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The Countdown

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

A Retrospective

The Year in Review: Temple (9-4, 5-3)

The bottom didn’t drop out on Dec. 13, when Al Golden left for Miami, and the earth didn’t spin off its axis 10 days later, when Temple hired former Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio as his replacement. The Owls didn’t drop off the map: the Owls took a sizable step forward, in fact, and this year’s team may very well have been the program’s best in more than three decades. And few saw it coming. Most saw a year of growing pains, especially along the sidelines, and fewer still – based on the negative fervor surrounding Addazio’s stint in Gainesville – saw Temple again reaching its Golden-level heights.

Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl win over Wyoming was Temple’s first postseason win since 1979; the wins, nine of ‘em, ties Golden’s 2009 team for the program’s most since that 1979 campaign. Addazio’s nine wins are the most by a first-year coach in program history, and he’s the first coach to lead the Owls to bowl play in his debut season.

A year of firsts, but hopefully just the beginning of the road, not a one-year explosion. Addazio did inherit an enviable situation: the MAC East was as average as always, and the Owls did return several key weapons on the offensive side of the ball.

His task from here is to maintain this current clip. Hopefully, the Owls can continue to pound away on the ground while adding in the usefulness of the forward pass: Temple attempted only 198 passes all year, a total that ranks 116th in the country as of today and may drop to 117th should Air Force attempt 17 or more passes in its date with Toledo a week from today.

But the defense was superb, and that creates a pretty potent combination: run the ball, controlling the clock in the process, and put the clamps down on the defensive side of the ball. Oklahoma would be proud – Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma, that is. In some ways, Temple was Alabama writ very, very small.

Season grade: A- The Owls didn’t win the MAC, let alone the MAC East, but made a strong statement for a bright future by winning nine games in Addazio’s debut season. But the standards have been raised, meaning Addazio and his staff must keep this engine rolling along in 2012 and beyond.

High point In the regular season, it was a 38-7 win over Maryland, Temple’s first win over a B.C.S. conference foe since beating Syracuse in 2004. But the New Mexico Bowl was Temple’s national party – this assumes you were watching. The Owls chewed up Wyoming.

Low point A 35-31 loss to Ohio on Nov. 2 cost Temple the MAC East crown; new year, similar result. The loss followed a 13-10 setback at Bowling Green. But the year’s low point should be a 36-7 home loss to Toledo in October: given a crack at the MAC’s best team – second-best, at worst – the Owls laid an egg.

Offensive M.V.P. What did running back Bernard Pierce do differently in 2011? He recommitted himself to the weight room, for starters, which manifested itself in a relatively injury-free campaign – his first since bursting onto the scene in 2009. Pierce ended the year with 1,491 rushing yards, most in the MAC, and a school-record 27 touchdowns.

Defensive M.V.P. Defensive end Adrian Robinson spent all of 2010 playing in Muhammad Wilkerson’s shadow, but he stepped into the spotlight in 2011 as one part of Temple’s standout defensive front. He and fellow senior linemen Tahir Whitehead and Morkeith Brown – you can always use Morkeith Brown – helped linebacker Stephen Johnson finish third in the MAC in tackles.

Stock watch The arrow is pointing up, with one small disclaimer: Temple needs to become more two-dimensional offensively to take on the better teams on its schedule. Additional warning signs include Pierce’s potential departure for the N.F.L., and the Owls lose five of the team’s six leading tacklers to graduation. Anything less than another repeat bowl berth would be surprising, but Addazio will have some work to do over the next nine months.

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  1. Lee says:

    I didn’t see this one coming. Good job Mr. Addazio.

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