Philadelphia, PA – 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: A year ago Temple was in a similar situation to where it finds itself today as the Owls were getting set to enter a new conference. After seven seasons of being regulated as an independent squad and a stint in the Mid-American Conference, Temple made its return to the Big East.
Off the bat Temple made a statement with a 41-10 win over cross-town rival Villanova. The following two weeks didn't go as well with the Owls dropping decisions to Maryland (36-27) and at Penn State (24-13). Temple then hosted its first Big East game since 2004 and made good with a 37-28 win over South Florida. A Brandon McManus 29-yard field goal in overtime the next week got the Owls their first winning streak of the season with a 17-14 victory over Connecticut. However, it would be the last consecutive wins of the year for Temple which dropped five of its final six games.
The 4-7 finish was quite a step back for a program that had gone 9-4 and earned its first bowl win since 1979 in the previous season. However, after just his second season, head coach Steve Addazio bolted for Boston College leaving the offseason one in which the Owls needed to find a new head coach.
OFFENSE: Taking over for Addazio is Matt Rhule. This stop will be the first as a head coach for Rhule, who filled a number of roles for Temple during its recent renaissance under Al Golden, including three seasons as an offensive coordinator. A year ago he was an assistant offensive line coach in the NFL with the New York Giants.
"I had a chance to be around Steve Addazio. He did a great job of winning our first bowl game," Rhule said. "For me now it's my charge and my job to get us to win a conference championship. So that's what we're doing, that's why we're here."
Addazio didn't leave Rhule, certainly a more offensive-minded coach, much to work with on that side of the ball.
For Temple the biggest obstacle holding it back in the last few seasons has been its lack of consistent play at the quarterback spot.
Last season Chris Coyer entered as the starter after an impressive end to the 2011 campaign that included an offensive MVP award in the New Mexico Bowl. However, Coyer didn't live up to the hype as he completed just 51.2 percent of his pass attempts for 946 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions while rushing for an additional 444 yards in 2012. Addazio began to give Clinton 'Juice' Granger some time towards the end of the season but he did not produce at a much better rate.
With such weak play from the quarterbacks, the Owls were horrific through the air, ranking 116th nationally at just 120.8 yards passing per game.
Under Rhule the Owls will be employing less of a run-option offense as the quarterback position will be filled by Connor Reilly, who is more of a traditional pocket passer. Reilly did not take a snap last season and if he struggles Coyer and Granger are both back, while freshman P.J. Walker might even get a shot.
Finding some receivers that could turn into game-changers could definitely help the passing offense. Jalen Fitzpatrick led the team with 30 receptions and 363 yards last season. No other player had more than 17 receptions. Deon Miller averaged 14.4 yards per reception on his 10 catches and could develop into a deep threat.
The only area where Temple has been strong on the offensive side of late has been in running the ball. The combination of Matt Brown and Boston College transfer Montel Harris proved to be deadly last season as the Owls ranked second in the Big East and 31st nationally in rushing yards per game (201.2). However, both Harris and Brown have moved on leaving the job to a group of lightly tested players like Kenny Harper (193 career yards) and Jamie Gilmore (94 career yards).
Up front is where the only real returning starters are. However, Zach Hooks and Kyle Friend were forced into starting roles as just freshman and are still developing. Senior Jeff Whittingham is the senior leader at left guard.
DEFENSE: Even though they did not finish the season at the bottom of the Big East in terms of standings, the Owls did finish in the basement in most defensive categories. That included eighth-place finishes in scoring (31.2 ppg), rushing (199.8 ypg) and total (437.2 ypg) defense. In fact, the Owls only held four opponents to less than 30 points.
Tightening up will be quite a task but one Temple needs to accomplish if it hopes to compete at all this season.
Tyler Matakevich is one of the few players that instills optimism in the coaching staff. As a true freshman Matakevich was named 2012 Big East Rookie of the Year, racking up the fifth-most tackles in the Big East (101) despite playing in just eight games. Matakevich highlights a linebacking corps that returns all its starters including sophomore Nate D. Smith and senior Blaze Caponegro.
The secondary also has some proven performers returning especially at cornerback. Anthony Robey collected 41 tackles and had a team-high six passes defended while the other half of the field was covered by Zamel Johnson, who had 23 stops and four passes defended. At safety Chris Hutton didn't see a ton of playing time but did have one of just three interceptions by the Owls in all of 2012.
Levi Brown is a burley nose tackle that has started in each of the last two seasons for the Owls. He will need the rest of the unproven players that line up around him to really step up.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Just like at running back, the Owls lost a ton in this area with the departure of Brandon McManus, who owns career records at Temple for points scored, field goals made and punting average. Senior Paul Layton transferred from Albany for his senior season and will take over both punting and kicking duties.
Brown's departure won't just be felt in the running game as he was the primary returner last season. Jalen Fitzpatrick averaged 24 yards per return on kickoffs and Harper has the hands and skill to be a factor both on kickoffs and punt returns.
OUTLOOK: Even though they had just one year to adjust to the Big East, the Owls will be making another such adjustment this season as banner members of the American Athletic Conference. The hope is the shift to the new league will go better than it did a year ago.
"There's a lot of teams in this league that can win on any given day. And I think that for me is going to be unique for me," Rhule said. "But transition-wise, playing all these different teams, going to new places, I think it's all exciting for us. And it will obviously continue over the next couple years, but we hope we'll be mainstays and we'll bring stability."
Playing in higher profile games was part of the deal with Temple's move from the MAC to the Big East but the season opener this season may be as high profile as they come. The Owls will open the season in South Bend to take on BCS National Championship runner up Notre Dame. Temple then gets its first taste of one of the new members of the American when its hosts Houston the next week. Non-conference games against non-FBS program Fordham and at Idaho follow that contest. The Owls then get shots at conference favorites Louisville and Cincinnati before a battle with Army. Three of the final five games of the season are on the road, including at Rutgers.
Until the quarterback situation is actually figured out it is really difficult to imagine Temple being competitive this season. That is especially true with unproven players at running back. The defense may be improved and Matakevich could challenge for all-conference honors. Unfortunately Matakevich can't be relied on to score points, something that Temple will struggle with, along with winning games.