5 Reasons Why Owls Could Repeat

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 03 AAC Championship - Navy v Temple

The AAC title would be a nice keepsake item for the Owls this season.

The Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is a very nice place, one that Temple football fans called home for the last two games of the 2016 season.

One of them, a father of a recent player, mentioned to me that he would not mind if the thing could be placed on a forklift and plopped right onto the site that for years was Geasey Field. Not a bad idea, I said, if it could find into that spot.

As I walked out of that stadium in late December, I remember thinking another thing.

I liked that stadium a whole lot better the first week of the month than the last. It looked like the Taj Mahal on the first Saturday of the month and, after a 34-26 loss to Wake Forest, like Northeast High.

Playing and winning a meaningful game made it a whole lot better-looking.

Temple has been in the AAC championship game the last two years, losing the first, winning the second.

Few expect the Owls to return for a third-straight time, maybe even host it,  but I don’t think it’s impossible.

Here’s 5 reasons why the Owls could repeat:

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Don’t Mess With a Good Thing

Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude mentioned that the Owls would keep their identity as a run-first, pass second team, then talked the out the other side of his mouth in the same sentence, saying the Owls could go to multiple receiver formations as well. The Owls have the best blocking fullback in the country, Nick Sharga, for one more year. If they are going to go to multiple wide receivers, do it in 2018, not 2017. At his Baylor press conference, Matt Rhule said the Owls ran the ball simply because “we had a NFL fullback.” They still do.

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Mayhem Takes Over

The T-Shirts the university sells isn’t just an empty slogan: Mayhem Is Coming. That’s because everywhere Temple coach Geoff Collins has been he has structured a defense based on pressuring the quarterback into mistakes, like fumbles and interceptions. In players like Sharif Finch and Jacob Martin (defensive ends) and tackles Michael Dogbe and Karamo Dioubate, they have guys who can get to the quarterback and strip the ball from him before he’s able to get a pass out of his hands. At least that’s the plan.

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Quarterback Separation

Anthony Russo is the best quarterback prospect out of the three Philadelphia City high school leagues (Public, Catholic, Inter-Ac) since Matt Ryan played for Penn Charter. Russo’s stats playing better competition than Ryan dwarfed the current NFL MVP (Russo had 35 touchdown passes his senior year as opposed to 20 for Ryan). Yet Russo hasn’t been able to establish separation with fellow quarterback contenders Logan Marchi, Frank Nutile and Toddy Centeio. If he does in the next few months, watch out.  Really, all any of the quarterbacks needs to do is match P.J. Walker’s first year (20 touchdowns, 8 interceptions) because the running game with Jager Gardner and Ryquell Armstead could carry this offense.

Infusion of Confidence

A win over Notre Dame in the first game would inject an infusion of confidence into the players that could carry over into the rest of the season. Face it: They all seem to like Collins, but nothing would give Collins credibility to his players like beating ND on national TV. They could ride that Tidal Wave through the AAC. How sweet would it be for Temple to beat Notre Dame and then see the Irish go on a six- or -seven-game winning streak after that?

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Game Day/Week Coaching

While Rhule, like Al Golden, were great program CEOs and very good recruiters, they had some brain farts on game day that caused Temple fans and ex-players to shake their heads. Such an example occurred against Army in the opener last year when the Owls played their base 4-3 against a triple option, instead of plugging the A Gaps and forcing Army’s quarterback to beat them in in the passing game. Another example was a poor week of preparation prior to Penn State led to 120 yards in Owl penalties in a 34-27 loss. Cracking the whip during practice the week before might have cut those penalties in half and meant the AAC champ winning at the Big 10 champ. Huge opportunity missed not only for Temple but for the G5. If Collins does a better job at studying opponent’s game film than Rhule did, he could steal one or two more wins than the so-called experts expect.

Those one or two extra wins could make all the difference in the world.

Wednesday: P5 Misconceptions

The Schedule: You Never Know

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Getting Stony Brook on someone else’s schedule is a plus.

Watching some of the recent episodes of Saturday Night Live, I miss some of the old characters like the ones played by the late John Belushi and Gilda Radner. (It’s still pretty good and Melissa McCarthy hit a home run with her skit on Donald Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer, but most of the skits are dribblers to second base, pop ups or strike outs.)

That’s not what it was like in the old days when Radner and Belushi were hitting home runs and guys like Chevy Chase, Dan Akroyd and Billy Murray were routinely hitting doubles off the wall.

I thought about Gilda while thumbing down the recent release of the Temple 2017 schedule.

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I would like another one of these bad boys, but it’s going to be tough.

One of her catch phrases was: “You never know.”

Look at the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2006 season. Before that year even started, fans on every talk radio show penciled in the team as losing three December games, at the Redskins, at the Giants and at the Cowboys in consecutive weeks and the doom and gloom got worse when Donovan McNabb was lost for the season with a broken leg before those three games. His backup, Jeff Garcia, came in and beat the Skins (21-19), Giants (36-22) and Cowboys (24-7) to win the NFC East.

You never know.

This time a year ago, many Temple fans (not me) were saying that the losses of players like Tyler Matakevich, Matt Ioannidis, Robby Anderson and Tavon Young meant Temple would take a step back from a 10-4 season of 2015.

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I looked at a still-loaded roster and argued otherwise, that this was the “step forward” year and not the step back one. Since this year’s 10-4 included a championship, I was right.

You never know if I will be as right about this one but here it goes. I hope not to be as right about this season but I already knew about the teams Temple would play in 2017 and have always said this would be the “step back” year and not the step forward one.

It’s only a step, though. Owl fans can relax because we’re not falling into the mine shaft. Most Owl fans do not know how good Anthony Russo is. Having seen pretty much his entire high school career, I do and this how I will describe his upcoming Temple time: He won’t be as impressive as P.J. Walker was in his first season, but he will make you forget Walker in seasons two through four. (He’s not as elusive as Walker, but let’s not kid ourselves. P.J. was no Fran Tarkenton, Bobby Douglas or even Russell Wilson in the important skill of eluding pass rushers.)

So I stand by that prediction that it will be a slight step back, not a huge one.

I thought before Matt Rhule left that it would be a positive year for him to go 7-5 with a bowl win in 2017 and I think that is the measuring stick for new head coach Geoff Collins. If he goes 7-5, he’s just as good a coach as Rhule but I think there is a good chance he could go 8-4 or better. Listen, no one expects him to go 10-4 again and, if he does, Ed Foley is probably coaching Temple’s third-straight bowl loss.

The expectation here is eight wins and a bowl win and that’s in the “step-back” year because 2018 figures to be even better.

There is plenty of talent left on this team, even if you do not expect them to beat Notre Dame, Tulsa, Navy or South Florida. I’m not buying Houston. Wasn’t Temple the champion in the same league Houston could not win last  year? Didn’t Houston struggle on the road against teams like SMU, UConn and Navy in the last two years? Did not Temple win at all three of those places? I rest my case. Ryquell Armstead running behind the lead blocking of Nick Sharga with the explosive receivers Temple has is a good way to start. The defense should be outstanding once again. Any line that has Jacob Martin and Sharif Finch as the ends, and Karamo Dioubate, Michael Dogbe, Greg Webb and Freddy Booth-Lloyd in the middle with a secondary of Champ Chandler, Mike Jones, Delvon Randall and Artrel Foster will bring Mayhem.

The way Temple seasons have worked recently, though, is that they always have beaten someone you penciled them in for a loss before the season (i.e., Vanderbilt, 2014; Penn State 2015 and South Florida 2016) and always lost to someone you never expected them to lose to in the same season. Can we break that cycle this year?

I think so. Just hold serve.

If Collins holds serve, he will be our guy and probably hang around to coach the bowl win.

However, as Emily Latella would say: “You never know” but, gun to my head, I would pick eight over six or even seven and I will stand by that number.

(No posts Sunday or Tuesday due to minor surgery but God-willing will return Thursday)

A Day Without Owls, But Not Without Football

aacbowls

Going through severe Temple football withdrawal today, but heartened by the fact that the Owls needed this week to ice up those injuries and rest those weary bones for the final two legs of the regular-season trip.

The reward for finishing the “Unfinished Business” will be one of six bowls above, some sweet, some sour. Here are our picks this week.

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Postscript: Miami won, 34-14 (not 35-14 as we predicted) and Penn State won, 45-31 (not 41-24 as we predicted). Air Force won, 49-46 and Navy got a push at 42-40. We lost outright on ECU, which got smoked, 55-31, by SMU.

Beyond Unfinished Business

The linebacker corps is in good hands with 3 returning starters.

The bad news for all but one of the 127 teams is that nobody is going to win the national football championship like our neighbors, who shall remain nameless, won the national basketball title.

All but that one team, of course, and, at this point, it doesn’t look like it will be Temple. (However, if you want a nice $10,000 return on a measly $10 investment and believe in the Owls, sportsbook is taking bets.)

When the Owls made “Unfinished Business” their team slogan this year, they probably did not mean winning the national championship but the good news today is there is a whole list of ancillary goals that would finish the business.

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AAC bowl tie-ins this season.

It starts with the American Athletic Conference championship, which is well within reach. All the Owls have to do to secure home field, presumably against Houston, is to run the table in their seven home games and not be upset on the road. They will probably be favored at Memphis and at UConn, two of their tougher road games. They can even afford a loss at Penn State and still achieve that goal. Home field should beget a win over USF (hey, it did in 2012) and a crowd of 40,000-plus rabid Temple fans in the AAC championship game could be the difference.

What about Beyond Unfinished Business?

Even if the Owls do not reach their No. 1 goal, there are a number of ways the business conducted this season could be better than the work done last year. Winning a school-record 11 games is within reach and that’s some nice work. Beyond that, though, the AAC has seven bowl tie-ins and the team’s (and especially the administration’s) goal has to be to get the Owls in a bowl game against a Power 5 team. Last year, Owls Daily editor Shawn Pastor reported that the administration was offered the Birmingham Bowl against Auburn and a bowl in Louisiana against Virginia Tech, but turned down both offers to play near a large alumni fan base in Florida.

Big mistake.

This year, “Unfinished Business” also means taking care of business once those offers are on the table. That means no “turning down” any of these three bowls should the Owls be offered one:

Birmingham Bowl Dec. 29, 2016

Birmingham, Ala. – vs. SEC

St. Petersburg Bowl Dec. 26, 2016

St. Petersburg, Fla. – vs. ACC

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman Dec. 29, 2016

Annapolis, Md. – vs. ACC

The other bowl tie-ins are the Miami Beach Bowl and Bahamas Bowl (both versus MAC foes),  and the Boca Raton Bowl vs. Conference USA. Thanks, but no thanks. Been there, done that.

While winning the national championship would be nice, and winning the AAC the real deal, getting those 11 wins and beating a Power 5 team in a bowl would also qualify for Unfinished Business and be more than acceptable consolation prizes.

It all begins in a little over two weeks against Army and the focus then and every week hence is going to have to be laser-sharp, but  this is a business deal that should be profitable.

Monday: The Next Big Red One

Media Day Takeaway: The U Word

 

It’s a new team and probably a better one than last year’s version.

Unfortunately, many of us have heard the “c” word and the “b” word and the “f” word but it took until AAC Media Day earlier this week for Temple football fans to hear the “u” word for the first time.

Unbeaten.

That’s a pretty sweet word and it rolled off quarterback Phillip Walker’s tongue like a double-layered cake.  As far as I can recall, that’s the first time a Temple player has uttered the “u” word in any formal setting, although I’m sure a couple of guys might have dreamed about it out loud during an off-season weightlifting session.

Asked by a media member what the team’s goals were, Phillip said: “League championship, unbeaten season …”

Unbeaten season? Why not?

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For most of my adult life, I never associated “unbeaten season” with Temple as an achievable goal. This year it might be on that top shelf of reachable things.  At the very least, an unbeaten regular season is in play. A few months ago, I wrote I believed this team had all of the ingredients to break the school record for wins with 11 and that should be the minimum goal (with the maximum one being an AAC title).

If you can win 11, you can win 12 and that’s what Phillip Walker is talking about. Every year, I’ve been following Temple, the Owls usually lose a game or two they should not or win a game or two they should not. To reach an unbeaten season, though, pattern will have to be broken. This year might be the year. (The exception was the 1979 team, which lost to only two top 10 teams by a grand total of 16 points. Also, the 1974 team lost only to a much higher-ranked Boston College team.)

First, they will take a lot of confidence from a 2-0 start into Penn State. They will also take a proven four-year starting quarterback there against an untested rookie. Win there, and that opens a wide path for 7-0 going into USF, which is at home this year. Forty thousand crazed Temple fans can make a difference in that one. I don’t buy this fallacy that USF has “too much” for Temple this year. USF lost to Western Kentucky, so let’s pump the brakes on comparing them to Alabama. Of course, Temple lost to Toledo.

Win there, and it’s an Autobahn ride to 12-0.

Since all of the above puts the title game in Philly, 13-0 is also possible. Now 14-0 or 15-0, that might be another shelf no vertical leap can reach but it is fun thinking about.

Monday: Roster Thoughts

Temple Better Be Paying Attention

Cincinnati Enquirer blows cover off Bearcats' Big 12 bid.

Cincinnati Enquirer blows cover off Bearcats’ Big 12 bid.

Since it was too cold to go outside on Saturday, time is never wasted watching ESPN 30 for 30 episodes of the award-winning series. The Saturday one featuring the Big East particularly pertained to Temple.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino hit the nail on the head when he said: “In all of those Big East meetings, everybody was swearing unity and allegiance to the Big East and the minute they were over, all of the athletic directors were on the phone trying to make deals with another conference.”

It is with that backdrop that Temple should be concerned with the Cincinnati Enquirer’s report today that the President of that university was in active talks with the Big 12 to get his team out of the American Athletic Conference (AAC).

Temple should be paying attention because, if it was not obvious before, it is every man (school) for himself and without Cincy and UConn, Temple could one day wake up and find itself in nothing more prestigious than Conference USA.

The Oklahoma President says that it is all about TV and, if so, Temple—not Cincy—holds the ace in this deck of cards and that’s something Neil D. Theobald and Pat Kraft should be hammering home. Temple should be looking out for Temple, period.

From the Enquirer’s report, it is clear that Cincy is taking that approach.

Add Snowmageddon To Temple’s Luck

snowmageddon

Being a Temple sports fan, I’m used to a number of odd things happening at strange times that seem to stunt the Owls’ growth in the two marquee sports.

Add this latest Snowmageddon Episode to Temple’s dumb luck.

Arguably, it is probably the biggest recruiting weekend of the season with Temple trying to close the deal on some high-profile football recruits and the forecast of a crippling blizzard cannot help things. Sure, once in a blue moon you will find a kid from Florida who loves the snow and thinks it is the greatest thing in the world and decides to commit on the spot.

Ninety-nine percent of the other people living on the planet do not think that way.

templethings

It was a good idea in the first place because the Temple basketball team was going to host unbeaten AAC rival SMU on Saturday night in a game that figured to pack the Liacouras Center and show the recruits a packed house of spirited Temple fans. Now, that game is moved to Sunday and probably will not have nearly the same atmosphere.

Ironically, this snow is not going to be a good first  impression because it had not snowed all winter—not even a flake—and the winter had been relatively mild with quite a few 50- and 60-degree days. You can tell the recruits that all you want, but they see what they see.

Logistically, it is just not going to be a good thing. Even though the recruits will be on campus, other things are routinely planned on recruiting weekends that will just not go off—like trips to Lincoln Financial Field and Center City.

There is always the hope that things go well and the Owls pull in the haul they expected, but the snow will not be their friend this weekend.

In another development, Penn State–a place where it snows all the time–is hosting Temple recruit Dae’Lun Darien this weekend.

The forecast there is a coating to an inch.