In 2016, we’ve penned in nine teams that will appear on our schedule more than one time. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages we’re hearing about as these teams practice for their upcoming intrasquad spring scrimmages. It’ll give us an idea of what the teams will be focusing on before we get to see them play in the fall.
Temple (3 games) – Under third-year HC Matt Rhule, the Temple Owl football program saw vast improvement in 2016. Finishing 10-4 with a 7-1 record in the Eastern Division of the American Athletic Eastern Division, the Owls surprisingly won the division title before falling to 8th-ranked Houston in the conference championship before going to the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl where they fell to Toledo. It was the third bowl game in the past seven years for Temple. Prior to 2009, their previous bowl trip was in 1979. Things seem to be looking up for the revitalized program under Rhule who improved the record from 2-10 to 6-6 to 10-4 in his first three years as a Head Coach. A former Penn State linebacker, last season he coached his team to its first win over his alma mater last since 1941, 27-10, in their season opener. Collegefootballfan.com was there to witness it in front of a packed house at Lincoln Financial Field. We returned later in the season to see the Owls give eventual No. 11 Notre Dame all it could handle before suffering its first loss of the season, 24-20. With a solid corps of seniors returning to Temple last season, Rhule, a skilled organizer and program builder, knows he has his work cut out for him this year as he stated before spring drills that he and his staff would have to “do a lot of teaching”. He remains optimistic during his subsequent interviews seen on the Temple football website. His team has a solid core of experience, senior leadership, and hungry underclassmen ready to step in to have a team that will still compete at a top level this upcoming season. We will get to see them in their opener for the second straight season when we see them play at the Linc again to host Army on Friday, September 2.
Most of his experience returns on offense. QB P.J. Walker (Elizabeth, NJ) returns after a stellar season throwing for 2,973 yards and 19 TDs/ 8 INTs. His back-up Frank Nutile (Don Bosco Prep, Wayne, NJ) is ready to step in again if called upon. WR Ventell Bryant will be the top returning receiver from a year ago with 39 grabs for 579 yards and three TDs, but a lot of young talent will be joining him on a squad with solid senior leadership on offense. WR Romond DeLoatch and TE Kip Patton will be bringing back some stats and experience to build on on the receiving end. Senior RB Jahad Thomas, last year’s leading rusher and a high school teammate of Walker’s, tallied 1,262 yards and 17 scores on the ground. Being the fastidious teacher he is, Rhule has his top back “working on his reads” this spring to be a more effective runner to pick up more yardage than he did a year ago. Soph Ryquell Anderson returns with 51 carries a season ago after seeing action in all 12 games. FB duties could fall to a combination of RS-Junior Nick Sharqua who saw action at FB and LB last season and RS-Soph Rob Ritrovato who saw action in the Penn State game last year before suffering an injury that shelved him for the season. Rhule feels good now with his depth at FB and his team’s overall “backfield flexibility “. The O-line will be looking for Senior Center Brendan McGowan, a first-year starter, to unify the horses up front including returning starters Leon Johnson (Bound Brook HS, NJ) and Dion Dawkins (Rahway, NJ). Also, Jordan Jones steps up after a red-shirt year following his transfer from East Stroudsburg U.
LB Avery Williams looks to be a leader on defense among some experienced players from a squad that had ten seniors start the season a year ago. NT Averee Robinson will return to effectively plug up the middle. DE Avery Ellis and LB Stephaun Marshall (Montclair, NJ ) will be counted on for their experience and their time to step up. Rhule expects Soph Chappelle Russell to make an effective switch from RB to LB to shore up his corps of backers. RS Frosh LB Dishaun Grimes is expected to step up to see some playing time as well this season. The coaching staff expects to see a carry-over from a season ago saying that the defense “better be physical.” They are building depth with the young players who have been waiting in the wings. There are a lot of battles to be fought for spots at number two and three on their depth chart. A lot of players in the secondary can switch between corner s and safety positons. The young talent will be seeing a lot of reps during the spring and early fall sessions S Khiry Lucas returns after sitting out last season with an ACL injury. Among those expected to vie for more action in the secondary this season include CBs Artrel Foster, Cequan Jefferson, and Nate Hairston. Delvon Randall and Jyquis Thomas are expected to see action at Safety. PK Austin Jones returns after putting 113 points on the board in 2016. He converted 19 of 24 FGs from 30 yards and beyond.
What we like about Temple is how this coaching staff develops the players it has and develops them to play better. He sees the value of more teaching and sees his senior leadership more “focused” than in the past. Rhule is always aware that he needs to develop his younger players for both current depth and his program’s future. He’s building to get his team to “want to compete at a higher level” despite the losses of experienced players. He looks to improve and build by not only trying to recruit better players, but to teach them how to be better football players by enhancing their skills. This is a program worth watching to see how it continues to grow and improve under its HC and we look forward to seeing them compete against some interesting competitors also ramping up under relatively new coaching staffs three times this season. These should all be fun to attend.
Temple games we plan to attend this year: vs. Army in its season opener at the Linc, Friday, September 2; vs. AAC East foe South Florida, who they lost to last season, 44-23, on Friday, October 21 at the Linc ; and at Connecticut, an AAC East foe they defeated, 27-3, on Friday, November 4. The Owls will be our Friday night team of the year.
Spring game: April 16 at Chodoff Field at Edberg-Olson Hall, 1 pm. (footnote: Dr. Chodoff was Temple’s team physician who passed away this past March 21)
Next up: South Florida