AAC Media Day: Temple Between the Lines

The question is always asked on these media days to coaches about expectations and the answer, at least for the last two Temple head football coaches has always been something like this:

“We won’t set a number on wins and losses we just want to play the best we can.”

Temple’s Stan Drayton broke from that mundane view on Thursday when he said “we have set expectations and we expect to meet them” in terms of wins and losses in separate interviews with members of the media (not shown in the above video).

Guess what?

Reading between the lines, just four wins is not acceptable to this coaching staff and that has been transmitted to the players.

What is?

Certainly a dozen would be but we get the distinct feeling from the way Drayton talks that a losing first season is not on his radar.

Nor should it be.

Those who don’t set goals never reach them and the last two coaches, Rod Carey and Geoff Collins, wanted just to “play well.”

That doesn’t cut it.

In Adam Klein, Victor Stoffel and Isaac Moore, the Owls have at least the foundation of a terrific offensive line and that was communicated to the media on Thursday.

What was surprising, though, was Drayton’s assertion that the DEFENSIVE LINE–considered coming into the season as the biggest question mark–was his biggest exclamation point:

That is surprising in the sense that the returning personnel didn’t get enough pressure on the quarterback last season (only 15 sacks for 104 yards of losses) but not so because new line coach Antoine Smith led Colorado State’s defensive line to a top 10 sackmeister rate last season AND Temple’s most talented defensive lineman, Xach Gill, did not play a year ago. Now he’s not only playing but becoming a leader of the returning guys.

The best way to win in football is protecting your quarterback and putting the bad guy’s quarterback on his ass. Games are won in the trenches and that’s exactly where the Owls plan to win at least six and maybe more this season.

Temple seems to have progressed a long way in both of those areas.

How far?

Nobody knows but Drayton already has set the bar and it ain’t low. That has to be good news for every Temple football fan.

Monday: Something no one has seen in 30 years

AAC Media Day: The Veneer is Off

Mike Aresco at least year’s AAC Media Day.

About five years ago, The Question was always answered one way:

What is the AAC all about?

Mike Aresco, the very well-paid commissioner of the league (exactly $2,246,027.00 cents per year), would always answer that the league felt it belonged as a Power conference and would accept no less than a Power 6 designation.

Now the veneer is off.

Arguably before now because the departure of cornerstone members Houston, UCF, and Cincy was known last year.

Now just about everyone knows that the AAC Media Day–which will be held on July 28–will take on another brave face: That Rice, UAB, FAU are all valuable additions and that the league will sustain one way or another.

No doubt, it will, but key members like Memphis and Temple want out and Aresco cannot claim otherwise in good faith.

The only way Memphis–which lost to quite possibly the worst Temple team in the last decade last year–and Temple (which most people would concede made a positive move jettisoning Rod Carey) stay is that they have no place to go.

That might be the truth but the larger truth is that this year the AAC is at its most vulnerable state since it was created in the ashes of the old Big East.

Memphis is renovating its stadium to the tune of $200 million (more than Temple said it would cost to build a new one) and that probably is not because it wants to remain in the AAC.

Temple’s media market (No. 4) is the only top five media market that does not have a Power 5 team within its footprint so, for that reason alone, a lot of eyes will be on the Owls and the way they bounce back from 1-6 and 3-9 seasons

Aresco can’t say that Temple or Memphis or really anyone else is committed to this league for a long time.

That said, it should be interesting how he walks on the eggshells that will no doubt be on the floor in less than a week. Repeating the same line he has in past media days threatens not only his credibility but the leagues.

Monday: There are two ways of looking at it

5 Ways This Season Won’t be The Same

Road closures for tailgating around the Linc this year

In another bit of what this space believes is governmental overreach, the City of Philadelphia announced Wednesday that four streets will be blocked off on Eagles’ Game Day so that fans cannot tailgate around Lincoln Financial Field.

No announcement was made about Temple, but they probably don’t feel the need to do so when it comes to the Owls. In other words, don’t expect to tailgate.

For a couple of weeks I was thinking about how this season will be different from all the rest and came up with five (out of about 100) off the top of my head:

5. Above-mentioned tailgating

All over in the first couple weeks of the season, we’ve seen places where people have been allowed at the games. Mostly, there’s been spacing with appropriate mask-wearing. The few shots of tailgating we’ve seen have shown the same. Not in Philadelphia, though. There won’t be fans or tailgating in Philadelphia this fall. Sad, because what worked at grocery stores and gas stations–appropriate social distancing and masks–can work at games and pre-games as well. Maybe next year.

4. Interesting non-conference matchups

So rare almost to be non-existent, a nugget will show up on the screen this weekend–UCF at Georgia Tech. Almost all of the conferences will be like the Big 10 this season, games almost exclusively against conference opponents. It’s a shame because I think Temple would have put a huge beatdown on Rutgers and the Owls even opened at a 12.5-point favorite on VegasInsiders.com this week (don’t know why VegasInsiders even listed the game because it’s non-existent) but the UCF at Georgia Tech probably will be one of the five best non-conference games this year. UCF is an 8.5-point favorite, but I would stay away from this game due to 10 UCF players opting out and uncertainty over whether GT’s win at FSU was due to GT being impressive or Mike Norvell facing unique first-year challenges.

3. Power 5 Dominance of Playoffs

The Power 5 might grab its usual four spots in the Final Four but, if there is one year the G5 can break through, it’s this one. How so? Say, UCF wins at Georgia Tech, goes unbeaten, and GT finishes no worse than second to Clemson in the ACC. It would be hard to deny Central Florida under that scenario, particularly if there are only two other unbeaten teams. Still, would prefer Temple to go unbeaten and UCF have that one loss but, if the Owls aren’t the team, Owl fans certainly would root for UCF in that scenario. Sadly, since the Owls did not seek out a P5 opponent (Pitt?) due to city practice restrictions, there is virtually no chance an unbeaten Temple team makes the playoffs.

2. Tuneups

In the early part of September, P5 teams like to schedule so-called cupcake games for tuneups prior to the conference season. The Big 12 thought it had three against the Sun Belt when Kansas hosted Coastal Carolina, Kansas State hosted Arkansas State and Iowa State hosted Louisiana. Those turned out to be tuneups for the Sun Belt, which now at least has a compelling argument it is the best G5 conference. At least this year.

  1. Stats

Asterisks in sports are always annoying but this will be the year of the asterisk. With eight games, it’s going to be hard to get a 1,000-yard rusher or a 20-touchdown passer. Doubtful any team season records will be broken this year. Say, though, with eight games instead of 12, Anthony Russo throws for more than 21 touchdown passes and fewer than the 11 interceptions he threw last year. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment. Harder, though, for Ray Davis to hit 1,000 yards in eight games if he could get 900 yards last year in a dozen. Still think he can do it but the bar gets higher. To me, Babe Ruth’s 60 homers in a 154-game season will always be more impressive than Roger Maris’ 61 in 162 games and that’s the prism we will view these 2020 football stats as well.

Monday: All Systems Go

Everybody plays before Temple

As I write this, I’m watching the UAB Blazers taking on the Miami Hurricanes in a college football game and shaking my head in the process.

You remember the ‘Canes. That was supposed to be Temple’s opener five days ago. That game was scrapped as the ACC decided to postpone the opening of the season.

Rumors were a month ago that Temple and Pitt tentatively agreed to play a game this weekend but that was also tabled because of the City of Philadelphia’s practice restrictions on Temple.


Imagine all of the
Penn State players
and fans sitting
home watching TU-Pitt

 

That’s the same city that placed no such practice restrictions on the other Lincoln Financial Field tenant, the Eagles, who are playing this weekend. COVID-19 must be much worse in North Philadelphia than South Philly. There really has not been a satisfactory answer to the question why the Eagles get different treatment from the city than the Owls in the area of practice restrictions. Pittsburgh, a city in the same state, placed no such restrictions on the Panthers.

The last time the Owls opened in October did not turn out well.

UAB’s athletic director is Mark Ingram, who was rumored to be a leading candidate for the Temple job before Fran Dunphy was chosen as a stop-gap measure. It seems to me that Ingram, who is familiar with Temple having been here before, would have been able to navigate the dilemma facing the Owls and facilitated a temporary practice move to Ambler so the Owls could get ready for Pitt.

Dunphy probably doesn’t think outside the box like that.

That game would have been a terrific middle finger to a rival of both teams, Penn State. Imagine all of the Penn State players and fans sitting at home watching Temple and Pitt play. That would have been sweet. It would have been, in my mind, a terrific game, with former Temple commit Kenny Pickett battling Anthony Russo in nice quarterback battle.

Another missed opportunity by the Temple administration.

Now with the Navy game moved to October every single AAC team will have played before the Owls. The record will show that the first fumble of the season will have come not in the Navy game, but in the AD’s office at the Star Complex, 15th and Montgomery.

Whether the Owls will recover is a question yet to be answered but the last time they started a season in October it didn’t turn out well for the Cherry and White. They finished 0-8.

Let’s all pray similar circumstances lead to opposite results this season but from where I sit, watching UAB and Miami and wondering why Temple isn’t playing, does not give me the warm and fuzzies.

Monday: Checkers and Chess

Temple starting defensive projections

They said it couldn’t be done, but we have college football in 2020

We’re getting thisclose … thisclose … to a real football season judging my the weather patterns.

Almost always the weather moves from West to East and, if the Austin Peay football game over the weekend was an indication, it’s going to be raining footballs at Navy on Sept. 26.

Austin Peay made sure the guy who wrote this has egg on his face this morning

The players there proved you can play a fun game and it can still be fun and the fans there showed that, if you can wear a mask and do high fives six feet apart, you don’t have to sacrifice a season. Look at it this way: If you can wear a mask and shop for groceries, you can wear a mask and go to a football game.

Gasparilla Bowl defensive MVP William Kwenkeu (35) had two sacks in the win over FIU in 2017.

So I’m feeling better for the Temple football Owls today. If the city allows the Owls the same rights the other birds in town, the Eagles, have, then Temple should be ready for a football season. If not, as Al Golden said in the past, all the Owls need is to-find a 100-yard patch and the will be ready. Owls have two of those at Ambler.

What we do know is that this team is in relatively good shape on offense.

Defense is going to be a little more challenging. The Owls have to replace their best pass rusher, Quincy Roche, who pulled a Benedict Arnold and transferred to Miami. The coaches did their best to replace him, grabbing a P5 transfer in Manny Walker, but he would have to be awfully impressive to replace the AAC defensive player of the year. He should line up where Roche did. It’s up to him to match the production.

Owls held their preseason camp at The Cherry Hill Inn (1974 here) and finished 8-2, proving all you need to get ready is a field, goal posts and permission to hit.

Our defensive starting projections:

DE: Manny Walker (6-4,250) and Layton Jordan (6-2, 210); DT: Dan Archibong (6-6, 300) and Ifeanyi Maijeh (6-2, 285); LBs: Isaiah Graham-Mobley (6-2, 225), Audley Isaacs (6-1, 227) and William Kwenkeu (6-1, 230); S: Amir Tyler (6-0, 195) and DaeSean Winston (6-2, 200); CBs: Christian Braswell (5-10, 178) and Linwood Crump Jr (6-0, 175). For the mathematically challenged (and we had one of those last week), that’s two DEs, two DTs=4; plus 3LBS=7; two safeties=9 and two corners=11.

First impressions: That’s a lot of inexperience to create an edge rush but the Owls also have another defensive end, Arnold Ebiketie, who was a healthy part of the end rotation last year and could challenge for a starting spot if one of those falter. Pretty good depth at the corner position as Ty Mason and Freddie Johnson both have AAC starts under their belts behind the even more experienced duo of Crump and Braswell. Both Mason (Tulsa) and Braswell (UConn) have pick 6s on their resumes. Safety Amir Tyler is a solid single-digit player and Kwenkeu was the defensive MVP of the Gasparilla Bowl win way back in 2017. IGM might be the best NFL prospect on the team, even though Dan Archibong is a solid DT and fellow DT Maijeh is a returning AAC first-teamer.

Second impressions: Depth is better in years past because of people like Mason, Johnson and tackles Kevin Robertson and Khris Banks. George Reid, from Abington High (thanks, Rob Krause!), has had plenty of playing time at safety and outside linebacker and M.J. Griffin is a prized recruit ready to come into his own at safety.

Now it’s just a matter of getting these guys on the field against a real opponent. If Austin Peay can get it done, so should Temple.

Friday: Special Teams

Monday: Do You Ever Get The Feeling?

Possible replacements: CUSA, Sun Belt

Mike Aresco says the AAC is committed to a 12-game schedule.

The commissioner’s member schools do not seem as sure. Temple interim athletic director Fran Dunphy was quoted as saying by OwlsDaily.com that the school is more likely to add “one or two” rather than “three or four” non-conference opponents.

That said, Dunphy also noted that he is pretty much leaving this up to his director of football operations so there is some hope of movement behind the scenes to get the Owls replacement games.

FBS schedules.com lists “TBA” for several dates on the Temple schedule and those include the opening weekend of 9/5 and subsequent September dates of the 12th and the 19.

I say go for it. If other AAC schools get 12 games, then the Owls should go for that standard, too.

Right now, it doesn’t look likely that Army will be one of the opponents as the Black Knights have already filled the same exact open dates Temple has with Middle Tennessee State (9/5), Louisiana Monroe (9/12), BYU (9/19), Abilene-Christian (10/3) and Mercer (10/10).

Still, the Owls should take a page out of the Army playbook (not the triple option) and find replacement schools in both the Sun Belt and Conference USA. Both of those leagues–unlike the ACC and SEC for example–are committed to a 12-game schedule and the departure of the Mountain West and MAC in particular and, to a lesser extent, the Big 10 and PAC-12, have made it difficult for member schools to find a game.

Temple is available and should reach out to those schools with open dates. Right now, there are multiple foes available for the Owls to choose from but they need to get on the stick and announce those replacements before it’s too late.

Every other AAC school is scrambling and he who hesitates will be lost.

Let’s hope the Owls can add more than one or two or the rust of not playing an actual foe won’t help in the current opener against Navy.

Monday: The Math Gets Easier For Anthony Russo

Friday: Projected Offensive Starters

Monday (8/31): Projected Defensive Starters

We’re No. 6!!!! (Or Not)

athlon

I’ll put my money down on this when I see Temple on the cover.

This is usually about the time I walk down the aisles of my local Giant and Weis Markets peruse the covers of the various college football guides.

Flipping about a third of the way through for most of them is where you come to the sections on AAC.

Most of them have the Temple football Owls, a successful program for over a decade by G5 standards, ranked No. 6 in the toughest G5 conference.

I’m not buying it. (Not just the magazine but the premise.)

IF … and that’s indeed an IF there is a next season with the current uptick in the health scare, Temple will not be No. 6. The Owls might not be No. 1 but I would put money on them being closer to No. 1 than No. 6 and that’s based on an objective look at the talent on the roster.

The reason is simple.

joke

I’ve seen the Owls ranked as high as No. 4 (Underdog Dynasty) to as low as No. 8 here (The Breakdown). Most of the major magazines have the Owls at No. 6 in the AAC.

The Owls have an outstanding offensive line, a first-team freshman All-American running back in Ray Davis and two great … and I’m NOT using hyperbole when I write this … wide receivers in Branden Mack and Jadan Blue. The stats are there for all to see. Blue not only led the Owls in catches (95), but he ranks No. 1 among all Owls of all time in that category in a single season. That covers a lot of ground, both figuratively and literally, considering Leslie Shephard and Steve Watson were outstanding receivers in the NFL. Despite that, Mack–a complementary 6-5 receiver to Blue’s 6-1–caught more touchdown passes (7-4).

Quarterback Anthony Russo is on target to break all but two of P.J. Walker’s Temple career records (yards and touchdown passes). IF he makes the same kind of improvement from junior year to senior (14 touchdowns, 14 interceptions to 21-12), he has an outside shot at collecting all of the records. How outstanding would that be? P.J. played four years; Anthony only three.

The returning interior defensive line is really good, led by Dan Archibong and Ifeanyi Maijeh. Some transfers and recruits have bolstered the interior wall so moving Archibong out to his original position (end) should be an option to help with the outside rush.

The Owls have one linebacker returning who was a bowl game MVP (William Kwenkeu) and another (Isaiah Graham-Mobley) who just might be a better NFL prospect than Eagles’ No. 5 pick Shaun Bradley. He was certainly on par with Bradley until he got injured halfway through the 2019 season.

Corners Christian Braswell, Ty Mason, and Linwood Crump Jr. are back and have had plenty of experience. Two (Braswell and Mason) have pick 6s in AAC games. Amir Tyler is a pretty good safety.

Plus, in head coach Rod Carey‘s seven years as head coach (six at NIU), he has never won fewer than eight games. He’s been able to plug enough holes and identify them to sustain excellence.

This is not a sixth-place team. It may not be the first-place one, either, as Cincinnati and UCF have more talent on paper, but it is one with a perception problem on the national scale fueled by a couple of dud bowl games.

Right now, perception is everything until the Owls have a chance to get on the field and prove the magazines wrong. Let’s hope they have a chance to do so.

Monday: That’s What I’m Talking About Willis

Saturday (7/11): You can’t really go home again

Monday (7/13): An idea that makes too much sense

Friday (7/18): Best of TFF (our annual one-week vacation begins)

 

Running out of time to set a date for football

Mike Aresco, AAC commissioner,

Mike Aresco seems confident the AAC will be playing football.

It looks like there are at least three possible outcomes for the resumption of college football this season:

  • One, the powers-that-be will confirm all football will start on time.
  • Two, the powers-that-be will announce a postponement, cancellation, or shortened season maybe even without fans.
  • Three, no date will be set at all and the season will resume as scheduled.

Whatever happens, it appears to be that we are running out of time to set a date but AAC commissioner Mike Aresco doesn’t seem concerned.

aresco

That’s important because, if there are going to be fans, they have to know whether to renew season tickets or not. There’s too much uncertainty out there and fragile fan bases–like most of the ones currently in the G5–are not going to make plans to renew if there is no announcement made.

That said, my money is now on No. 3.

First, Temple is already having voluntary workouts and most of the team will join for full workouts starting July 13. Second, the school already announced that it will have a combination of in-person and online classes this fall. The in-person element means that football can be played. It’s hard to justify college football if there are no students on campus.

Now onto the “powers-that-be.” In college football, that certainly is not the NCAA. Football is controlled by the Power 5 conferences who basically tell the NCAA what to do.

If the Power 5 decides to play, and all indications are that it will, the G5 will fall in line.

So while it would be nice to know a summertime date where something is written that all systems are go, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the season will happen as scheduled and without significant comment.

Right now, those “powers” are hoping that the virus doesn’t spiral out of control between now and September so making a formal announcement now probably won’t happen. Plan to attend the games, but don’t be surprised if they aren’t there.

Saturday: Is Temple really No. 6?

Monday: That’s what I’m talking about

Saturday (7/11): You can’t really go home again

Tulane has the right approach

Tulane v Temple

Temple goes on the road to play Tulane, which has two road P5 games.

Even though Temple beat a very good Tulane team last year, there is no denying the Green Wave is on the rise.

This year, if there is this year, they are poised to take advantage.

Tulane’s non-conference schedule has been ranked No. 1 by college football expert Tom Fornelli in the AAC and that’s probably the model Temple should pursue in the not-too-distant future.

Cincinnati v Tulane

Consider this: Tulane returns 14 of 22 starters from a bowl team and runs a unique zone bluff option type offense that is easier to pass off than, say, Army and Navy. It’s an offense few teams run and makes Tulane a tough team to prepare for in a one-week situation. Most P5 teams go up against a read-option and facing a different style makes it a tough team to prepare against.

Temple used to be that way as the Owls ran power football with a fullback for most of the Matt Rhule and Al Golden years. Since P5 teams didn’t see that style, the Owls had a fair share of success against more talented foes.

This is my favorite Rhule quote about Temple football from a Paul Myerberg piece in USA Today:

“”HOW DO WE DIFFERENTIATE OURSELVES? HOW DO WE MAKE OURSELVES HARD TO PREPARE FOR? PUT TWO BACKS ON THE FIELD. PUT TWO TIGHT ENDS ON THE FIELD. THIS IS WHAT YOUR ROOTS ARE. THESE KIDS HAVE MADE THEMSELVES REALLY TOUGH. AND THAT’S THE ONLY WAY WE’LL EVER WIN. BY BEING A REALLY, REALLY TOUGH FOOTBALL TEAM.”” _ MATT RHULE

Now it appears Tulane has adopted its own way to make it a difficult-to-prepare-for opponent.

Tulane goes on the road against Northwestern and Mississippi State and I like that scheduling. Both are P5 teams but both are beatable and winning those games would be a boost to the entire conference and not just Tulane.

Temple plays a home game against P5 bottom-feeder Rutgers and a road game against much-improved (at least from a personnel standpoint) Miami. However, if the Owls bring that read-option style to Miami with a classic pocket passer in Anthony Russo, they are going to get hammered by outside pass rushers Quincy Roche and Gregory Rousseau, who could both go in the first round of the NFL draft. Establish an inside running game to avoid those two ends and then throwing off play-fakes would probably mitigate the rush. Does Rod Carey go outside of his comfort zone to attack the weakness of his opponent?

We didn’t see much evidence of last in his last game.

Hopefully, his next game plan is the polar opposite of that one.

Monday: Drop dead date

 

Smoking Out the AAC winner: Cincy

Cincinnati v Tulane

In the run-up to the college football season, we’ve seen some hope among the generally accepted gloom and doom.

South Korea’s baseball season already has resumed with games on ESPN, albeit in empty stadiums. South Korea’s first case of the virus came on the same day as the United States’ first case.

So, yes, they are doing better than us but that doesn’t mean we won’t get to where they are. Also, New Zealand has declared it has had no new cases for the past two weeks. If college football can play its entire season in New Zealand, no problem.

That won’t happen.

The larger point is that there is hope for a college football season in the United States, even this year.

For the purposes of this post, though, we’ll assume there will be a season either this fall or next spring and it doesn’t look good from a Temple football perspective.

The Vegas Over/Under for the Owls is 5.5 wins.

be272-aac

Five. Point. Five.

I’ll take the over only when I’m sure there will be a season, but the line is telling me something.

Vegas was spooked by the Owls’ bowl result and the losing way they ended the season and is putting their money where their heads are.

So who is going to win the AAC?

Memphis won last year, but lost its head coach and that always has a negative impact on the next season.

UCF looks strong again but my money is on Cincinnati finally taking home the crown. Luke Fickell turned down the West Virginia job to remain at Cincinnati two years ago and it almost paid off but the Bearcats lost their final two league games to Memphis (regular season and championship). He turned down Michigan State in February to remain at Cincinnati.

I just wish one Temple coach would turn down one Power 5 job let alone two.

Two years ago, Cincy came to Philadelphia with 35 freshmen (including red shirts and true) on the traveling squad and those youngsters extended Temple into overtime before losing.

This year, based on coaching, experience and four-straight years of having the No. 1 recruiting class in the conference (either Scout.com or Rivals.com ratings.), the Bearcats should take home the league crown.

At least that’s my pick here on May 8. Next season should be over by May 8 and we will find out for sure by then.

We’ll go with an AAC East finish of Cincy, UCF, Temple in that order and fervently hope it’s flipped the other way.

Friday (5/15): Advantages of a shortened season

Monday (5/18): Recruiting Patterns

Friday (5/22): Suspending Campaigns