PHILADELPHIA – It's not the return of Al Golden, but Temple is hoping bringing back Matt Rhule is the next best thing — if not even better.
The former Temple assistant under Golden was hired as Temple's latest head coach in December, following Steve Addazio's departure for Boston College. Rhule, who spent five seasons under Golden and one under Addazio, is the Owls' third head coach in the last five years.
He now aims to engineer a turnaround from last year's 4-7 campaign, Temple's first losing season since 2008. In the three years prior, Temple had rebuilt itself from a program that was nearly abandoned in 2004 to a team that went 27-12 with two bowl appearances and one bowl win from 2009-2011.
Five things to watch on North Broad as Temple attempts to get bowl eligible for the fourth time in five years:
1. NEW CONFERENCE (KIND OF): Can you change conferences without actually changing conferences? One year after re-joining what was the Big East, Temple is now a member of the American Athletic Conference. Although Louisville and Rutgers are leaving in 2014, they're still on Temple's schedule in 2013. That figures to give the Owls at least two games against ranked opponents this season, when they host Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals on Oct. 5 after opening the season at Notre Dame on Aug. 31.
2. THROW THE BALL: Under the run-happy Addazio, Temple averaged the fifth-fewest passing yards (120.8) in the FBS last year, ahead of only Army, Navy, Air Force and New Mexico, all of whom run the triple-option. But Rhule, in an effort to kick start the offense, is installing a new no-huddle, Pro Spread to balance the play calling and keep opposing defenses honest.
3. LESS IS MORE: Last year's running back tandem of Matt Brown and Montel Harris is gone from the Temple backfield, leaving the duties to what's likely to be a combination of Kenny Harper and Jamie Gilmore. The good news for the running backs: Temple will be passing more. "And that's much better for us. That's way better for us," Gilmore said. "I definitely think it helps us," Harper added. "It means there's not as many people in the box."
4. UNDER CENTER: Just who's running this new offense remains a question. Senior Chris Coyer, who started nine games at quarterback last season, has been moved to H-Back, and junior Connor Reilly, considered the favorite coming out of spring ball, has been bothered in camp by a sprained ankle. So far, Rhule has been holding an open competition between Reilly, senior Clinton Granger and true freshman P.J. Walker. Although Reilly remains the favorite, the coach has been heaping praise on Walker, who figures to be the future.
5. CHERRY MEANS STOP: Although it didn't last year. Temple suffered from a bad defensive combination in 2012, when it struggled to generate a pass rush or cover receivers down the field. So the tackling duties were left to Big East Rookie of the Year Tyler Matakevich, who became the first freshman in Temple history to record 100. If Temple can't get its defense sorted out, it's only going to put that much more pressure on a completely re-engineered offense.
Predicted finish in conference: 9th out of 10