The Temples football program already pushed itself into the national spotlight this year by returning to the Big East, but the Owls have made another big splash with a huge addition to their roster.
Last weekend former All-ACC running back Montel Harris transferred to Temple after being dismissed from Boston College in May for repeated violation of team rules. Even better news for Temple is that Harris will not have to wait to play, as he is immediately eligible for the 2012 season.
Harris is coming off a 2011 campaign in which he missed a good portion of the season after re-injuring his knee in a game against Wake Forest. Harris had a similar injury in 2010 when he went down in the regular season finale against Virginia.
Before the derailments however, the talented tailback piled up yardage and touchdowns that rivaled any back in the ACC and the nation for that matter. The 22-year-old rushed for a Boston College record 3,735 yards and 27 touchdowns in his first three plus seasons at Chestnut Hill including a two-year stretch over the 2009 and 2010 seasons when he tore through the ACC, leading the conference in rushing attempts and ranking second in rushing yards.
Even though the nagging injury issues might serve to keep hopes for Harris' production in check, the senior has never been afraid to take on a huge chunk of responsibility on offense. Harris was the focal point for the Eagles from the beginning of his freshman season, accounting for 31.3 percent of the Eagles' offensive production from 2008-2010. That number was far and away the top among Boston College non-quarterbacks.
It shouldn't be too difficult a transition for Harris, who will be reunited with two former Boston College coaches at Temple. Former offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers and wide receivers coach Ryan Day will each be making their debuts on the Owls' sideline this season. Rogers is taking over as associate head coach and will also coach the quarterbacks, while Day will serve as offensive coordinator.
The arrival of Harris to North Philadelphia is one that may propel Temple further up the Big East ladder than may be expected in their return to the Big East.
Temple is making its return to the conference after its best three-year stretch in over nearly 80 years. The Owls had three straight winning seasons, compiling an overall record of 26-12 and making it to a pair of bowl games after having only one postseason appearance in 64 seasons. The ascension of the program has been built around two things; defense and running the ball. The team was especially reliant on a bruising run game last season, ranking seventh in the nation (256.7 YPG), while finishing 116th in passing (126.8 YPG).
However. gone are the stalwarts of that game plan with star running back Bernard Pierce graduated and now trying to cut it in the NFL. Pierce rushed for 1,481 yards and 27 touchdowns a season ago and although his backup Matt Brown also had a strong season (916 yards), the Owls were expecting a drop off after Pierce's departure. Now with the addition of Harris, the Owls have a chance to be even better than they were a season ago. The running game won't be the only part of the offense affected by Harris' presence in the backfield. The Owls have been trying to find consistency at quarterback during the past few seasons, with less than stellar results. In fact, quarterback play may have been the biggest weakness holding Temple back from even greater success.
After Chester Stewart was a disaster last season and Mike Gerardi failed to complete passes consistently (50.8 completion percentage), the Owls are hoping to find their answer under in the form of junior Chris Coyer. As a sophomore, Coyer completed 60.0 percent of his passes and tossed six touchdowns and no interceptions. Coyer is also a threat with his feet (562 yards in 2011), making the Owls' rushing attack that much more dangerous.
With Harris lined up behind him, Coyer will continue to have the protection of a running back the defense must focus on, allowing him to be able to continue to evolve as a passer, an aspect of the game Temple will desperately need to really compete in the Big East.
Harris may also provide more than just production on the field, providing a veteran presence that could have a big effect on Temple's mentality as the team prepares for the upgraded competition of the Big East. A team that has played only seven games against teams from a BCS-conference (twice against the Big East) will undoubtedly turn to Harris' experience playing in the ACC. Although the Big East is not what it once was, Temple will be facing a big step up in the level of play that it will face week-in and week-out. The Owls will need Harris to immediately become a leader if they hope to stay competitive in their first season in their new conference.
That's quite a bit of pressure for a player that weeks before looked like he might not play another snap in college football. In fact it is a lot of pressure for a player that still has a number of concerns floating around him, perhaps part of the reason fewer teams did not aggressively seek his services.
Although the details of Harris' dismissal from Boston College have not been disclosed, it still serves as a red flag about the maturity and focus of a player that Temple will want to be in a leadership role. Also concerning is the nagging knee issues that hampered Harris through 2011. If Harris' knee or his off-field behavior don't improve, what looks to be a coo for the Owls, could prove disastrous.
Still excitement on North Broad Street is certainly high with Temple's once ridiculed football program continuing to make strides forward.
With the talent Harris brings, perhaps the Owls' foray back into the Big East waters will prove highly successful.