by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

It’s deja vu for the Owls, who were members of the Big East from 1991-2004. They were then booted from the league for non-competitiveness, plus poor fan and institutional support. Temple won only 16 league games in its 14 years in he Big East, going winless in conference play six times.

Credit Al Golden, 68,500-seat Lincoln Financial Field, and the lure of the nation’s fourth-largest media market for the return this season of Temple to the Big East. But mostly credit Golden, who fought the odds and restored respectability to the Owl program in his five years before leaving for Miami after the 2010 season. Temple was 1-11 in Golden’s first season, but 9-4 and 8-4 in his last two. That promise allowed the Owls to attract long-time Urban Meyer Florida assistant Steve Addazio to take over in 2011, when he fashioned another 9-4 campaign, including a 37-15 smashing of Wyoming in last season’s New Mexico Bowl--only the second bowl victory in Temple history. With the likes of long-established Big East forces such as West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh departing the conference, the Owls’ phoenix-like rise from the ashes was enough to earn them a “re-invitation” to the reconfiguring Big East.

Now, it’s up to Addazio and Temple to do something with the opportunity. That might not happen this year. 2012 figures to be a rebuilding season in many departments for Temple, which returns only four starters on offense and five on defense.

First of all, the Owls return only one starter on their OL (sr. RT Martin Wallace), which is the engine of any offense. Second, jr. WR Deon Miller (18 recs., 3 TDs LY) is the only returnee with more than three receptions in 2011. Third, QB Chris Coyer has started only four games in his career. And, fourth, RB Bernard Pierce, the major hammer that allowed the Owls to finish No. 7 in rushing in the nation last season, has moved on to the NFL (third round, Baltimore). Verily, Addazio, who mentored the offensive line at Florida before becoming the offensive coordinator, will find his coaching abilities tested in a different way in his second season after taking over a fairly “finished” 2011 team from Golden.

However, optimism remains on offense due first to the presence of 5-5, 165 mighty mite RB/KR Matt Brown (left; 916 YR in 2011), who will be helped at RB this season by former Boston College star Montel Harris. Harris is the all-time leading rusher at B.C. with 3735 yards, but he was booted off the team early last season for rules violations. He will be eligible immediately. Also promising is jr. QB Coyer, the 6-3, 230 southpaw who seemed to have figured out Addazio’s spread-option attack in leading Temple to victory in its last four games of 2011. All told, Coyer ran for 582 yards (8.1 ypc) and hit 60% of his passes (463 YP) with 6 TDs and no interceptions. With a new OL and inexperienced receiving corps, extending those stats might prove to be difficult, but Coyer’s late-season performance gave the Owls some of their best QBing in years.

Not as much rebuilding is needed on defense, whose 2011 stout unit gave up fewer points (13.9) than every team except BCS game finalists Alabama and LSU. Six of the top eight from last year’s front four return, including jr. NT Levi Brown. But the LBs are a bit undersized for the Big East, led by 6-1, 218 jr. OLB Blaze Caponegro (right) and 6-0, 215 OLB Ahkeem Smith (3½ sacks LY). The secondary was burned at times last season, but collected 15 ints. and returns veteran CBs in jr. Zamel Johnson and sr. Maurice Jones, plus sr. safety Justin Gildea (3 ints. LY).

Do-everything sr. K/P Brandon McManus hit 16 of 22 FGs and punted for 45.8 yards per boot. The presence this season of Montel Harris in the backfield will allow the 5-5 Brown to continue to employ his talents returning kicks and punts.

Summary...Last season as a member of the MAC, the Owls outscored their foes 252-69 in the first half, ended with an average point differential of +16.7 ppg, and were +9 in turnover margin. Those positives reflect the improved Temple size, depth, defense, and recruiting established by Al Golden before he departed for Miami. Steve Addazio’s 2012 recruiting class was rated first...in the MAC...before the Owls rejoined the Big East. So it’s ambitious to expect such numbers to be repeated now that Temple is in a tougher league. After all, even with their improvement in the “Golden years,” the Owls never made it to the MAC title game. And, in five seasons in the MAC, the Owls never defeated a conference foe that finished with an overall winning percentage. Temple recently completed a $10 million expansion of its training facility and can look forward to improved attendance at The Linc facing a Big East schedule rather than a MAC slate. But after losing 12 players (three draftees; nine free agents) from last year’s team to NFL camps and now taking a step up in class while rebuilding several platoons, it’s no surprise if the Owls regress in 2012.

Note: Temple is 11-4 as an underdog the last four years (2-0 last year).


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