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Opponent Preview: Temple Owls

No Matt Rhule, Haason Reddick or Phillip Walker means this team won’t repeat as league champions.

AAC Championship - Temple v Navy Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Matt Rhule inherited a team on the edge in 2013. After Al Golden resurrected the Temple Owls and made them relevant again, he jetted for Miami. Steve Addazio stepped in from there and spent two years at the helm, riding high on Golden’s success in year one and cutting ties once the Boston College job opened up, and things started to crumble in North Philadelphia.

Things could have gone very poorly for the Owls after Addazio and it looked like they would, as Rhule went just 2-10 in his first season. However, in 2016, in his fourth year in charge, Rhule had built a defensive powerhouse that won 10 games in back-to-back seasons and captured an American Athletic Conference title, an unthinkable accomplishment a decade ago when the Owls were floundering as an independent.

Like Golden, Rhule parlayed his success with Temple into a Power Five job, as he is now the head man at Baylor. There is plenty of other turnover on the roster with quarterback Phillip Walker and running back Jahad Thomas gone along with a great deal of the defense that carried the team last year. For new head coach Geoff Collins, the key is to keep the program rising or at least on a steady course.

What They Do Well

Rhule made sure Temple played defense. While the offense wasn’t always spectacular, the defense consistently shut teams down. The Owls ranked first in the AAC and third nationally in total defense, letting up a paltry 282.5 yards per game. Diving a little deeper, Temple ranked 16th in the country in defensive S&P+, showing that it wasn’t just a statistical anomaly that it was considered one of the best defensive teams in college football.

The suffocating attack was powered by intense pressure, as Temple played more aggressively than just about any team outside of Tuscaloosa. The Owls finished last season with 40 sacks and 103 tackles for loss, both the best marks in the AAC. They also hit hard, forcing a national-high 32 fumbles and recovering 13.

By keeping opponents to short drives, Temple also dominated in time of possession, leading the AAC with an average of 33:32 of time with the ball per game.

What They Don’t Do Well

For all that defensive posturing, the Owls weren’t a light it up offense. While they did score a healthy 32.4 points per game, they ranked just eighth in the conference in total offense (413.6 YPG), while producing a middling amount of success on third down and in the red zone.

Even though Walker provided a steady hand at quarterback for a number of years, he never developed into a game-changing passer like USF’s Quinton Flowers or Memphis’ Riley Ferguson. That’s not to say he was bad, as he threw for 3,295 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2016, but he was also second in the conference in interceptions (13) while completing less than 60 percent of his pass attempts. He is still easily the best quarterback of the recent football renaissance at Temple and now that he’s gone, a passing attack that was suspect at worst and mediocre at best needs to start over.

Player to Watch

Ryquell Armstead, RB

Temple isn’t a team whose entire scheme is built on a run-option attack like Navy and Tulane but it still likes to move on the ground. A slew of talented backs over the last 10 years has made that possible. Bernard Pierce, Montel Harris and then Jahad Thomas all played the role of workhorse back perfectly. Now it’s Armstead’s turn. He is already one of the best backs in the AAC, but the man who scored 14 touchdowns last season could be much more in 2017.

Ventell Bryant, WR

Bryant is a rising star. It is unfortunate for Temple that he won’t get to keep working with Walker because the duo formed a nice bond last year. As a redshirt sophomore, Bryant turned 54 receptions into 895 yards and four touchdowns. A home run threat to be sure, Bryant is a 6’3”, 200-pound wideout who can go up and get balls and outrun players in the secondary.

Delvon Randall, DB

Remember all those tackles for loss I mentioned? Well a lot of them are gone. Haason Reddick took his 22.5 with him to the NFL, while Praise Martin-Oguike, Avery Williams, Averee Robinson and Romond Deloatch are all gone as well. That means the secondary will likely be the strength of this year’s defense. Randall snagged four interceptions last season and is the top returning player in terms of tackles for loss (6.0)

Sean Chandler, DB

A senior who normally plays safety, Chandler could be in for an all-league type year. He was an all-second teamer last year and has played in 36 games during his first three seasons, totaling 185 tackles, 12.0 TFL and 26 passes defended.

Do They Play Cincinnati?

Yessir and it will be a home game for the Bearcats. It will be televised on ESPN2 and will take place on Nov. 10. That’s a Friday night if you were wondering. The Owls easily took care of the Bearcats last fall, rolling to a 34-13 victory en route to their league title.

Prediction Time!

Armstead and Bryant are offensive stars, but I’m not sure there is enough talent around them to let them shine. Temple has made its name by playing great defense and they have a lot of skill on that side of the ball to replace. There is enough there for the Owls to avoid plummeting to the basement of the AAC, but don’t expect them to come anywhere near where they did last season. The first year of the Collins era will feature a 6-6 finish and a bowl invite and that’s probably enough for a team starting over with a new coach.