As the students return to the White Tent-clad sidewalks in front of the living spaces of N. Broad St., it is time for the first Temple Owls Thursday Preview of the 2016 Season. This one will be an overview of some of the new and old faces to look for as the season starts September 2nd, at the Linc at 7:00 PM, against the Army West Point Black Knights. A preview of that game will appear here next Thursday.
Last season the Owls went 10-4 and 7-1 in the East, after being picked to finish third in the pre-season, losing only to South Florida (6-2) 44-23 who finished in 2nd. The Owls then lost twice in the “Post Season” to Houston. 13-24 in the inaugural AAC Title Game, and then to Toledo, 32-17 in the Boca Raton Bowl, so they have obvious team goals for this season. First is to exceed expectations after they were picked to finish second in this year’s Media poll to South Florida, which was released during the AAC’s football media day on 08/07. USF received 15 first-place votes, compared with nine for Temple and six for Cincinnati. Second would be to get to and win that AAC Championship and then a Major Bowl game.
Offense: The Owls lost two productive WR’s that are in NFL training camps, Robby Anderson and Brandon Shippen. Also last month TE Kip Patton, who caught 12 passes, 166 receiving yards and one rushing TD for Temple last season, announced he is transferring to Tennessee Tech. He was slated to be redshirted this season for Temple as he was injured in the spring.
With the above losses, Redshirt SO WR Ventell Bryant will be asked to lead and mentor the young WR corp. He set Owl FR records for catches and receiving yards (679/39), second on the team in both categories. On his preparation for his new role this year he commented:
“This summer, I attacked the weight room. I’m around 194 pounds now. I worked on my speed a lot more. I worked on catching the ball more consistently. I’ve been watching a lot of tape, and I’ve been watching a lot of coverages. When I see the weakside safety, I know what his role is. I just learned how to read defenses. And now I can say this … I’ve learned how to never bring anything from the outside into practice. I just come in every day and attack as hard as I can – so I can be the best that I can be.” FR Isaiah Wright is one of the new WRs that has stood out in practice. In HS he had 91 catches for 1,917 yards and 19 tds as well as 330 rushing yards and a score on 24 carries. He played DB as well. In practice they also looked at him at RB and special teams returner. “He has been bursting on the scene, playing running back, wide receiver, everything we need him to do,” quarterback Phillip Walker said.
There are no changes at QB, well except for P. J. Walker (sorry Dan Baker) changing his name to Phillip Walker. He says he has just matured past the initials stage:
“It is just the growth, the older I get the less I want to be called P.J.,” Walker said. I feel the more mature I become and the more of a man I become, I don’t want to be a grown man being called P.J. I would prefer them calling me by my original name.” Walker said during the AAC media day. “I have been doing things the same I always have and I am the same guy,”
Like Bryant, Walker, listed at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, but he says he’s up to 210 pounds, also put in his reps in the gym.”I feel I put the weight on in the right places.”
Protecting Walker and enabling the success of returning RB Jahad Thomas and the above mentioned WRs will be up to SR OT, 6’5, 318 lb Dion Dawkins (who has been named to the Outland Trophy Watch List for the nation’s top interior lineman) after appearing in all 14 games last season – 13 starts – will be the anchor of the offensive line. He had this to say about the unit getting ready for the season:
“As far as our group is concerned, everybody is extra hungry and everybody just wants a starting spot.” He went on to say “It’s a constant grind, so we are creating tremendous depth on the line and as of right now anybody has a chance” talking about competition at each of the five positions on the line.
C Brendan McGowan Redshirt SR, who has the tough job of replacing Kyle Friend, a first team all-conference center who is now in the New York Jets camp, will work w/ Dawkins to lead the group.
“Obviously being a starting O-lineman has a lot of pressure, but I love it,” said McGowan. “I love the competition and always love going with the ones so, just being back with the starters is a great feeling.”
G Brian Carter Redshirt JR, and T Leon Johnson Redshirt JR ,who each got experience starting a few games last year, will be big parts of that unit.
“We played together last year,” said McGowan of the starting unit. “I played with them when I played at guard and now being at center. I had four games last year that I got under my belt when I ran with the same guys. When I stepped in at center, I always knew what I had to do, so I was able to lead and control the offensive line where we needed to go, so that really has not changed.”
Johnson noted the affect of veteran coach George DeLeone who joined the team to take over the offensive line.
“To be honest the only difference is the voice,” said Johnson. “It’s just coming out of a different mouth. We understand what we need to do, the technique really has not changed, the scheme has not changed that much, it is still just the same idea.”
Defense: Graduating were All Everything Tyler Matakevich, as well as Tavon Young and Matt Ioannidis, each with a shot to play on Sundays soon, but they still have a veteran LB trio of redshirt SRs Avery Williams and Stephaun Marshall and SR Jarred Alwan. They also have Redshirt FR Chapelle Russell and Daishaun Grimes in the mix for a deep LB rotation in 2016.
On another defensive area “The safeties are playing at a high level,” Head Coach Matt Rhule said after the first of two steamy practices. And on moving JR Sean Chandler from CB to S:
“Champ has played lights out,” Rhule said. “For every period, he is playing at a high level.”
They have three possibilities for who will play along side Chandler, SO Delvon Randall, redshirt SO Jyquis Thomas, and redshirt SR Khiry Lucas.
As for the CB position Rhule said that redshirt JR Artrel Foster is playing best but he also noted the play of redshirt SO Derrek Thomas, who is converting from receiver, and redshirt FR Kareem Ali of Timber Creek High, as well as redshirt SR Nate Hairston, who appeared in all 14 games and made one start last season. All of which seems to point to a deep mix of veterans and hungry newcomers which should see the defense repeat the high level of last season.
I would be remiss in not mentioning fellow Cheltenham Panther, FR TE/WR Branden Mack as one who has impressed the coaching staff thus far. He did it all @ CHS QB. RB, DB, and K/P As team captain he earned all-conference, all-region and all-city as a senior when he threw for 1,500 yards and ran for another 1,050 yards as well as averaging 12+ TPG and 12 career Ints. He somehow also found time to letter in basketball and track.
Earlier this month, Temple AD Patrick Kraft said the school was prepared to present its case to the Big 12 concerning expansion.
ESPN has reported that the Big 12 will interview officials from 17 schools, 10 of which are from the AAC but Temple says they have not yet been contacted about a date when it will occur. The source said that the Big 12 will likely expand by just two teams but that nobody knows for sure yet.
Among the other schools being considered are: Cincinnati, Houston, Brigham Young, South Florida, Central Florida, Connecticut, Memphis, Colorado State, Boise State, Tulane, East Carolina, Southern Methodist, New Mexico, Northern Illinois and San Diego State.
Future Scheduling: One of the topics that always comes up early in a season are “cupcake” games for non-conference play, but that is a silly argument because of how far in the future teams have to schedule each other. For example in the off season Temple announced home-and-home scheduling agreements with ACC members Boston College and Duke, and Maryland of the Big Ten Conference.
Temple starts its series with both Boston College and Maryland in the 2018 season. The Owls travel to Maryland on September 15 and two weeks later are at Boston College on September 29. Maryland will play Temple in Philadelphia the next season (Sept. 14, 2019) with Boston College traveling to Philly for a September 18, 2021 contest.
The Owls will start their series against Duke with a road game to open the 2022 season (Sept. 3) with the Blue Devils playing in Philadelphia the next season (Sept. 16, 2023).
Temple also announced it will be playing home games against FBS opponents Villanova (Sept. 9, 2017/Sept. 1, 2018) and Bucknell (Aug. 31, 2019).
Below is a list of these and other future non conference games in the docket through 2020.
Here is a listing of the Owls’ non-conference schedules through 2023:
2017 – at Notre Dame (Sept. 2), VILLANOVA (Sept. 9), UMASS (Sept. 16), at Army (Oct. 21)
2018 – VILLANOVA (Sept. 1), BUFFALO (Sept. 8), at Maryland (Sept. 15), at Boston College (Sept. 29)
2019 – BUCKNELL (Aug. 31), MARYLAND (Sept. 14) at Buffalo (Sept. 21), ARMY (Oct. 26)
2020 – IDAHO (Sept. 12), RUTGERS (Sept. 19)
2021 – at Rutgers (Sept. 4), BOSTON COLLEGE (Sept. 18)
2022 – at Duke (Sept. 3), RUTGERS (Sept. 17)
2023 – at Rutgers (Sept. 9), DUKE (Sept. 16)
Fearless Forecast: With the mix of veterans and newcomers noted above it would be a disappointing season for the Temple Owls if they did not finish on top in the East again, and in doing so get to a bigger bowl game than they did this past season. Winning the AAC championship and a bowl will be what they will be playing for, and I believe they can do that if most things go their way. They should at least go 10-2 in the regular season, with the game in Happy Valley on September 17th being a good early indicator of how good this team can be. If they win that they could hit the 11 win mark for the first time ever, and maybe even higher with the postseason games.