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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 94: Temple

Less than eight years ago, Temple came within one vote  of dropping football altogether. The following season, in 2005, Temple suffered its first winless season in a half-century. A year after that, Temple hired Al Golden. Four years later, Temple posted its first winning season in 19 years. Two years after that, Temple hired Steve Addazio. A year later, Temple rejoined the Big East. It’s an amazing, rags-to-riches tale that has gone largely unnoticed amid the other cautionary and cynical tales of conference realignment: Temple, through years of sweat and toil, regained a place at the table. Yes, it’s the Big East, but it’s a step up — a step back up, rather. All’s well that ends well, even if the story includes near-elimination, some of the worst football you can possibly imagine and the fairly horrific idea that Temple might be biting off a bit more than it can chew. For now, at least. The Owls have the pieces to compete in the Big East; however, I’d be remiss not to mention that despite the program’s recent climb, neither Golden nor Addazio beat a single MAC team with a winning record.

Conference
Big East

Location
Philadelphia

Nickname
Owls

Returning starters
9 (4 offense, 5 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 75

2011 record
(9-4, 5-3)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 45

2012 schedule

  • Aug. 31
    Villanova
  • Sept. 8
    Maryland
  • Sept. 22
    at Penn St.
  • Oct. 6
    South Florida
  • Oct. 13
    at UConn
  • Oct. 20
    Rutgers
  • Oct. 27
    at Pittsburgh
  • Nov. 3
    at Louisville
  • Nov. 10
    Cincinnati
  • Nov. 17
    at Army
  • Nov. 23
    Syracuse

Last year’s prediction

Temple’s not going anywhere. I do think it’s going to be difficult for the Owls to maintain the two-year streak of eight wins or more, however. That’s due to a number of reasons, most notable of which is the coaching change. I think Addazio is a good coach, and will probably be a better head coach than he was a coordinator. This is the case with some, though not many, but I think how Addazio relates to and motives his players will be his primary asset. But there is bound to be some growing pains for this new staff, which might make for a slower start than we’ve seen over the last two years. There are issues with this roster as well. I’m not sure that the Owls were good enough to do so even if Golden had returned, to be honest. The Owls are bowl contenders but not much more. There are four better teams in the MAC, in my opinion.

2011 recap

In a nutshell This was a team for old-school football junkies: a vanilla, smash-and-dash, no-fuss and physical team with an offensive system best seen – or last seen – in black and white. The Owls would have made themselves at home a half-century ago; as it was, the Owls were comfortable simply wrestling the will away from teams both inside and out of MAC play, winning nine games for the second straight season. The forward pass took a back seat: Temple attempted half as many passes as the opposition. Running was in, to the tune of 256.4 yards per game, seventh-most in the country. If nothing else, the Owls stood as proof that when you boil this game down to its most basic essence, you win games with the run and a stout defense. T.U. had both, combining the punishing running game with one of the nation’s best defenses. It was a sterling debut for Addazio and his staff.

High point September went wonderfully. After pounding Villanova and Akron, as expected, Temple nearly knocked off Penn State – holding the ball late with a chance for the win – but lost, 14-10, to extend the Owls’ losing streak in the series to 36 games. A week later, T.U. rebounded to manhandle Maryland, 38-7, in the rare game where the final margin might not do the decision justice. The Owls capped the year with a 37-15 victory over Wyoming, handing the program its second-ever bowl win.

Low point Losses to the two best MAC teams on the schedule, Toledo and Ohio, which was par for the course over the Owls’ last three seasons as part of the MAC. The Rockets had their way with Temple, but the Owls went back and forth over the game’s final eight minutes against the Bobcats in a 35-31 loss. The oddest score on the year was a 13-10 loss at Bowling Green, which was made possible by Temple’s worst offensive performance of the conference season.

Tidbit Temple is 0-13 since 2006 – Golden’s first year – against MAC teams that ended the year with a winning record. The losses: Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois in 2006; Bowling Green in 2007; Buffalo, Western Michigan and Central Michigan in 2008; Ohio in 2009; Miami (Ohio), Ohio and Northern Illinois in 2010; and Toledo and Ohio in 2011. The Owls did beat three teams that won six games during the regular season: Kent State in 2006, Miami (Ohio) in 2007 and Ball State last fall. Since 2008, when T.U. first made a move in conference play, the Owls are 2-15 against B.C.S. conference competition and MAC teams that won at least six games during the regular season.

Tidbit (starting strong edition) Temple scored on its opening drive in 9 of 13 games last season. The exceptions were Akron and Kent State, two games the Owls would eventually win, along with two games they’d lose, to Bowling Green and Ohio. The Owls twice opened games with four consecutive touchdowns, against Maryland and Ball State, and outscored opponents by 93-35 in the first quarter overall.

Former players in the N.F.L.

18 TE Matt Balasavage (Baltimore), OG Pat Boyle (Detroit), WR Michael Campbell (St. Louis Rams), OG Derek Dennis (Miami), TE Bruce Figgins (Baltimore), DT Terrance Knighton (Jacksonville), OT Steve Maneri (Kansas City), OT Darius Morris (Houston), DT Andre Neblett (Carolina), RB Bernard Pierce (Baltimore), DE Adrian Robinson (Pittsburgh), TE Evan Rodriguez (Chicago), DE Brian Sanford (Cleveland), QB Chester Stewart (Baltimore), WR Rob Streater (Oakland), OG Wayne Tribue (Denver), LB Tahir Whitehead (Detroit), DE Muhammad Wilkerson (New York Jets).

Arbitrary top five list

Philadelphia restaurants I’ve frequented
1. Twenty Manning.
2. Mercato.
3. Fish.
4. Standard Tap.
5. Mrs. K’s Koffee House.

Coaching

Steve Addazio (Central Connecticut State ’81), 9-4 after one season at Temple. So far, so good – very good, in fact. Temple stood as a homecoming of sorts for the former Florida assistant, who was born and educated in Connecticut and whose college coaching career begin in the Northeast. In terms of his resume, Addazio was extremely qualified – prior to the Golden-led resurgence, one would have said Addazio was overqualified for this position. He spent six years at Florida, helping the Gators to national titles in 2006 and 2008. Those championships came when Addazio was leading the U.F. offensive line; even when he came under fire for his play-calling as coordinator, Addazio remained one of the most well-regarded line coaches in the country. About his time as coordinator: Florida suffered a pretty significant slide offensively under Addazio’s watch over his last two years with the program, particularly in 2010 when the Gators attempted to replace Tim Tebow and at least partly implement a system better suited for the team’s first-year starting quarterback. Of course, the slide was met with massive criticism from the Florida fan base, which was not torn up over Addazio’s move to the MAC. Temple was Addazio’s first non-B.C.S. conference coaching position: stints at Indiana, Notre Dame and Syracuse joined his six-year tenure in Gainesville. One area where his players at Florida raved about Addazio was in his ability to motivate, which I thought would help him segue into his first head coaching position. The jury remains out, but after one year, it does seem as if Addazio is a better head coach than a coordinator.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Temple lost three assistant coaches after last season, including Addazio’s two lead offensive assistants. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler left for the coordinator position at Auburn, where he he’ll step into Gus Malzahn’s shoes. Assistant offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Matt Rhule joined the New York Giants as the assistant offensive line coach. Wide receivers coach Zach Smith’s fast-track career will continue at Ohio State, where he’ll have his hands full with the Buckeyes’ new-look receiver corps. Addazio will hand two of his returning assistants new duties – running backs coach Tyree Foreman will replace Rhule as Temple’s recruiting coordinator, inside linebackers coach Sean McGowen will coordinate the special teams – while hiring three new assistants. One, new tight ends coach Frank Leonard, spent the last three years with the St. Louis Rams. The other pair, new offensive coordinator Ryan Day and quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers, spent last season at Boston College – in a way, though you’re probably familiar with Rogers’ strange, abrupt stint under Frank Spaziani with the Eagles.

Tidbit (playing days edition) Despite a few changes, Temple’s coaching staff continues to share one fact in common: each played college football. Addazio and Leonard were teammates at Central Connecticut State. Rogers was a linebacker at William & Mary. Day played quarterback at New Hampshire when Chip Kelly was the offensive coordinator. Foreman played running back at Virginia. McGowan played quarterback and safety at Fordham. Defensive coordinator Chuck Heater was an all-Big Ten running back at Michigan. Outside linebackers coach Ben Albert was a defensive lineman at Massachusetts. Defensive line coach Sean Cronin started at Cincinnati before transferring to Georgetown College in Kentucky. And offensive line coach Justin Frye started 45 consecutive games up front while at Indiana.

Players to watch

Day will do his part to add more balance to Temple’s offensive attack. Temple does one thing abnormally well: run the football. Last fall, the Owls – who return four starters on offense – set new school records for carries (636), rushing yards (3,335) and rushing touchdowns (38), leading the MAC in each category and finishing second, behind Northern Illinois, in yards per carry. One thing last season’s success does for this year’s team, regardless of the changing cast of characters, is provide a team-wide jolt of confidence. Even with the new faces on the roster and on the schedule, don’t look for Temple to forget how to run the football.

But the Owls will need a new back to help carry the load, thanks to Bernard Pierce’s decision to parlay an enormous junior season – and a largely injury-free season, most of all – into an early leap into the N.F.L. Draft. While Pierce leaves as the most productive back in school history, Temple remains confident in his successor’s ability to pick up the slack. Senior Matt Brown has rushed for 2,275 yards over the last three years, after all, filling Pierce’s shoes with ease when the departed all-MAC pick was lost to one ailment or another, which was fairly often. Last fall, Brown rushed for 914 yards and 6 scores despite only twice earning more than 16 carries – despite the lessened workload, Brown cracked the 100-yard mark five times over a six-game stretch in October and November.

Brown’s a player: he’s a all-Big East threat, a big-play threat and a back who has shown an ability to handle the load when called upon. This was evident down the stretch in 2009, again during the heart of the 2010 season and once again for periods last fall, though Pierce was able to remain injury-free for most of 2011, as noted. What Temple needs is a back to spell Brown, now that he’s the every-down back. The Owls can trust sophomore Kenneth Harper (128 yards), who had a nice spring. One player to keep an eye out for is sophomore Jalen Fitzpatrick, a converted quarterback who really impressed the coaching staff with his performance in the backfield during March and April. Is Montel Harris going to enter the mix over the summer? There’s a strong chance, but don’t look for his theoretical arrival to cut too deeply into Brown’s bottom line; Harris would take some touches away, but Brown has achieved too much over his first three seasons to lose his grasp on the starting role.

T.U. lost a terrific intermediate threat in tight end Evan Rodriguez, an athletic, game-breaking receiver in Rod Streater and a steady pass-catcher in Joe Jones, leaving the receiver corps in a slight state of flux. The best news is that Leonard still has some gifted tight ends to work with, led by juniors Cody Booth and Wyatt Benson. Look for Booth to step into Matt Balasavage’s role as a key blocker in Temple’s run game. Is there a tight end of this roster capable of a 35-grab season, like Rodriguez had a senior? Don’t bet on it. But don’t sleep on junior Alex Jackson, who made some plays in the passing game as a freshman before participating primarily on special teams last fall.

Temple will go big at receiver. The team’s best option is junior Deon Miller (18 receptions for 253), a returning starter. Miller, 6’5, will most likely be joined in the starting lineup by senior Malcolm Eugene, 6’4, who capped last season with a nice performance in the New Mexico Bowl win over Wyoming. Junior Ryan Alderman might be the smallest receiver on the roster – he’s listed at 5’9 – but he’ll be in the rotation, as will senior C.J. Hammond, junior Tyron Harris, redshirt freshman Robbie Anderson and true freshman James Whitfield, a promising rookie who enrolled in time to participate in spring ball.

Chris Coyer is a construction derrick with legs: he doesn’t move east-west with grace, but there aren’t many other quarterbacks in college football who can so decimate the opposition’s confidence with his ability to run through the first, second and last line of defense. Coyer moved into the lineup against Ohio, nearly leading the Owls to victory, and remained Temple’s starter for the final four games of the year, missing most of the Kent State win due to injury. As a runner, he’s a bulldozing menace: Coyer rushed for 562 yards on 8.1 yards per carry, rushing for 184 yards against the Bobcats and 97 yards in his first start against Miami (Ohio). Again, a gazelle he’s not; Coyer’s simply punishing, and despite the lack of aesthetic grace remains one of the most enjoyable quarterbacks to watch in the open field.

Where Coyer struggles is in throwing the football – and his inability to throw with precision and consistency will be an issue against this toughened schedule. This is where Day will come into play: to add balance to this offense, to add the pass to a wonderful running game, he’ll need to have a sizable impact on Coyer as a pure quarterback – as a thrower, not just as a runner. While Coyer, a junior, has illustrated an ability to avoid turnovers, Temple won’t win nine games in the Big East with its quarterback attempting 12 passes per game, as Coyer did in his three full starts. Coyer is a hard worker, so it’s obvious that he wants to get better in this regard. Whether he can take a step forward without a tremendous amount of starting experience remains to be seen.

In theory, the defense is ready for the Big East. The system is in place: last year’s group was amazingly underrated, garnering little acclaim for the way it dominated defensively in a MAC perceived nationally as the most offense-first league in major college football. Defensive coordinator Chuck Heater can implement a defense, plan for each opponent and make the requisite in-game adjustments – this is clear after his first season in charge. In practice, however, T.U. needs to replace six starters, including four who earned all-MAC honors; these losses are felt on each level of the defense, with two starters lost on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary.

The biggest holes along the defensive line are at end, where the Owls must find a way to replicate the production lost in Adrian Robinson, a three-time all-conference pick, and Morkeith Brown, an all-MAC pick as a senior. As elsewhere – the offensive line, which we’ll touch on below – the Owls will turn the mantle over those next in line, two rising seniors, and hope that they can keep this front seven rolling along at a high clip. Last fall, seniors Marcus Green and John Youboty (18 tackles) played understudy to Robinson and Brown; come September, they’ll be sitting front and center. Youboty made seven starts inside last fall, but he’s a better fit at end.

The interior of the line is anchored by senior nose tackle Levi Brown (23 tackles, 3.5 for loss), who made 11 starts in that spot a year ago. Brown’s a huge figure for Temple in this first season of post-MAC existence. The Owls could also move Brown to tackle and play junior Shahid Paulhill on the nose, but the line’s best interior pairing has Paulhill or junior Kamel Johnson – who could play a little end – at tackle and Brown, with some help from senior Kadeem Custis, holding down the fort at nose tackle. The bottom line, with a caveat: Temple’s defensive line isn’t as deep or talented as it was last fall, but the line definitely holds some promise, especially with Brown a steadying presence in the middle.

Another two starters are gone at linebacker: Stephen Johnson in the middle and Tahir Whitehead on the strong side. Johnson led the team in tackles, besting his next-closest competitor by nearly 50 tackles, while Whitehead tied for the team lead in tackles for loss and was second in sacks – so there’s some production to replace, obviously. The new-look linebacker corps will rebuild around junior Blaze Caponegro (35 tackles), the lone returning starter. In my opinion, Caponegro is a solid option as Whitehead’s replacement on the strong side; Caponegro played on the weak side last fall, but has the size to make this switch. He and senior Ahkeem Smith (43 tackles, 3.5 sacks) will start, with Smith also an option on the strong side.

And do yourself a favor and keep an eye on redshirt freshman Nate D. Smith, who is simply too good to keep off the field; this trio are the heart of this new group, with some help from freshman Tyler Matekevich, senior Matt Falcone, juniors Sean Daniels and Olaniyi Adewole and sophomore Praise Martin-Oguike. It’s perfectly natural to be worried about the production lost in Johnson and Whitehead, but you should also be excited about a potential starting group of Caponegro, Ahkeem Smith and Nate D. Smith. These three can play.

Temple’s off-and-on game of musical chairs in the secondary in 2011 will pay some dividends in 2012. On paper, the only position that should cause Addazio and Heater some angst is free safety, where the Owls may very well hand the starting role over to incoming freshman Nate Smith – no middle initial – the defensive star of February’s recruiting class. If, like with Addazio and Heater, this causes a tinge of nervousness, don’t worry: you’re not alone. But Smith can play, if the recruiting services are correct, and the Owls can always team him with last year’s backup, Vaughn Carrway, until Smith proves himself ready for prime time.

The cornerback position seems in fine hands with senior Maurice Jones (43 tackles), junior Zamel Johnson (28 tackles, 1 interception) and sophomore Anthony Robey (16 tackles, 1 interception). This trio combined for 17 starts last fall, with Robey and Johnson sharing time in the lineup opposite of Kee-ayre Griffin, the lone lost cornerback of any value, and Jones making three starts when T.U. opened with five defensive backs. T.U. can team this group with senior strong safety Justin Gildea (51 tackles, 3 interceptions) to give the secondary a nice blend of youth and experience.

Position battle(s) to watch

Offensive line Last season’s good fortune casts a pall over Temple’s efforts to form an equally competent offensive front. Consider this, for starters: Temple’s offensive line was outstanding when it came to opening up holes in the running game. Consider this: Temple had the wonderful luck of having six linemen combine to make all 65 possible starts. Now, consider this: Unfortunately, five of those six linemen were seniors. So you can see why today, as the Owls look ahead to Big East play, the offensive line stands a major concern.

Let’s start with what we know. Senior Martin Wallace, the lone returning starter, will either remain out at right tackle or swing over to the blind side to replace Pat Boyle. In a perfect world, T.U. would have enough trust in redshirt freshman Zach Hooks at left tackle to keep Wallace in his comfort zone on the right side. Boyle’s brother, Sean, will take over at center – where he started once in 2010 – after missing all of last season due to injury. As the Owls capped spring ball, junior Jeff Whittingham and sophomore Jaimen Newman were starting at guard.

So what’s the story up front? Youth, inexperience and a lack of depth. Begin with the first: two seniors, one with starting experience, along with a junior, a sophomore and a redshirt freshman. Inexperience: Wallace has a year’s worth of starting time under his belt, though Boyle has probably played enough to offset any learning curve – though he must remain healthy. Depth is the biggest issue: Darryl Pringle, a junior who backed up Pat Boyle in 2011, is the only reserve linemen with adequate game experience. In fact, I would think that Pringle remains in the mix for significant snaps at left tackle. The line is clearly an issue, especially when given how well last year’s group fared in the trenches.

Game(s) to watch

You may have noticed that Temple has yet to schedule a 12th game. For now, the Owls are slated to take on a seven-game Big East schedule with four non-conference games: Villanova, Penn State, Maryland and Army. The issue is the Big East schedule, which features one fewer game than the MAC’s conference docket. I would guess that T.U. will add another Army-like game – one against a beatable F.B.S. team. Every game is noteworthy, in one way or another. In addition to in-state rivals Villanova and Penn State, primed Maryland and much-improved Army, each of the seven Big East games will test the Owls unlike the vast majority of games in the MAC ever did.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Those who overlook Temple do so at their own peril. And yes, I realize I’m taking an unorthodox tack for one who has consistently had the Owls’ back since those heady, up-from-the-bootstraps days under Al Golden: I love what Temple has achieved, believe that this program can be a player in the Big East, but don’t think that the Owls can step right into this new playground and experience immediate success. My logic is simple – by my perspective, at least: T.U. has a significant amount of production to replace; the Owls are inexperienced at several key spots, especially along the offensive line; the offense remains far too unbalanced to take on the top slice of the Big East; and, overall, this program has yet to indicate that it can beat B.C.S. conference opposition with consistency. Add those up, throw in the new conference affiliation and you have the ingredients for a rocky debut as a B.C.S. conference program. In short, this is a safe spot for Temple if the Owls do finish at or near the bottom of the Big East, as I’m predicting. Again, however, it doesn’t pay to underestimate this program. The Owls are a no-nonsense, bruising and rock-steady offensive team with the rare ability to build an early lead and cruise home over a game’s final 25 minutes. That’s the beauty of this offense. But the lack of a consistent passing game is an issue, especially given that the rest of the teams in the Big East can feel confident in their quarterback’s throwing ability – fairly confident, at least. And while I don’t think that the defense is going to take a huge step back, the Big East will throw a new level of athlete on the field; the Owls will need to button up along the back seven and ramp up the pass rush, and attempt to do the latter while replacing a pair of all-conference ends. The future remains in palm of Temple’s hands: Philadelphia is a major market, recruits are paying attention to Addazio’s pitch, the Big East is far from imposing and the team as a whole has a working system in place. The Owls simply need to do some tweaking. If you think about it – if you think about where this program has come – one year of growing pains in a B.C.S. conference is perfectly fine.

Dream season The Owls do their best work when overlooked and underrated: Temple goes 9-3 – I’m giving them a 12th game, and making it a win – and falls just shy of taking home the Big East, losing out on the B.C.S. berth after a tough home loss to Cincinnati in November.

Nightmare season Temple isn’t ready for this step – not quite yet. The Owls go winless in Big East play and beat only Villanova, Army and an as-yet-unnamed non-conference foe to finish 3-9 overall.

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. Sadly, one of the best sites for Temple news, The Owl’s Nest, has gone quiet. But you can get a strong dose of Temple football news from the site’s publisher, Dave Gerson, via his Twitter account.

Temple’s all-name nominee LB Blaze Caponegro.

Word Count

Through 31 teams 106,863.

Up Next

Who is No. 93? The list of former head coaches at tomorrow’s university include one whose last name is the same as the second-largest city by population in the country’s largest state by area, and one whose first name is the same as the largest city by population in the country’s second-largest state by both area and population.

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Comments

  1. Ezra says:

    so Ole Miss is next– H. L. Fairbanks coached the Rebs in 1895, and Houston Nutt 113 years later.

  2. Vic says:

    OR Colorado?

    Chuck Fairbanks 1979–1981
    Dallas Ward 1948–1958

    But you should be correct, Houston almost doubles Dallas in population and is easily the largest city by population in the country’s second-largest state by both area and population.

  3. wildncrazyowl says:

    TE Bruce Figgins did NOT attend Temple, however 2nd ROUND Draft pick Jaiquawn_Jarrett did.

    Another error, there is no way that Temple can go either 9-3 nor 3-9 since the late entry to the Big East- the team only plays 11 games.

    Also, two seasons ago Temple only went 8-4. I could understand why you’d think they’d go 9-4, however Temple was the first ever 8-4 team NOT invited to a bowl game making the move to the Big East all that more important.

  4. Bobak says:

    There’s a glaring omission of any cheesesteak in that arbitrary top-5 list.

    Paul: I don’t like cheese. Not kidding. Cheese, mushrooms and olives are on my no-eat list. Everything else makes the cut.

  5. TexaninNYC says:

    What is it with college football bloggers not liking cheese?

  6. BobJ says:

    Temple has only 11 games on their schedule. What’s the hold-up on the 12th?

  7. wildncrazyowl says:

    Bob,
    Temple is replacing Pitt on the Big East schedule. There weren’t any schools available to fill the open slot. Now Temple will have a weeks off before and after playing Penn State and the re-entrance to the Big East with South Florida.

  8. Owlified says:

    Awesome stuff, Paul!

  9. wildncrazyowl says:

    BTW, Chris Coyer was ranked as the most efficient QB in the land last season.
    http://www.californiagoldenblogs.com/2012/2/29/2820812/2011-college-quarterback-rankings-ultimate-adjusted-yards-per-attempt

  10. philip says:

    not sure why i’ve been fascinated with temple since its first big east flameout. i think you’ve got it right — i do like a good rags-to-riches story. good read, start to finish.

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