will be the best Temple team in nearly 20 years.
In a nutshell A dream season. Well, not quite: the Owls did not take the MAC East, losing out on the division crown via a season-ending loss to Ohio. Only a bandwagon Temple fan — say, one that began following the team in August 2009 — could nitpick with last season’s success. Nine wins, a program-high since 1979. All nine of those victories in a row — from Sept. 26 – Nov. 21 — a school record, as you might imagine. The Owls scored 384 points, the second-most in program history. The offense succeeded despite featuring a lackluster passing game, one that ranked 112th nationally in passing yards and 118th in completion percentage. Three cheers, thusly, for the offensive line. Another round of cheers for a pair of young running backs. Save some applause, however: Temple will be even better in 2010.
High point Seven of that nine victories came against MAC competition, with the other two coming over Army and Navy – I predicted the Owls to lose to Navy, as you can see above. While the 1979 Owls may have been a better team, it would not be an exaggeration to call the winning streak the greatest period in the history of the program. Among the most memorable moments: the late touchdown scamper to beat Navy; the last-second field goal to top Miami (Ohio); the absolute dominance of the last three quarters of a prime time win at Akron.
Low point Of course, the loss to Ohio to end the season. That the team had already accomplished so much did not diminish the disappointment of losing out on a chance to win a MAC championship. In the big picture, 2009 remains a supreme achievement for a program locked in a three decade-long standstill.
Tidbit Last season’s nine-game winning streak equaled Temple’s output from the 2007-8 seasons. It was also one more win than the program notched from 2003-6. It was also more than Temple’s single-season win total in every year of the program’s existence (since 1894) but 1973 and 1979.
Tidbit (progression edition) Temple football from one season to the next, in the words of the Countdown. I ranked the Owls No. 105 heading into 2008, writing:
For some Owl fans, a 5-7 season may seem like the program is treading water, but think twice; for a program so downtrodden it was booted from the Big East, any sense of progress should be a godsend. And as long as Golden remains at Temple, the Owl program will continue to improve and be factor in the MAC race.
I had Temple at No. 74 last summer, writing:
I have Temple winning the MAC East division with a 7-5 record — with the potential of breaking through completely with an 8-4 finish — and reaching the MAC title game. This will be the best Temple team in nearly 20 years.
No. 105 in 2008, No. 74 in 2009, No. 44 in 2010. If this trend continues, the Owls should be hovering around No. 15 heading into next season.
Former players in the N.F.L.
9 CB Dominique Harris (Buffalo), LB Alex Joseph (Green Bay), DT Dan Klecko (Atlanta), DT Terrance Knighton (Jacksonville), TE Steve Maneri (Houston), FB Jason McKie (New Orleans), DT Andre Neblett (Carolina), DE Brian Sanford (Cleveland), OT Devin Tyler (Arizona).
Arbitrary top five list
Al Golden (Penn State ’91), 19-30 after four seasons at Temple. Much of that damage was done in Golden’s first season with the Owls (2006), when Temple struggled through a 1-11 finish. His Owls improved significantly over the following two seasons, bouncing back from a 1-5 start in 2007 to win four games – all in MAC play – and finishing with five wins in 2008, a program-best since 1990. Temple was a trendy pick to challenge for the East division in 2009, but few could have predicted just how strong the Owls would be: 9-4, 7-1 in the MAC, and within a game of playing for the conference championship. How has Golden done it? He has completely rebuilt the nation’s worst defense and ramped up Temple’s recruiting, which has ranked among the best in the MAC since his arrival. The young talent Golden has landed, now two or three years into the program, constitute the heart of the Temple roster. Though he is one of the youngest head coaches in the F.B.S., Golden brought a wealth of F.B.S. coaching experience to Temple in 2006. From 2001-5, Golden served as Al Groh’s first defensive coordinator at Virginia, helping lead the Cavaliers to a 37-26 mark and four consecutive bowl trips (2002-5). Like with the Owls, Golden pushed all the right buttons with the U.V.A. defense, helping the unit improve from 108th nationally in total defense in 2001 to 18th in 2004. Golden was tabbed to be the youngest coordinator in the F.B.S. after a single season at Penn State (2000), where he served as the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator. His additional F.B.S. experience includes three seasons at Boston College (1997-99), coaching the linebackers, and a three-year stint as a graduate assistant at Virginia (1994-96). Considering the job he has done with the Owls and his impressive assistant experience, it is no wonder Golden’s name has been attached to a number of high-profile job openings over the last two seasons. He deserves to be on the short list at every major job opening in the country.
Players to watch
The offensive line is the heart of this team. It’s superb, despite losing four-year starter and 2009 all-MAC left tackle Devin Tyler. That’s the only spot that remains up for debate; the rest of the line remains intact. Temple has two options on the blind side: the first is Pat Boyle, one of last season’s tackle reserves; the second is Steve Caputo, who moves to tackle after making nine starts at left guard last fall. Boyle currently holds a slight edge, though Caputo’s experience is a significant plus. Whether it’s Boyle or Caputo: the new starter steps into a wonderful situation. He’ll share the weak side with junior Wayne Tribue, who spent last season sharing time at guard with Caputo. Yet another junior, John Palumbo, returns at center, though he’ll be pushed for time by Jeremy Schonbrunner. Now, the strong side: guard Colin Madison and tackle Darius Morris. Both starters are seniors. Both are returning first-team all-MAC selections. Both key the run game, and do so wonderfully.
Forget training camp. The N.C.A.A. didn’t clear sophomore running back Bernard Pierce until two days before the season opener; all the Heisman hopeful did, despite the short notice, was rush for 1,361 yards and 16 touchdowns, rushing for at least 100 six times and at least 200 yards in back-to-back games to end October. In addition to landing only 13 carries through the first two weeks, Pierce, due to an injury, barely touched the field over the final two conference games of the year. He’s good enough, and important enough to this offense, to truly be a Heisman hopeful; this will particularly be the case should Temple break into the Top 25. Pierce isn’t the only weapon in the backfield. Pint-size sophomore Matt Brown stepped into the starting lineup in Pierce’s stead over the season’s final three games, averaging 137 yards rushing in those three contests. He’ll continue to play a major role. The Owls also welcome back sophomore Ahkeem Smith, who took a redshirt last fall after playing in six games as a true freshman.
After splitting time last fall, junior Chester Stewart is the unquestioned starter at quarterback. He’s the guy: senior Vaughn Charlton, a nine-game starter under center in 2009, was moved to tight end following spring practice. Temple doesn’t ask Stewart to do much, and, to be honest, he hasn’t shown himself capable of carrying this team with his arm. He completed only 40 percent of his attempts last fall (26 completions in 65 tries) with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He’ll be better, thanks to experience, and opposing defenses have no choice but to focus on the ground game, potentially opening up the pass. Temple is good enough to hold fourth quarter leads in most games, but I don’t have confidence in Stewart’s ability to lead the Owls back into games with his arm.
Temple has a stout front seven, with a line keyed by the reigning conference defensive player of the year, junior end Adrian Robinson. His debut season in the starting lineup couldn’t have gone much better: 46 tackles (14 for loss) and 13 sacks, the latter total pacing the MAC. Robinson is one of two first-team all-MAC choices up front: the second is junior tackle Muhammad Wilkerson (61 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 7 sacks).
There is a third returning starter up front, in fact, but senior Amara Kamara will move to outside linebacker in his final season. His position change opens up the second end spot to sophomore Kadeem Custis. The biggest hole up front is on the nose, where Temple lost three-time all-MAC pick Andre Neblett. His replacement, sophomore Elisha Joseph, made 14 tackles and a sack in a reserve role in 2009. Even with two new starters, Temple again has the best defensive line in the MAC.
Kamara will step into a starting spot at outside linebacker. He, along with junior Tahir Whitehead, will flank new starter Elijah Joseph, who steps in for departed starter Alex Joseph in the middle. The transition from end to outside linebacker is not necessarily a very difficult one, though Kamara will need to accustom himself to playing with his hands off the ground, as well as playing the pass. It helps that Kamara spent some time at linebacker last fall, potentially speeding up his learning curve.
As with elsewhere, depth is not a concern in the secondary. Two players return with starting experience at safety. Junior Kevin Kroboth made nine starts at strong safety last fall, making 45 tackles and an interception on the year. He’ll be joined by senior free safety Jaiquawn Jarrett (76 tackles, second on the team), a first-team all-MAC selection. In addition to sticking his nose in against the run, Jarrett’s three interceptions tied for the team lead.
Senior Marquise Liverpool was the second defensive back to post three picks; he’s also the most experienced cornerback on the roster, and due to take on a leadership role in his final season. Sophomore Maurice Jones is the likely starter on the opposite side, but the Owls have options. That word again: options. One is junior James Nixon, a former wide receiver. He was one of the team’s most valuable receiving threats last fall, as well as a top-notch return man, and Temple hopes his athleticism translates to the defensive side of the ball. While junior Kee-ayre Griffin and redshirt freshman Zamel Johnson won’t start, both will play important roles. As with the defensive line, the secondary is loaded.
Position battles to watch
Wide receiver No position is in trouble; every position has depth. Few positions, in fact, face any meaningful competition. One position that does, however, is wide receiver. Yet it’s a strange type of competition: Temple returns both starters and most of last year’s contributors — minus Jason Harper, a former running back who made 12 receptions for 228 yards in his final season. The returning starters, senior Michael Campbell (27 receptions for 419 yards and 3 touchdowns) and junior Joe Jones (28 receptions for 387 yards), held onto their starting roles during the spring. It would have been a shock otherwise, in my opinion. Campbell led the Owls in both receiving yards and touchdowns, while Jones, another converted running back, led the team in receptions. Still, this duo will be pushed for playing time by a handful of hungry reserves, all underclassmen, all talented enough to grab meaningful roles. One is sophomore C.J. Hammond, who currently stands behind Campbell on the depth chart; likewise with junior Rod Streater, who trails Jones. What this group might miss is big-play ability: Temple will miss Harper and Nixon, both of whom averaged at least 19 yards per reception. What this group doesn’t lack, however, is depth. In addition to the aforementioned quartet, the Owls can turn to redshirt freshman Ryan Alderman, incoming freshman Deon Miller — a name to watch — and seniors Delano Green (8 receptions for 129 yards last fall), Nyles Bynum and Dy’Onne Crudup.
Game(s) to watch
Ohio, at home, on Nov. 16. The Owls will be looking to avenge last season’s loss in Athens. Continuing with MAC play, an early October trip to Northern Illinois is a conference title game preview, in my opinion. Why not one more? The Chippewas are down, but Temple can make an early-season statement with a win over the two-time defending conference champions on Sept. 11.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell There’s really no question that Temple is the class of the MAC. Yes, a conference rival may catch the Owls on an off day and score the upset, but no team can hold a candle to Temple’s mix of coaching, talent, experience and depth. And make no mistake: the Owls are loaded in all four categories. Al Golden has staked a claim to being the finest young coach in America. Contributors who took their lumps as freshmen in 2006 and 2007 are now tested, veteran seniors. Temple’s strong recruiting has infused this roster with young talent; a handful of these youngsters made an impact a year ago. It’s not a question of whether Temple will take the MAC, but a question of how good it looks doing so. Now, quickly, step back. Think about 2006. The university, having recently considered disbanding the football program altogether, hires a young, defensive-minded assistant from Virginia. Little was expected. Little was given in the way of support. Four years later, the Owls are the clear favorites in the MAC; an overwhelming choice to reach bowl play for the second consecutive season; and, in my mind, a very realistic contender for a Top 25 finish. It will take some help to get there: a win over Connecticut, for instance, as well as a perfect conference mark. Certainly doable. Let’s temper our expectations a bit, however. If Temple does win 10 games, it won’t be the prettiest 10-win team — in terms of its resume — we’ve ever seen. For all its talent, Temple still doesn’t match up with Connecticut or Penn State, the two B.C.S. conference programs on the schedule. Not that it matters much. When it comes to the MAC, Temple is in a class by itself. If you saw this coming, raise your hand.
Dream season The Owls split games against B.C.S. conference opponents, then dominate the MAC. When all is said and done, Temple sets a new school record with an 11-1 finish, and ends the regular season ranked in the top 20 nationally.
Nightmare season It’s hard to picture anything worse than six wins. A nightmare, in that case, would be a 5-7 mark, 4-4 in conference action.
In case you were wondering
Where do Temple fans congregate? You can find solid message board talk and recruiting coverage at Owl Scoop and Owls Daily. For a blog’s take, visit Temple Football Forever. As a loyal reader suggests below, The Owl’s Nest is another option for fans.
Who is No. 43? Our next program scored more points in both 2007 and 2009 than it did from 2005-6.
You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.
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