Let's do a little compare-and-contrast exercise. To get a read for just how far the Temple Owls have come in recent years, we should take a look at how the team performed in Al Golden's first year on the job (2006) as compared to Steve Addazio's (2011). Golden inherited a wasteland of a football program half a decade ago. There was little financial support, the facilities were decades behind the times, and there was no program history on which to lean for recruiting purposes -- the Owls hadn't been to a bowl since 1979 and had suffered more zero- or one-win seasons (seven) than winning ones (two 6-5 campaigns in the 1980s). Temple's product was so bad that it had actually gotten kicked out of the Big East at a time when the Big East was losing programs and bringing in some mid-majors. There was no obvious reason why the school was even attempting to field an FBS program at all.
Six years later, it has all turned around. (Remember, there were only 119 teams in 2006.)
|Off. S&P+ Rk||119||46|
|Off. Rushing S&P+ Rk||119||33|
|Off. Passing S&P+ Rk||119||50|
|Def. S&P+ Rk||118||37|
|Def. Rushing S&P+ Rk||117||43|
|Def. Passing S&P+ Rk||103||47|
They've had as many players picked in the last two drafts (five) as they did from 1990 to 2001. In the 2012 draft, three Owls were picked for the first since 1987 and just the fourth time since 1947.
They got invited back into the Big East this offseason.
In five years, Al Golden built a respectable program from scratch. In his first season succeeding Golden, Steve Addazio raised the bar. Few seem to expect much of Temple in 2012, as they re-enter the Big East Conference (and with a rebuilt offensive line, there might be good reason for that), but over the last few years, doubting Temple hasn't taken you very far.
[W]hat's more redemptive than watching a program win after such a long struggle that they were dumped from a major conference? The Pac-10 didn't dump Washington State after the 2009 season. The Big 8 didn't dump Kansas State in the mid-1980s. The Big East, however, had no problem dumping the Temple Owls in 2005. Fourteen seasons in the Big East netted a total of 31 wins. The high point? Back-to-back-to-back four-win seasons from 2000 to 2002. With money and facilities a problem and wins non-existent for the Owls, the Big East said "sayonara." […] In just five seasons in Philly, Al Golden cleaned off decades of gunk and restored some missing gleam and pride in Temple Football.
Now, after another eight-win season in 2010, Golden is gone, trading in his cherry and white for the orange, green and white of the Miami Hurricanes. (Perfect hire for Miami, by the way; no coach in the country knows better how to win with iffy money and facilities.) Into Golden's office steps Steve Addazio. Granted, opinions on Addazio vary, ahem (to say the least), but the bottom line is simply that, five years ago, Temple wasn't in a position to hire Urban Meyer's right-hand man. They were lucky to even get Golden, who had previously served as Al Groh's defensive coordinator at Virginia and as Joe Paterno's linebackers coach at Penn State. (I guess the "at Penn State" part was superfluous, huh?) Whether Addazio was the right hire, of course, remains to be seen. But he's a hire they could not have made that long ago, and they have Golden to thank for that. […]
Addazio may not have proven himself to be the best offensive coordinator at Florida, but he's no longer an offensive coordinator; he's the head guy, and his job will be to maintain, maintain, maintain. With so much talent lost on defense and a YPP margin suggesting they were unlucky (though their fumble recovery percentage suggests the opposite), it wouldn't surprise me if Temple were to take a step or two backwards this year even if Addazio turns out to be a great coach. If the offense is sparked by a healthy Pierce and a lovely Aaron Hernandez impression from Evan Rodriguez, then that could account for the defensive loss, but we'll see. Temple's turnaround was so quick and decisive that they should be able to live with a temporary step backwards.
Steve Addazio scoffs at backwards steps. Even while redshirting a good portion of his first recruiting class, Addazio leaned on an explosive run game and an efficient defense, won nine games, and took home Temple's first bowl title since 1979 after a New Mexico Bowl romp over Wyoming. Addazio was able to craft a strong offensive identity, something he struggled with at Florida, and said identity got even stronger when Chris Coyer took over at quarterback over the season's final five games.
2011 Temple Offense, First Eight Games: 26.1 Adj. Points Per Game
2011 Temple Offense, Last Five Games: 32.0 Adj. Points Per Game
We'll see what Coyer does with a new offensive line and without running back Bernard Pierce. But he couldn't possibly have made a better first impression. The same could be said about Addazio, actually.
Steve Addazio has a utopian vision. It is a cross, basically between football in 1930 and football in 2030. It involves hybrids of hybrids of hybrids, quarterbacks who can run, tailbacks who can block and catch passes, fullbacks who can run with the ball, receivers and tight ends who can take handoffs. The ball can go to anyone, FROM anyone, at any given time, from any formation (power-I, spread, et cetera). It is a simple, beautiful vision; and it is rather difficult to find the right personnel for such a thing. ("We never quite got that done at Florida," he says. You don't say.)
For the most part, Temple played things straight in 2011, handing to running backs Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown 33 times per game (no wideout got even 10 carries on the season) and throwing mostly to receivers and tight ends (no running back was targeted more than nine times). Quarterback Chester Stewart was a decent run-pass threat (6.9 yards per pass attempt, 4.2 yards per non-sack rush attempt), but he took far too many sacks (sack rate: 13.5 percent), and when he got injured, Addazio found an even better threat behind center. Chris Coyer rather eclipsed the production of both Stewart and Mike Gerardi, averaging 8.3 yards per pass attempt (sack rate: 5.7 percent) and 8.9 yards per non-sack carry. He gave the Owls another dimension, and he is expected to be the starter for the next two years, even though Penn State transfer (and former four-star quarterback) Kevin Newsome shows up on campus soon. Given Addazio's vision, the athletic Newsome could be asked to quite a few things in cherry and white -- throw the ball, run the ball, catch the ball -- but it will be tough to knock Coyer off the top of the depth chart. (Meanwhile, another quarterback convert, sophomore Jalen Fitzpatrick, made noise this spring with his run-pass-catch ways as well.)
Assuming Coyer remains capable and exciting, so should the skill position pieces around him. Running back Pierce (1,481 yards, 27 touchdowns, plus-33.0 Adj. POE) is gone, but one has to be intrigued by the thunder-and-lightning pair replacing him. Matt Brown is small and shifty (5-foot-5, 170 pounds, and a healthy 5.9 yards per carry), and even in a supporting role he gained at least 114 rushing yards in five of Temple's final eight games last year. (His crowning achievement actually came in 2010: 226 yards and four touchdowns versus Army.) He is battle-tested, and he could have a nice counterpart in big Kenny Harper. The sophomore from Gainesville, FL, was rather average over the course of 33 carries last year, but he was the star of the spring and could offer much of the same traits as Pierce.
There's also a chance that the Owls add former Boston College running back Montel Harris this year, but a) until it happens, I won't assume it's happening, and b) while his career numbers (3,700 yards, 27 touchdowns) are lovely, the advanced stats are not a fan of his (career Adj. POE: minus-10.7, which means he was just under two touchdowns worse than the average back given his carries, blocking and opponents), and he might not be measurably better than Brown and Harper.
The passing game was but a complement last year, so perhaps it doesn't matter that Temple loses two of its top three wideouts and its top two tight ends (including the explosive, steady Evan Rodriguez). Still, it is a bit off-putting that only one receiver who caught more than three passes last year (junior Deon Miller, with 18) returns. But it isn't nearly as much of a concern as the offensive line. Five players with starting experience (and 132 career starts) are gone, leaving behind only tackle Martin Wallace (15 starts), tackle Darryl Pringle (two) and center Sean Boyle (one). Their 18 returning career starts rank them near the bottom of the country. Practice reports suggest the line held its own this spring, but I need to see it in action first. Temple will have quite a few interesting skill position players at its disposal in 2012, but it won't matter if the line regresses severely.
Temple's identity was mostly derived from its run-heavy offense. But the Owls' defense actually graded out better overall, ranking 26th in Def. F/+, 34th in Adj. Line Yards and seventh in Adj. Sack Rate. Temple was only average on standard downs but was very proficient in shutting down drives once they had leveraged opponents into passing downs.
The front seven that was quite a strength last year, however, has suffered quite a bit of attrition. Gone are defensive ends Adrian Robinson and Morkeith Brown (combined: 18.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks), middle linebacker Stephen Johnson (14.4 percent of Temple's tackles, plus five passes broken up) and strongside linebacker Tahir Whitehead (13.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles). Throw in free safety Kevin Kroboth, and it is conceivable that Temple's five most disruptive players from 2011 won't be in uniform in 2012.
Continued success in 2012 will depend on new stars emerging. Some of those potential new stars (and in this case, "new" is used loosely):
- Linebacker Ahkeem Smith. The senior from Bethlehem, PA, is not a new name -- he was the No. 3 tackler in the linebacking corps last year and logged 3.5 sacks. But he and the wonderfully-named Blaze Caponegro will need to pick up the slack left by, in particular, Whitehead's departure.
- Junior tackle Levi Brown. Brown logged 3.5 tackles for loss as a space-eating starter alongside Robinson and Morkeith Brown. He will need some help from others -- if junior end John Youboty were to start displaying the three-star talent Rivals.com thought he had, that would be fantastic. But Brown, senior Kadeem Custis and junior Kamal Johnson could make for a solid rotation of tackles.
- Strong safety Justin Gildea. A starter last year, Gildea was a box score collector -- 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, three interceptions, three passes broken up. He and a threesome of cornerbacks (Maurice Jones, Zamel Johnson and exciting sophomore Anthony Robey) be asked to do quite a bit if the pass rush regresses.
- Linebacker Nate D. Smith. Evidently nicknamed "Superman", the redshirt freshman was the leading tackler in the spring game and (as the nickname would suggest) gave hints of really strong athletic upside.
- Safety Nate Smith. Smith was almost given a four-star rating by Rivals.com (he was given the highest three-star rating) and, along with running back Jamie Gilmore (and Kevin Newsome, I guess), he was the star of Addazio's first full recruiting class. It is always iffy to ask a true freshman to star immediately, but he has more upside than any youngster on the team not named, well, Nate Smith.
It is difficult to see this defense performing at quite the same level, especially up front, but there is enough upside here to prevent total collapse.
Early predictions are not necessarily kind to Temple in their first year back in the Big East. The schedule, meanwhile, provides an interesting conundrum, with six games against teams projected between 37th and 53rd in the tentative F/+ projections. If Temple can play at a Top 40 level as they did last year, then it is conceivable that they could win eight or nine games. If they play at only a Top 60 level, however, then they could be looking at something closer to four or five wins.
With that being the case, I'll simply set the success-or-not bar at bowl eligibility. If you can move back up to a BCS conference and immediately steal a bowl bid (something they never did their first time around in the Big East), you're doing something right.
It is certainly normal and logical to ask all of the typical questions about Temple's move back up to the BCS level: do they have the speed and size necessary to compete? Do they have the depth? I should, however, mention this: at 24th, their 2011 F/+ ranking was the highest of anybody in this year's Big East. They aren't really starting from the bottom here. Granted, it is conceivable that both the offense and defense could take steps backwards in 2012, but how far?
There are games to be won in the Big East if you can play at a Top 40 level, and with Chris Coyer at quarterback, Matt Brown and Kenny Harper at running back, Martin Wallace at offensive tackle, a nice rotation at defensive tackle, Akheem Smith and Blaze Caponegro at linebacker, and a pair of young Nate Smiths in action, Temple's first team in their second Big East go-round has quite a bit of high-end talent to go along with the obvious question marks.
And no, I never thought I would be writing these paragraphs six years ago. Hell, I'd have thought it more likely that Temple would be an FCS program right now than a BCS program coming off a Top-25 performance.
While we’re here, let’s watch some college football videos from SB Nation’s new YouTube channel together: