Now that summer is winding down, football season winds up. While NFLers were negotiating, college programs have been practicing and filing down their depth charts in preparation for Labor Day weekend when the season begins. The weather outside is heating up and that must mean it's time for us to begin previewing the MAC, one team at a time...
How appropriate that the cover of Temple's 2011 Media Guide is a group of players (all of the seniors, I believe) in their letter jackets, huddled around a street sign in front of the metro line. Clearly this means that they're at a crossroads...or that they're going places...or that they're directionless? Uh oh, looks like there's some Photoshop work being done here - can't tell how, but these parts didn't all naturally come together (HA! I just found their real motto...) Better actually read the guide* before I draw any conclusions.
*Oh. My. GOD. Don't get me wrong, Temple clearly spent some money on this media guide, but was it necessary to spend the first twenty-four pages talking about how awesome Temple is? Is this a media guide or a recruitment brochure?
Good grief. I hate to risk trying to turn this media guide monstrosity into a team preview for you, but hell, you only live once, right? Past the jump we go...
Last Season: The team posted their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1978-79, though the opening offensive play of the Ohio game may have served as microcosm for the rest of the season. RB Bernard Pierce busted out for a 67 yard gain...and then got tackled because he pulled op lame and wound up missing the remainder of the season...and the play was called back on a holding penalty.
After a rough start (come-from-behind win against Villanova, overtime win against CMU, pulling away late against UCONN) the Owls went into the belly of the beast with a road game against 23rd ranked Penn State. Temple held their own for most of the game, but the offense just couldn't do enough to stay ahead.
It also started a run of three road games (at PSU, then Army, then NIU) in which QB Charlie Stewart went 28-for-62 with 221 yards, one TD and 3 INT's and was replaced by Mike Gerardi; their consecutive shutouts of Buffalo and Akron (combined 72-0) were the first since 1971.
Returning Players: Both Gerardi and Pierce will be back this season, along with WR Rod Streater and the entire offensive line. That bodes very well for the Owls offense, since there was a noticeable uptick in their production with Gerardi under center, and Pierce has shown distinct flashes of feature-back capability when healthy. Which is good, since seniors Tahir Whitehead and Adrian Robinson, Jr. will be working to continue the defense's success despite a wave of starters departing, especially along the front seven.
New Faces: No need to look far, since the Owls are introducing a completely new coaching staff led by former Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio. There's no denying Addazio's offensive acumen and he should be able to do some neat things with the talent he has, but we'll find out just how good Chuck Heater is this year. He's been in college football for 35 years now, but has been largely a secondary coach with only brief stints as assistant or co-defensive coordinator in the last couple seasons.
Game(s) to Circle: There are several huge games early on for the Owls. The season opener at home against Villanova will be key - the Wildcats are a legitimate borderline-FCS program, and the Owls snuck past them to open last season. A repeat will be necessary to get a good vibe early.
The third game of the season when the Owls get to face Penn State at home will be another big moment. Addazio gets a chance to prove himself against an established upper-tier program, while the returning players for Temple get to prove that last year's near-win was no fluke. They will then hit the road to face a Maryland foe with a revamped outlook under new coach Randy Edsall, followed by a return home to face preseason favorite Toledo.
Did You Know: The team will be playing for the first time since her arrival in 2007 without team manager Miche'Le Daughtry around - back in March of this year she lost her years-long battle with acute myeloid leukemia. I haven't heard for sure, but I assume the team will at least rock a black helmet decal in her honor.
Prediction: On paper, Toledo and Northern Illinois are the only teams in the conference that are clearly better than Temple. My inner optimist could see this team going 10-2 and winning the MAC East - the inner pessimist can see this team dropping to 7-5 and having an "oh well, we tried" kind of season. I think the latter is much more likely, so I'll go with that.