Immediate Needs: RB, CB, FB

nitro

Geoff Collins checks the footwear to see if Nitro can fill Nick Sharga’s shoes.

There were at least a couple of times a first-year coaching staff was caught with its pants down a year ago at Temple University.

It wasn’t a pretty sight.

One of them came at East Carolina, running backs went down so fast that the Owls were down to moving their backup fullback—Nick Ritrovato—to tailback and he responded in a big way with 14 carries for 48 yards to close out a 34-10 win at ECU. Had the then walk-on not responded like a scholarship player, that game might have turned out differently. Nitro received his scholarship on Oct. 27th. The other time the Owls coaches got caught with their pants down was failing to identify that the gamer at quarterback was the backup, not the starter, for the first seven games.

In that instance, the season might have turned out differently.

For Temple to be successful this season, Nitro needs to move back to fullback and create holes for the tailbacks as a lead blocker to set up the play-action passing game for Frank Nutile. That’s Temple TUFF in a nutshell. Let’s hope Dave Patenaude can grasp that simple concept.

This year, the suspenders are tightened and the pants are mostly secure, but that does not mean the Owls have no immediate needs.

They can start with the areas they lost two players, a 6-foot-6 corner with speed in Derrick Thomas, who took his graduate transfer year and reunited with Matt Rhule at Baylor. The other was the unfortunate loss of David Hood at running back, who was told by the doctors that his last concussion was one too many. For what it’s worth, it would be useful as well to develop a backup plan at fullback should Nitro go down.


For Temple to be
successful this season,
Nitro needs to move back
to fullback and create holes
for the tailbacks as a lead
blocker to set up the
play-action passing game
for Frank Nutile.
That’s Temple TUFF in a nutshell

Thomas probably wasn’t going to beat out Linwood Crump Jr. at one corner position—he was behind him in the “above the line” area last year—and certainly wasn’t going to beat out FCS first-team All Big South corner Rock Ya-Sin at the other. Still, he would have provided a valuable insurance policy for the Owls at that position if attrition came into play.

At running back, Rock Armstead is primed for a Bernard Pierce-type season if he can stay healthy and Jager Gardner is back from his injury but the ranks are pretty thin behind that. Tyliek Raynor was a big-time recruit, and should be healthy but he is an unknown at this point. This looks like an area were one of the incoming true freshman, like Kyle Dobbins, will have an opportunity to make an impact.

The other areas—offensive and defensive lines—look like they are in good shape. Chris Wisehan, the offensive line coach, said the Owls interior three—two guards and center Matt Hennessey—were the best the team has had since he’s been here and he’s one of the few holdovers of the Rhule staff.

As loaded as the Owls are, cornerback and running back looks like the fastest way for the incoming freshmen to get on the field and it is vital for a couple of those to come through when their number is called.

Just like Nitro did.

 

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Could Geoff Collins Be THE One?

kraft

Press conferences hiring FBS head coaches are elaborate and well-attended functions with both sides toasting the other with usually a few hundred glowing words.

Unlike another elaborate and well-attended function with similar toasts, the words “until death do us part” are never uttered.

veracity

That’s because these things usually end with that old business formula: Up or out.

For Temple recently, it’s been a lot of ups—Miami, Boston College and Baylor come to mind—and few outs (Bobby Wallace).

That’s a good thing.

The only scenario better for the Owls would be an “up and up” situation like the ones currently enjoyed by places like Ohio University and The Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Of the successful Group of Five coaches in the last decade, just about everyone other than Frank Solich (Ohio) and Ken Niumatalolo (Navy) have moved on to so-called greener pastures. So-called because the Temple coaches who left probably now are finding out that money does not buy the same type of happiness they had at 10th and Diamond.

After Al Golden, Steve Addazio and Matt Rhule did not, is head coach Geoff Collins The One to give Temple football a long-term commitment?

Temple fans have longed hoped that some coach looks into that history and figures out that $2 million-a-year is enough to live on and have a nice life without having one eye on the door.

Maybe we’re reading a little too much into this, but Geoff Collins gave an indication he’s only planning to go one place for any extended period NEXT offseason.

Rome.

Collins committed to taking a group of a dozen football Owls to Rome next season after a successful trip to Tokyo last month.

Rome, like Tokyo, hosts a satellite campus of Temple University and the Owls plan to go there next year.

If Collins can do something like winning a championship here this year and fixing the revolving door at the E-O and stay next year, he will be joining a pretty exclusive club.

For now, though, keeping that Rome trip commitment after any kind of positive success this season would be a good way to start.

Monday: Immediate Needs

Wednesday: Road Trips

Friday: Early Recruiting Rankings of Note

Monday (6/18): Birthday Wishes

Wednesday (6/20): When No News Equals Bad News

Temple Football: Great, Not Just Good

 

Paging through the comments of some of the stories on Temple building a football stadium, I came across these two gems:

“Their football team isn’t even good.”

“Temple should drop down a division like Villanova.”

Hitting the reply button in both cases was too temping to pass up.

standards

The point is, to both of those people, the first by a woman and the second from a man, ignorance is bliss and perception of a decades ago reality is something they chose to hold onto.

The current reality should be the only thing that matters and that is in black and white for all to see.

Unless you are Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma or Clemson, very few teams have carved out a higher profile than Temple recently.

Of the last three years, Clemson and Alabama—with two 14-win seasons—certainly is at the top of college football’s food chain.

Ohio State and Oklahoma are part of that next rung averaging roughly a dozen wins over the last three years.

templeparents

Then there’s Temple, which belongs to a very successful “Group of Seven” schools within the 63-team Group of Five.

Of the Group of Five (G5) schools, the Owls are “not even good” because they are close to being great. They are one of only four teams—Houston, Toledo and Boise State are the others—who have either won or been to their league championship games twice over the last three years.

Arguably, the Owls are in the Final Four of that group if you use the current (three-year) sample. Of the teams who have won at least 27 games, only four have been to two league championship games and Temple is one of them.

Their 27 wins of the last three years puts them right there with teams like San Diego State (32), Boise State (30), Toledo (30) Houston (29), USF (29), Memphis (27), Navy (27) and ahead of teams like Ohio (25), Brigham Young (22) and UCF (19).

Even if you limit your sample to just G5 teams—and in many ways that is the fairest comparison, Temple is in the top 10 percent of the most successful college football teams in the nation.

It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to figure that if this edition of the Owls is “ridiculously good” (as head coach Geoff Collins has said), they can move right up to the top of that class.

The people who think the football team representing the school “is not even good” are probably right. By any standards, a three-year run that puts you in a cumulative top four of a 63-team group qualifies for greatness.

The Cherry (and White) on top of all this would be a NY6 win and that has to be the next step for this program.

Wednesday: Camp Haul

Friday: Color Bearers

Monday: Matchmaking

 

 

Another Sign of the G5 Apocalypse

aranda

Dave Aranda, a SEC coordinator, is now making considerably more than Geoff Collins.

Every offseason or so over the past five years, something has happened to illustrate the urgency of getting Temple out of the G5 and into the P5.

You can argue all you want about the window already being closed for that eventuality, but if there’s even a one percent chance of it happening, Temple should pry to prop up that window and force it upward.

Maybe building a 35,000-seat stadium is a step in that direction. Maybe it’s not. (I’m thinking a 40-45K stadium probably would work more than a 35K one in attracting interest.) Probably winning a NY6 bowl game would be the best way to do it and bringing along a top basketball program would not hurt as well.

Whatever, staying in the G5 for the next 20 or so years is not a sustainable business model. Worse, it could mean “an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome scale.” That’s the very definition of the word apocalypse. If the G5 is marginalized into pretty much what is now FCS football–without the distinguishing feature of a true championship–it will be damaged beyond repair.

Real football will be playing with the big boys in the P5. Anything else will be considered the minor leagues.

The latest evidence of that occurred when it was leaked that several schools at the top of the Power 5 food chain are now paying their top coordinators MORE than the $2 million Geoff Collins is being paid to be the Temple football CEO.

If so, the trickle down effect—the inability of G5 schools like Temple to attract top head coaches and therefore top assistants—probably assures that the ceiling will be made of cement, not glass.

LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is now making $2.5 million per season—a hefty $500,000 more than Collins currently makes—for doing the same job at the same level Collins left Florida to do. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to figure that Aranda does half as much with about a quarter of the headaches of Collins these days. That’s not to say Collins doesn’t love his job; it’s just that it is his responsibility to keep 105 scholarship athletes on the straight and narrow in addition to the winning that is demanded of him.

If LSU puts together a good defense and loses, the head coach, not Aranda, gets the blame.

Aranda now makes more than 75 of FBS head coaches and there are only 127 of those jobs in the world.

It appears the Aranda contract and other seven-figure contracts signed by Power 5 coordinators this offseason further marginalizes the 63 schools who play non-Power 5 football.

Pretty close to an apocalypse.

Friday: Scoreboard Watching

Collins: Calling All Fans

 

 

One of the most revealing passages from the Temple position paper on reasons for building a new stadium is this:

“Overall, the trend is clear—stadiums built since 2000 have capacities that are sized to fit the institution’s market and football program’s success. The average recently built FBS stadium has a capacity of 37,561, similar to the intended 35,000 seats at Temple. Ninety-five percent of Temple football games over the past 10 years could have been accommodated in a 35,000-seat stadium.”

 

That doesn’t mean that in the last two years of its current contract with the Philadelphia Eagles to play in the cavernous Lincoln Financial Field that the Owls will not try to fill it.

Hence, the hashtag campaign of #filltheLinc and head coach Geoff Collins personally calling season-ticket holders who have not renewed and asking them to renew.

(I didn’t get a call because I renewed during the first week in February.)

A noble goal, but as has been stated here over the years and reiterated in Temple’s own new stadium reasoning somewhat misguided. Our theory is that there is a hardcore base of around 20,000 fans who will come to see the Owls, win, lose or draw. Then there is an additional “softcore” base of about 15,000 who will come out to see the Owls win, win or win.

That base gets cracked easily when the Owls lose an opener they should not have like Villanova in 2009 and Army in 2016.

Win an opener like Penn State in 2015 and the softcore crystallize into diehards the rest of the year.

There is a ceiling of Temple fan interest and it is right around the 35,000 Temple fans who attended the Tulane game for the 6-0 Owls in 2015. It is right around the 34,005 fans who saw the Owls lay an egg in the opener the next year against Army.

The attendance problem simply is not just a matter of wins and losses but of a larger economic driver, supply and demand.

Temple needs a stadium sized to fit its program.

In the American Athletic Conference, Temple currently plays in the largest-capacity stadium and draws below-average attendance, resulting in the lowest percentage of stadium seats filled for home games. Too much supply limits the ability to drive ticket sales and, as a result, gameday revenue.

If Collins calling fans personally leads to the hashtag #fillthelinc then that would be a miracle that would qualify him for Sainthood. It would also have the domino effect of causing the Power 5 to suspend its moratorium on expansion and immediately invite Temple into the conference of its choice. (Hell, if Temple averaged 70,000 fans over the 27 wins of last three years can you imagine a conference NOT inviting the Owls?)

More likely, shoot for a glass full and drink in half that and the Edberg-Olson phone calls will be well worth last month’s hefty Verizon bill.

Monday: Immediate Help

Wednesday: Mr. Softee A Welcome Addition

Friday: Ranking the 5 best Temple teams of All Time

For TU fans, Love Should Be Better Second Time Around

timessquare

A real ad paid for by Temple on the marquee in Times Square 4/26/18.

If you are a Temple fan who did not fall in love with Geoff Collins in his first year, there are indications that love is better the second time around.

OK, I’ll admit it.

I wasn’t crazy about his trust in an offensive coordinator who recruited a guy for Coastal Carolina and gave that guy about the longest rope to hang himself of any Temple quarterback in my 41-year history of following the Owls.

Seven games with six putrid and one acceptable performance was six games too much for my taste and it almost put the Owls out of bowl contention.

Forgetting that Nick Sharga was the best pure football player on the team—on both offense and defense–was another major strike against Collins.

That was then and this is now.

Mayhem might not have been coming a year ago, but there are at least inclinations that it could be here in five months.

Collins made a couple of impressive CEO moves in the offseason, promoting Andrew Thacker to DC to replace Taver Johnson was the first. We did not see the defensive Mayhem we had been promised until the 13th game of the season and Collins was not a happy camper. Presumably seeing the handwriting on the wall, Johnson went back to the Big 10 and accepted the same job he had a Purdue before taking the Temple DC job (defensive backs’ coach) at Ohio State. Collins also made Temple lifer Ed Foley the “assistant head coach in charge of offense” presumably as a check and balance on Patenaude.

hearts

Those aren’t the only signs Year Two Can be better than Year One.

All you have to do is look around the American Athletic Conference (which probably should have kept the Big East name, but that’s a story for another day).

Look at what all of the other second-year coaches did.

Navy’s brilliant Ken Niumatalolo went 8-5 with a loss in the Eagle Bank Bowl his first year and then went 10-4 with a win in the Texas Bowl his second year.

Memphis’ Mike Norvell went 8-5 his first year, then 10-3 the second.

SMU’s Chad Morris went 2-10, 5-7 and 7-6 before he accepted a Power 5 job with Arkansas.

UCF’s Scott Frost went 6-7 his first year and then 13-0 the second.

Those are significant improvements in numbers across the board.

The numbers suggest that the bottom line for Collins will produce much better than the seven wins he was able to post while feeling his way around in the first season. If it’s Rhule and Frost good, that’s an improvement of anywhere from 4-7 wins. Even if it’s Norvell good, that’s a nine-win season.

Just split the difference between, say, Rhule and Frost and every Temple fan—even the skeptical ones—will be sending Valentines Collins’ way come Feb. 14, 2019.

The only question where be where to send the card with the Whitman’s chocolates.

Monday: Facts Of Life In AAC

Spring Phenoms Old and New

zamani

Great Zamani Feelings shot of Bruce Arians, Geoff Collins and Todd Bowles on Saturday.

Having seen names like Myron Myles and Lou Angelo light it up on Cherry and White Day and disappear a few months later, I’ve come to take a skeptical view of one-day spring wonders.

That said, spring practice is more than a month of hard-hitting and difficult throws and catches so the cream seems to rise to the top over 30 days and this year offers several intriguing candidates. Forget some of what you will see on Saturday in the spring game and remember a lot of what you see below.

From what I’ve been told from people who have been able to see at least one practice every week, these are the guys who are getting the reps that might surprise you (hometowns in parathesis):

Sean Ryan, WR, New York City

After Ventell Bryant and Isaiah Wright—probably one of the best receiving tandems in the nation—there was a huge dropoff in talent from the first to second unit. Ryan, one of NYC’s top receivers a year ago, seems to be filling the talent void and has made a number of difficult catches with the kind of deep speed that Wright seems to have. Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude likes to use three-receiver packages and do not be surprised if Ryan is able to make an impact right away.

connection

Anthony Russo, QB.  Doylestown

Patenaude said at the end of last year that Russo was “light year’s different” in practice in December than he was in September. Add that to the fact that Patenaude also said early last March that Russo corrected a “looping motion” in his release plus increased playing time with the ones means that Russo could slot into the role Nutile had at the beginning of last year—a guy in the No. 2 slot who is ready to get his chance in a real game. Mix in the fact that the staff is trying to find new positions for Todd Centeio and there is a clear indication that the first and second jobs are Frank Nutile’s and Russo’s. A lot of the Philadelphia area has been waiting to see what Russo can do in a real game and not a practice or a scrimmage and this year could very well be that chance. It took the staff eight games before it finally decided to insert Nutile in there to give him a chance to run the squad and hopefully they will give Russo the same chance this season that Juice got last one.

gardner

Jager Gardner, Black Mountain (N.C.)

One thing that has been a relatively accurate predictor of future success at Temple for any player has been eye-popping numbers in high school. Folks here kind of knew Adam DiMichele would have projected as a pretty good quarterback here when he tossed 35 touchdown passes as a senior for Sto-Rox in the WPIAL. As a running back, Gardner had far better numbers than the other guy, Ryquell Armstead, who came in his class. Gardner’s senior year numbers: 2,776 yards and 36 touchdowns on 282 carries. Armstead’s senior year numbers at Vineland (N.J.): 1,488 and 18 touchdowns. Gardner got injured and fell behind and now seems to have caught up. Head Coach Collins said this has been a “break out” spring for him. Since Gardner already owns the Temple all-time record for longest run from scrimmage, that bodes well for this year.

Rock Ya-Sin, DB, Decatur (Ga.)

Already one of the greatest “names” in Temple roster history, Rock looks primed to become one of the great producers on the field in this his first season for the Owls after transferring from FCS school Presbyterian. Last season, playing for a Villanova-level school, Ya-Sin led his team with 49 tackles and five interceptions. More importantly, he has stood out during spring practices in an area of need—defensive back—as the Owls scrape hard to find replacements for three departed starters.

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Benny Walls, Safety, Cherry Hill, N.J. and Keyvone Bruton, Norfolk, Va.

Walls was a standout for a great state championship team in St. Joseph’s Prep and clearly the star of Wednesday’s practice when Collins tweeted that Walls had a dominant day. Walls was a two-time first-team All-Catholic playing in one of the best high school football leagues in the nation. Benny has great athletic genes. His dad, also Benny, played basketball at Camden High and his uncle, Kevin Walls, was even more famous–scoring 81 points in a single game for Camden High before going off to Louisville to play his college basketball. Bruton—not to be confused with defensive backs coach Nate BURTON (different spelling) had 18 interceptions for Lake Taylor (Va.) High and is just as likely to be a starter with Delvon Randall as Walls is and this should be a position battle that lasts through the summer.

Wednesday: The Scrimmage

Friday: 5 Things to Watch for at Cherry and White