2011 SEASON IN REVIEW:It's been seven years but Temple has made it back to the Big East. The Owls were in the conference from 1991 to 2004 but were forced out after accumulating a 30-126 record during that time. The rise back to respectability was a quick one though as just five seasons later the Owls had their first winning record since 1986 and first bowl appearance since 1979. That season wasn't a fluke, as the Owls have a winning record in each of the last three seasons, including another bowl appearance last year.
"We came from nothing," said senior defensive back Vaughn Carraway, "We came from people walking by [the practice facility] and throwing rocks at us. Now there's a lot of hype coming into the Big East this season. We're just ready for the opportunity."
Temple didn't just win games on its way to a 8-4 regular season record in 2011. The Owls won three of their first four games by an average of 34.7 points with the lone loss in that stretch a 14-10 loss to Penn State. The Owls stumbled against Toledo (36-13) and lost close games on the road against Bowling Green (13-10) and Ohio (35-31), but took care of business in the rest of the schedule, recording a pair of shutouts and rolling up big wins over Army (42-14) and Kent State (34-16) in the final two games.
At 8-4, Temple again made it to a bowl game, and unlike 2009, finished the season off with a win, blowing out Wyoming (37-15) in the New Mexico Bowl.
A 31 vs. Villanova S 8 vs. Maryland S 22 at Penn State O 6 vs. South Florida O 13 at Connecticut O 20 vs. Rutgers O 27 at Pittsburgh N 3 at Louisville N 10 vs. Cincinnati N 17 at Army N 23 vs. Syracuse
OFFENSE: QB Chris Coyer WR Deon Miller OT Martin Wallace
DEFENSE: DE John Youboty DT Levi Brown LB Blaze Caponegro CB Zamel Johnson S Justin Gildea S Samarko Thomas
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK/P Brandon McManus
OFFENSE:Running the ball effectively has been the tried and true focal point of Temple's offense during its resurgence. Last season's seventh ranked rushing offense will be without workhorse Bernard Pierce, but the Owls running game will again be a strength.
Montel Harris transferred from Boston College in July and will join Matt Brown to create a dangerous backfield tandem. Harris was slowed by a knee injury last season, but is the all-time leading rusher at Boston College with 3,735 yards and 27 touchdowns in three plus season with the Eagles. Brown has been the supplementary back behind Pierce and the undersized speedster has been effective in that role, rushing for 916 yards last season.
The Owls have not been able to find any consistency at quarterback since the departure of Adam DiMichele, but are hoping that dual-threat Chris Coyer can finally fit the bill. Coyer was the third quarterback used last season and impressed, completing 60 percent of his passes and throwing 6 touchdowns with no interceptions. Coyer can also run, amassing 562 yards in 2011. If Coyer struggles early on he could be pressed for time by Penn State transfer Kevin Newsome.
A team so dependent on the run hasn't cultivated many effective receivers and the 2011 corps won't have a lot of experience. Deon Miller (18 receptions, 253 yards) is the most seasoned pass catcher with the drop off behind him a steep one. Tight end Cody Booth (two receptions in 2011) has the second most career receptions on the squad.
The offensive line will also be filled with unproven players other than senior Martin Wallace. Redshirt freshman Zach Hooks will fill in at left tackle among a host of new linemen.
DEFENSE:While the running game has been impressive it is the defense that has really led to Temple's rise. The Owls were the 12th ranked defense in the country last season and third best in terms of scoring defense, allowing only 13.9 points per game.
This year the Owls will have to replace their top four tacklers and rebuild around just five returning starters. Justin Gildea is the top returning tackler (51) and will fill in again as the starting strong safety. The senior showed an ability to be disruptive in the backfield last year with 3.0 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. Cornerback Zamel Johnson (28 total tackles in 2011) will also return as a starter in the secondary.
The front seven is where Temple is taking the biggest hits. Blaze Caponegro (35 total tackles, 4.0 TFL) and Ahkeem Smith (43 tackles, 3.0 sacks) will lead the new-look linebacking corps, while Levi Brown and John Youboty are the most experienced players returning on the defensive line. Although not as battle-tested, Marcus Green and Kamal Johnson have seen action on the line as well.
SPECIAL TEAMS:Brandon McManus has been in control of the kicking responsibilities for the majority of his three seasons at Temple. The senior was a solid 16-for-22 on field goal attempts last season but his real strength comes on punts, where he averaged 45.8 yards per attempt in 2011.
Like McManus, Brown is almost a one-man unit as a returner. The senior averaged 25.1 yards per kick return and brought one back for a score and also averaged 10.1 yards per punt return.
OUTLOOK:Even with the addition of Harris, this Temple squad is obviously retooling and may be in for a tough first season in the elevated competition of the Big East.
A budding rivalry will be renewed to start the 2012 season as the Owls take on Villanova of the FCS to open the season. Temple then has a home game against Maryland before taking the trip to Happy Valley to take on Penn State, a team the Owls never beat during the Joe Paterno era.
The first Big East contest comes at home against South Florida before a road trip against a familiar Connecticut team. After returning home to play Rutgers, the Owls are on the road for three of their last five games, including a tough back-to-back set against Pittsburgh and Louisville.
Temple has climbed its way back into the Big East and has the right mind set to keep moving up. However with a largely inexperienced squad and the stronger competition the Big East will send their way, the Owls are probably a year or two away in terms of competing for conference crowns.
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor