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Despite losing *2* head coaches, Temple should remain Temple

In about a month’s span, Rod Carey was the third man with the title of Temple head coach.

NCAA Football: Temple at Central Florida
Anthony Russo (15) and Dan Archibong (95)
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Bill C’s annual preview series of every FBS team in college football continues. Catch up here!

Evidently the Temple job adds a shine to your résumé. If you land this job, you’ll be landing a P5 job soon, too. Al Golden got the Miami job after five years, Steve Addazio left for Boston College after two, Matt Rhule went to Baylor after four, and Geoff Collins landed the Georgia Tech job after two.

And then Manny Diaz got the Miami job without coaching a game.

I admire the hell out of Temple’s ability to both locate an exciting young coach and then help to nurture him to success. Once you start avoiding guys you think will leave you, you start avoiding high-ceiling guys.

Still, even if Temple is used to head coaching searches, this offseason was a little bit extreme. To recap:

That’s an awfully hectic holiday season for athletic director Patrick Kraft. And he still finished it by finding a guy who fits the defense-first profile Temple has so frequently adopted.

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Brigham Young
Rod Carey
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

It feels strange saying that Carey is a defensive guy, considering his résumé. A career offensive line coach, he moved up from Division II (Wisconsin-Stout) to FCS (Illinois State, North Dakota) before landing on Dave Doeren’s initial NIU staff in 2011. When NIU offensive coordinator Matt Canada took the Wisconsin OC job after 2011, Carey got promoted to co-coordinator. And when Doeren left for the NC State head coaching job after 2012, Carey moved up one more spot.

But over Carey’s last four seasons in DeKalb, his defenses graded out far better than his offenses. His last two seasons were rather extreme. NIU ranked 26th in Def. S&P+ in 2017 and 23rd in 2018. The Huskies also ranked just 112th and 117th, respectively, in Off. S&P+. That’s a 2014 Temple profile right there (Matt Rhule’s second Owls team was 18th on defense and 124th on offense).

NIU fans were growing frustrated with the zero-sum growth, and the Huskies went just 16-11 in 2017-18 — a far fry from the five consecutive seasons of 11-plus wins they enjoyed from 2010-14. Still, after falling into a 5-7 slump in 2016, Carey figured his way out of it and won not only another division title in 2018 but also, thanks to an upset of Buffalo, a MAC title as well.

Carey was an unsexy hire, simply because we have a pretty good idea of what he’s capable of. Guys like Diaz, on the other hand, are high-ceiling blank slates.

Carey fits what Temple is looking for, though. And if nothing else, he’s got 52 more career wins as a head coach than Diaz, Collins, Addazio, and Golden combined for when they took this job.


Bill Connelly

I’ve never met Mike Uremovich, but I’m not going to lie: I wasn’t blown away by his hire. Carey brought him aboard as offensive co-coordinator when Uremovich was passed over for the NIU head coaching job. (Carey evidently never got around to hiring another co-coordinator but didn’t take the “co-” off of Uremovich’s title either.)

Uremovich served three seasons as Carey’s OC, and after ranking 51st in Off. S&P+ in 2016, his last two offenses fell into the abyss.

NIU’s problem in 2018 was simply that it couldn’t throw the ball. The Huskies had a lot of the characteristics we’re used to seeing from NIU — reasonably run-heavy and physical (with a touch of RPO innovation) and as up-tempo as they could get away with being — and boasted an efficient, if big-play-deficient run game as well. But once they were behind schedule, sophomore quarterback Marcus Childers simply couldn’t catch them back up. (At least, he couldn’t unless it was the second half of the MAC Championship.)

NCAA Football: Temple at Connecticut
Jager Gardner
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Based on returning personnel, skewing too run-heavy might become like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Temple’s returning passing personnel is awfully impressive, but the corps of running backs is unknown. Ryquell Armstead, a 1,000-yard guy, is gone, and while he was easily the most effective Temple rusher, the Owls ranked just 82nd in Rushing S&P+ even with him.

Senior Jager Gardner is the only returnee who rushed for more than 100 yards last year. He’s rushed for just 4.2 yards per carry in his career, 3.6 if you take out a single explosive game against SMU as a freshman. He has forever looked the part (6’2, 215) but hasn’t ever put things together.

Sophomore Jeremy Jennings and junior and former star recruit Tyler Raynor are options as well. Redshirt freshman Kyle Dobbins was a mid-three-star recruit, and Carey signed three three-star freshman RBs, but they’ve rushed for as many yards in college as you and I have. The offensive line in front of these guys is well-seasoned, with four of last year’s starters back, including all-conference guard Jovahn Fair, but the RB position is an unknown.

That’s not the case at WR, where three of last year’s top four return. That includes Branden Mack and Randle Jones, who combined to catch 67 of 108 passes for 1,046 yards (nearly 10 yards per target) and nine touchdowns. If Uremovich is serious about the physicality theme, that could mean good things for junior tight end Kenny Yeboah, too.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Temple
Branden Mack (88)
Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Temple’s 2018 turned around when Anthony Russo took over at quarterback. Incumbent Frank Nutile began as starter but struggled in season-opening losses to Villanova and Buffalo. Russo, a sophomore at the time, took over, and Temple won eight of its next 10 games.

Granted, he started slowly, too. After looking strong in a win over Maryland, he was abysmal against Tulsa and BC, completing 42 percent of his passes with four picks. Collins stuck with him, however, and he completed 63 percent of his passes with a 144.8 passer rating the rest of the regular season. And despite the slow start, Temple improved from 90th in Off. S&P+ to 2017 to 76th by the end of 2018.

If the run game clicks enough that Russo isn’t asked to constantly throw on second- or third-and-long, he should be able to pilot a pretty good offense.


Temple’s defense has been one of the stalwarts of the mid-major universe. The Owls have ranked in the Def. S&P+ top 50 for five straight years, peaking at 18th in 2014 and settling into the 40s in both of Collins’ seasons in charge.

I might have been uninspired by Carey bringing his NIU offensive coordinator to Philly, but bringing his defensive coordinator makes a lot of sense.

Jeff Knowles’ two seasons at NIU were revelatory. He crafted a system that not only teed off on QBs when given the chance — ends Sutton Smith and Josh Corcoran combined for 25 sacks in 2018, and NIU was ninth in overall sack rate — but, despite personnel that was of average size at best, attacked the run maybe even better. The Huskies were fifth in Rushing S&P+ and second in rushing marginal efficiency allowed.

NCAA Football: Temple at Cincinnati
Quincy Roche
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Knowles should have some fun with what he inherits. Ends Quincy Roche and Zack Mesday were no Smith/Corcoran last year but did combine for 17 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and 23 run stuffs (run stops at or behind the line). Plus, while tackles Karamo Dioubate and Dan Archibong aren’t amazing in penetration (4.5 combined TFLs), they got their hands into passing lanes and broke up six passes. The tackle position has been thinned by attrition, which means opportunities for youngsters like sophomore Ifeanyi Maijeh or mid-three-star redshirt freshman Khris Banks, but there are proven entities on the first string, anyway.

There’s also one of the most experienced linebacking corps in the country behind them: junior Isaiah Graham-Mobley and seniors Shaun Bradley, Chapelle Russell, and William Kwenkeu return. This isn’t the most disruptive unit, but you’ve got some sure tacklers.

NCAA Football: Independence Bowl-Temple vs Duke
Sam Franklin
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The secondary is a concern. Temple was seventh in Passing S&P+ last season, but corner Rock Ya-Sin (a potential first-round pick after dominating in his grad transfer year from Presbyterian) and safeties Delvon Randall, Jyquis Thomas, and Rodney Williams were huge reasons. They’re all gone. Playmaking nickelback Sam Franklin returns, but he’s more of a linebacker — he had seven TFLs, seven run stuffs, and only one pass breakup.

There are options at corner, at least. Linwood Crump and Kimere Brown combined for nine passes defensed last year, and sophomores Ty Mason and Christian Braswell both got their feet wet. Plus, there’s a chance that Baylor transfer Harrison Hand ends up eligible, if the NCAA ever gets around to making a decision. Hand is a local product who followed Rhule to Waco and now returns home.

There’s quantity, and there’s potential quality as well. But it’s still going to be hard to clear last year’s bar in pass defense.

Special Teams

Temple’s special teams effectiveness wavered during Collins’ tenure. The Owls were just 106th in Special Teams S&P+ last season, dragged down mostly by inefficiency in place-kicking and kickoffs.

Perhaps that wasn’t surprising, given that they had a freshman manning both spots. Will Mobley did make two of three field goals longer than 40 yards — he’s apparently got a good leg — but he was inconsistent on shorter kicks.

If that gets ironed out with experience, this unit will be fine. It’s got a fun return man in receiver Isaiah Wright, at least.

2019 outlook

2019 Schedule & Projection Factors

Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
31-Aug Bucknell NR 44.1 99%
14-Sep Maryland 67 2.6 56%
21-Sep at Buffalo 97 6.7 65%
28-Sep Georgia Tech 89 8.1 68%
3-Oct at East Carolina 113 14.1 79%
12-Oct Memphis 26 -7.6 33%
19-Oct at SMU 85 1.9 54%
26-Oct UCF 27 -7.1 34%
7-Nov at USF 71 -1.3 47%
16-Nov Tulane 98 11.8 75%
23-Nov at Cincinnati 44 -7.4 33%
30-Nov Connecticut 129 29.4 96%
Projected S&P+ Rk 66
Proj. Off. / Def. Rk 83 / 47
Projected wins 7.4
Five-Year S&P+ Rk 3.3 (60)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 94
2018 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 6 / 2.8
2018 TO Luck/Game +1.3
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 63% (64%, 61%)
2018 Second-order wins (difference) 8.5 (-0.5)

After decades as a punchline, Temple has built a culture strong enough to withstand coaching changes. The Owls went 19 years without finishing .500 but have now done so in eight of the last 10 seasons. They’ve averaged nearly nine wins per year over the last four.

Now we get to find out if they can handle two coaching changes in a single offseason. That’s a new one.

They’ll probably be fine. Carey does seem to fit Temple’s defense-first culture, and at the very least, he’s proved he can win more games than he loses.

And he should get off to a fast start: per S&P+, the Owls are projected favorites in each of their first five games. Granted, they’re underdogs in four of their last seven, but at worst, they should safely finish bowl-eligible. At best, they upset UCF on October 26 and make a run at the AAC West title.

Team preview stats

All 2019 preview data to date.