Temple will be better this season. And that's saying a lot after a 5-7 campaign in 2008, which included THREE gut-wrenching losses on the last play of the game. That's like three Michigan 2005's in one season. Temple returns a ton of talent, and has even more waiting on the sidelines.
When Penn State scheduled Temple for a regular series, fans rolled their eyes, but this year's Owls could turn out to be an unlikely bowl contender, and Penn State's toughest non-conference opponent. But what do we really know about the 2009 Temple Owls?
Let's find out, in today's First Look.
Coaching homecoming – All three main Temple coaches came from Penn State: Al Golden was a tight end and later a coach at Penn State; defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio played on the same Lions team as Golden; and offensive coordinator Matt Rhule played four years in Happy Valley in the mid-'90s.
All of them played under Joe Paterno. Now, for the third straight season, they will go up against their former teacher.
While the storyline of former Lions coaching against their old team is a good one, to me the real headline is just how good Golden's staff has been. Temple was one of the real bottom feeders in college football for a long time.
Now, although not exactly a juggernaut (10-26 overall under Golden), Temple has shown more steady improvement than most other teams in the FBS. And should the Owls make a bowl, it can be directly attributed to the talent and perseverance of this staff.
Defense for D Owls – Temple will boast, hands down, the best defense in the MAC this season. Nine starters return from 2008, while seven more have starting experience. The defense does lose its best player in tackle Terrance Knighton ('09 NFL Draft pick).
However, the rest of this unit is much more experienced than it was going into 2008, when all 22 starters returned!
The 2009 defense will be anchored by a fantastic set of linebackers ("Linebacker U"-lite?) that should be one of the best in the MAC, if not the best.
Ripe in the bowl – Temple's schedule manages to spread out all the tough competition from start to finish. Opening with Villanova, at Penn State, Buffalo, at Eastern Michigan, Ball State and at Toledo should allow the Owls to face some more difficult opponents, while not overwhelming them early, as some mid-majors are forced to do when scheduling BCS teams for September dates.
Temple has a very good chance to win five of the first seven games, setting up for a do-or-die stretch to end the season.
A trip to Navy, Miami (OH), at Akron, Kent State, and finishing up at Ohio could mean Temple has to pull one upset to secure a bowl bid. The trips to Akron and Ohio will be by far the most difficult games late in the year, if not the entire season.
From enemy territory
I asked Mike Gibson, Temple Football Forever blogger, about the 2009 team. Gibson said this year's Owls will have to lean heavily on the defense, at least until the offense comes together.
"Temple's red zone defense two years ago was ranked No. 1 and this is defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio's best unit," Gibson told me.
But even with a really good defense coming back almost intact, uncertainty around the quarterback position is the dominant concern right now.
"There was a significant dropoff when Adam DiMichele didn't play the last two seasons, except for two games: Vaughn Charlton leading the Owls to a 21-10 win over Kent in 2007 and Chester Stewart leading the Owls past Miami, 28-10, last season," Gibson said. "Neither one has shown he can be a consistent winner at this level. One must or the Owls have to go to [true freshman] Chris Coyer or redshirt [freshman] Mike Gerardi."
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