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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
American Athletic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Matt Rhule, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Marcus Satterfield | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Snow
Former coach Steve Addazio thought he’d found his quarterback when Chris Coyer took over late in 2011 and became the Offensive MVP of the New Mexico Bowl. Then Coyer was replaced late last season by Clinton “Juice” Granger — with mixed results. Now the job has gone to junior Connor Reilly, who was buried on the depth chart in the spread option run by the previous staff. Reilly is the type of drop-back throwing threat that new coach Matt Rhule, the one-time coordinator at Temple under Al Golden, is looking for to improve the Owls’ passing game. Freshman P.J. Walker is projected as the quarterback of the future, assuming he doesn’t win the job this season.
Rhule is trying to identify a few receivers who can emerge as threats in the passing game. The most logical candidates are Jalen Fitzpatrick, who caught a team-high 30 passes in 2012, Deon Miller and Ryan Alderman.
The Owls must replace two productive running backs in Montel Harris and Matt Brown, both of whom missed stretches last year with injuries. Harris, a former star at Boston College, rushed for 1,054 yards in his only season at Temple. Kenny Harper and Jamie Gilmore, who combined to rush for 159 yards last season, are next up. Freshman Zaire Williams, a top recruit, should get a shot.
The line, though young, returns four players who started at times in 2012. Guard Scott Roorda is the only senior projected to start. Eric Lofton takes over for second-team All-Big East tackle Martin Wallace.
Temple struggled defensively in its first season in the Big East. The Owls ranked last in the league in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense.
There are, however, some building blocks. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich was the 2012 Big East Rookie of the Year as a true freshman, despite not even playing much until the fourth game. Middle linebacker Nate D. Smith was productive as well, ranking second on the team with 75 tackles. Keep an eye on Haason Reddick, a walk-on redshirt freshman who might play his way into the linebacker rotation.
End Sean Daniels could be the pass-rusher the Owls lacked last season. Levi Brown is a two-year starter at nose tackle.
Anthony Robey, a junior cornerback, played well in the spring. He will be part of a veteran secondary that could start two juniors and two seniors.
Brandon McManus, who was a bona fide weapon, handled the placekicking for four years and the punting for the last two. Now that double duty belongs to Paul Layton, a transfer from Albany. Layton, who has only one season of eligibility at Temple, was a two-time All-Northeast Conference pick while at Albany. Layton could be challenged by incoming freshman Jim Cooper, whose father was a big-time kicker for the Owls back in the 1980s.
Last year, the Owls transitioned to a new league. Now, the transition is to a new coach. Rhule, who was on the Temple staff from 2006-11, was a popular choice, given his ties with the program and familiarity with most of the players on the roster. Temple won 26 games from ’09-11, and Rhule played a vital role in the team’s renaissance. Now, it’s his show, and the first-time head coach has some lofty goals. “We’re here to win championships,” Rhule says. “We’ve been to bowl games and won bowl games, but that’s the one thing that’s missing from the trophy case.”
A conference title, even in the reconfigured (and weaker) league, likely is not in the Owls’ immediate future, but this program will have an opportunity to raise its profile in the newly named American Athletic Conference in the coming years.