Big East Preview, Part 7

This is the last in a seven part preseason tour of the Big East. I'll finish my pre-season tour of the Big East with a look at imploding Temple. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.

TEMPLE OWLS PREVIEW


Call this season's serial of Owl football "Bobby Wallace and the Temple of Doom".  Because Temple football has a Dilbertesque "doom" cloud hovering over the program.  It is a tragedy performing one painful act after another:

  • The Big East voted to evict Temple after the 2004 season. 
  • The defection of Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC offered Temple hope for a reprieve.  But Temple isn't wanted even by a debilitated Big East. 
  • Negotiations with the Philadelphia Eagles over lease conditions that would allow Temple to play in the new Lincoln Financial Field (The Linc) dragged deep into the summer.  A lease agreement was finally signed two weeks ago, less than a month before the opening home game. 
  • Uncertainty over the location of Temple home games prevented the athletic department from selling season tickets until two weeks ago. 
  • The delays in signing a Linc lease caused Temple fans to question the commitment of President David Adamany to Division IA football. 
  • Temple is still without a conference for the 2005 season. 


These administrative and economic issues, the root cause for Temple's ejection from the Big East, continue to plague Temple as it fights for its own survival.  Compared to the off-the-field nonsense, the Temple football team is smashing success.  Head Coach Bobby Wallace completed his fifth season in Philadelphia with another near miss season 4-8 (2-5 Big East).  A tough non-conference schedule featuring Oregon State, South Carolina, and Cincinnati sentenced Temple to another losing season.  However, Wallace yet again found a way to beat a middle-of-the-road Big East opponent - Syracuse.  And beat Rutgers for the fourth straight season.  However, stopgap measures are beginning to threaten the foundation of the football team. 

Wallace has been forced to draw from the bottom of the recruiting barrel, and has taken plenty of academic risks.  The depth of the program has been crippled by a high attrition rate and by injuries to players young players without the benefit of a redshirt year.  Problems that sound similar to those that plagued the Terry Shea regime at Rutgers.  While Wallace has often had a tough, solid starting unit, there has been little depth behind it.  Temple has had two successive senior-laden teams.  As a result, Wallace returns only 8 starters this season.  To fill the gaping holes in his depth chart, Wallace recruited 23 JUCOs in the incoming recruiting class.  Only three enrolled in the spring and four apparently haven't qualified for the fall.  Such an influx threatens team chemistry both in the off-the-field message that it sends to returning players and the on-the-field effect it has on cohesiveness on the field.  Here's a look at the imploding Owls of Temple. 

 

OFFENSE

Temple lost six starters from a unit that, while improved, still struggled and failed to help a very good defense:

  • 20 points per game (#7 in the Big East and #98 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 318 yards per game (#7 in the Big East and #104 in Division 1A)
  • 137 rushing yards per game (#7 in the Big East and #70 in Division 1A)
  • 181 passing yards per game (#5 in the Big East and #84 in Division 1A)


The Owl receiving corps has been the only unit on the Owl team to exhibit any depth.  With its two top receivers returning and in influx of JUCOs, the receiving corps should continue to be the deepest unit.  Two-year starter and former Second Team All-Big East WR Sean Dillard (31 receptions for 378 yards) and backup WR Krishnan Lewis (12 receptions for 108 yards) departed.  Backup Jr TE Dan Bosnic missed spring camp with an injury and is no longer on the team.  Furthermore, former WRs So Sean Szarka (22 receptions for 355 yards and 4 TDs) and RS Sr Donnie Coleman (4 receptions) have been moved to slot back (i.e., hybrid RB/WR) and CB, respectively.  Leading receiver Sr WR Zamir Cobb (45 receptions for 483 yards and 6 TDs), who was academically ineligible as a freshman but has regained a fourth year of eligibility, returns as the primary receiving threat.  Second leading receiver WR RS Sr Terrence Stubbs (32 receptions for 364 yards) also returns.  JUCO All-American Jr Phil Goodman will likely start as the 3WR.  RS Fr Jamel Harris and RS Fr Bill Monan will battle JUCO transfers Jr Buchie Ibeh, Jeremy Harstfield, and Andre Mixon for the backup WR jobs.  Starting TE Jr Eric Carpenter (1 reception for a 2XPA) also returns but plays a limited role in the spread offense, as witnessed by his receiving statistics.  Wallace will have to rely upon an experienced group of receivers to carry the offense. 

Last year was the first season of the Wallace era without a QB derby.  However, the stability didn't translate into production.  Jr QB Mike McGann (173 of 353 for 1,994 yards, 13 TDs, and 22 INTs) returns as the starter after a poor season.  Backup QB Mike Frost has departed.  The ongoing concern at QB prompted Wallace to recruit JUCO All-American So Walter Washington to compete for the starting job.  The QB derby will resume this year. 

Temple suffered a substantial loss with the departure of four-year starter RB Tanardo Sharps (311 carries for 1,276 yards and 8 TDs plus 27 receptions for 205 yards). Backup RB Lester Trammel (18 carries for 66 yards) also departed.  Former backup RB RS Jr Lawrence Wade (23 carries for 88 yards) was moved to WS.  RS Sr RB Makonnen Fenton (11 receptions for 212 yards), a converted slotback, will try to fill Sharps's considerable shoes.  JUCO transfer Jr Jamil Porter, a spring 2003 enrollee, will backup Fenton.  So Sean Szarka, a converted WR, will fill Fenton's vacated starting slotback job.  JUCO Jr Robert Johnson was expected to backup Szarka but Johnson apparently didn't qualify.  RS Fr Ryan Gore or one of the backup WRs could serve as the backup slotback. 

Temple lost most of a veteran starting OLine that took most of the snaps last season - four-year starter LT Dave Yovanovitis, three-year starter C Donny Klein, two-year starter Anthony Bolden, and two-year starter RT Damian Hendricks.  Backup OG Sr Adam Boyd, the eighth man in a seven-player OLine rotation, was also lost unexpectedly.  Only two-year starter RS Sr LG Joe Laudano, who will also be the backup C, returns.  Starting RG RS Sr Jose Portillo and starting LT RS Fr John Gross are the only experienced former backups.  JUCO transfer Jr C CJ Blomvall, a spring 2003 enrollee, will replace Klein.  JUCO transfers Jr Chris Harris and Jr Stan Primus will battle RS Fr Elliott Seifert for the starting RT job.  The backups - RS Fr LT Tariq Sanders, JUCO transfer Jr LG Steven, Bell, and RS So RG Yohance Perry are either new or inexperienced.  Temple has no experience, no depth, and no cohesiveness on its OLine.  This?  This is doom. 


DEFENSE

Temple lost eight starters from a squad that finished in the Top 20 in total defense for the second straight year:

  • 29 points per game (#6 in the Big East and #80 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 315 yards per game (#3 in the Big East and #18 in Division 1A)
  • 108 rushing yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #15 in Division 1A)
  • 207 passing yards per game (#5 in the Big East and #50 in Division 1A)


Temple returns a promising pair of  LBs - So WILB Rian Wallace (76 tackles and 6.5 TFLs) and Sr SILB Troy Bennett (53 tackles) both saw significant playing time as backups and starters last season.  Starting SILB JD Nichols (50 tackles) departed.  RS So WILB Manuel Tapia (17 tackles) and Jr SLB Christian Dunbar (17 tackles), a converted DE, will be the backups.  Along with WR, LB is the deepest and most experienced unit on the Temple roster.  However, Temple uses its safeties as OLBs in its 4-2 alignment and both depth and experience are lacking on the outside. 

For the second year in a row, Temple lost three starters off its DLine.  Rebuilding will be nearly impossible with the loss of the irreplaceable All-American, Big East Defensive Player of the Year, two-time First Team All Big East, and four-year starter Dan Klecko (68 tackles, 22.5 TFLs, 10 sacks, and 4 FF).  Starting DT Rob Sack (49 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, and 3 FR) and starting DE Tyrone Ditzel (39 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 sacks, and 2 FR) also departed.  Starting DE RS So Rodney Wormley (42 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, and 2.5 sacks) returns but is not the only DL with starting experience.  Sr DT Taso Apostolidis (40 tackles, 7 TFLs, and 3 sacks) started seven games early last season while So DE Mike Mendenhall (35 tackles and 5 TFLs) also has starting experience.  RS Sr DT Anthony Nembhard, a converted OL, and RS So DT Adam Fichter (5 tackles) will battle for the other starting DT job.  Only backup DE RS Sr JD Stanley (13 tackles) is experienced.  JUCO transfer Jr DE JC Braker apparently did not qualify.  JUCO transfer Jr DT Antwon Burton and RS So DE Jason Johnson will complete the second unit.  Klecko was the leader of a DLine that defined Temple's tough defense for four years.  The loss of Klecko will open the floodgates. 

The Owls lost four of five starters from an experienced secondary - leading tackler and two-year starter FS Jamal Wallace (96 tackles and 4 TFLS), second leading tackler and two-year starter CB Terrance Leftwich (77 tackles, 2 TFLs, 3 INTs, 2 FF, and 2 FR), two year starter WS Jairo Almonte (71 tackles, 5 TFLs, and 2 FR), and two-year starter SS Lafton Thompson (45 tackles and 3 TFLs).  Versatile backup SS/WS Gerard Biship (52 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and 2 FF) also departed and backup CB So David Reese (15 tackles) was lost prematurely.  Only starting CB Sr Yazid Jackson (65 tackles) returns.  Wallace has moved three players from offense to the secondary and recruited eight JUCO DBs to plug the gaping holes in his secondary.  However, JUCO transfers Jr FS Eric Wright and Jr CB Carl Marshall apparently did not qualify.  Backup FS So Jonathan McPhee (5 tackles) will compete with JUCO transfer Jr Matt Douglas for the starting FS job.  Converted slotback RS Jr Lawrence Wade will battle RS Jr Joel Gray and JUCO transfer Jr Justin Johnson for the starting WS job.  Converted WR RS Sr Donnie Coleman, So CB Mike Holley (14 tackles), and JUCO transfers Jr Pete McBride and Jr Bobby Fulmore will jockey for the other CB job and backup roles.  JUCO transfer JR Sadeke Konte, a spring 2003 enrollee, will likely start at SS while Sr Shawn Bullard and converted RB RS Fr Ryan Gore will compete for the backup role.  As with the OLine, the secondary is green and lacks cohesion.  That will be problematic for a defense that relies so heavily upon its safeties for aggressive run support. 


SPECIAL TEAMS

The Owls special teams also suffered a crucial loss with the departure of Second Team All-Big East PK Cap Poklemba (14 of 20 FGAs and 22 of 26 XPAs).  RS Sr Jared Davis will replace Poklemba.  RS Sr P Garvin Ringwelski (39 yards per punt) returns.  Sr KOR Makonnen Fenton (27 yards per return), the Big East's second leading KOR, and Sr WR Zamir Cobb (10 yards per return) will resume these responsibilities.  Specialists were one of the few areas not decimated with turnover.  While the return games are strong, the loss Poklemba will further hurt an offense that will struggle to score. 


SCHEDULE

Temple has a full 12 game schedule with only 5 home games, yet another example why Temple football is such a hard sell to prospective conferences.  Temple has an early bye week in mid-September and another in early November.  Temple will face a very challenging non-conference schedule includes that 2002 bowl teams Penn State, Cincinnati, and Louisville.  Games against Villanova and Middle Tennessee State will not be gimmies, either.  The road schedule is a death march - at Penn State, at Cincinnati, at Louisville, at Miami, at Syracuse, and at West Virginia.  Only a trip to Middle Tennessee State offers a realistic chance of a win.  Home games against Villanova and Rutgers are the only other prospects for wins.  The schedule has doom written all over it. 
 

 

August 30

@ Penn State

September 6

Villanova

September 20

@ Cincinnati

September 27

@ Louisville

October 4

@ Middle Tennessee State

October 11

Boston College

October 18

@ Miami

October 25

Rutgers

November 8

@ Syracuse

November 15

Virginia Tech

November 22

Pittsburgh

November 29

@ West Virginia

 

PREDICTION

I predict the Owls will finish 1-11 (0-7).  This is the season it all comes crashing down on Wallace.  Too many academic risks.  Too much roster attrition.  Poor chemistry.  All will combine for a disastrous season at a most inopportune time.  Temple will struggle to beat Villanova before a neutral crowd in their debut at the Linc.  The Owls will get pummeled at Penn State, Cincinnati, and Louisville.  While the struggle against Villanova will be a warning sign, a loss at Middle Tennessee State will be an S-O-S.  Boston College, though rebuilding, has laid a much stronger foundation than Temple and should easily beat the Owls.  The final ignominy will occur when visiting Rutgers decisively snaps its four-year losing streak to Temple.  Beleaguered Owl fans will no longer be able to point an angry finger at Rutgers, which - while not yet passing Temple - has finally pulled even.  The pummeling will continue through November, until a West Virignia team that suffered comparable roster turnover administers the coup de grace in Morgantown.  Then, a 1-11 Temple program that has mortgaged its future with JUCOs must try to find a conference to call home.  Is Temple football doomed at the Division IA level? 


Coming Next:  Non-Conference Preview, Part 1.  With the preview of the conference potion of the schedule complete, I'll embark on a pre-season tour of Rutgers' non-conference opponents with a look at season opener Buffalo.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits. 


Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.


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