Excitement, and realism, about 2012 Temple football

Second-year coach Steve Addazio is excited about the progress his program has made.
Second-year coach Steve Addazio is excited about the progress his program has made. (DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: August 31, 2012

AS LONG AS folks insist on keeping score, it's always about the next game. But for Temple football, it's not necessarily about this season. The Owls already have won just by getting back into the Big East, even if it will soon look more like Conference USA. Still, what they have going for them now is incalcuably better than anything the Mid-American Conference could offer, in every way imaginable. So whatever this season produces, they don't figure to ever be worried about their very future again.

That doesn't mean they're necessarily going to win a conference title any time soon. Doesn't mean they won't, either. They never got to a MAC title game, or even beat a MAC team that finished with a winning record. Yet they did win 26 games the last three seasons, including a bowl last December. And that sure beats the whatever out of where they were when the Big East asked them to go away in 2004. So life on North Broad Street has never looked as good, even if the Owls were picked to finish last in their return.

Probably no one gets that more than second-year coach Steve Addazio, the former Florida assistant, who went 9-4 in his debut.

Obviously, like every other guy in his position, he'd prefer to go undefeated. But he's realistic enough to understand what it means to be in transition, and all that entails.

Particularly in this situation.

"When I look back to a year ago and where we are today, it's beyond what I can sit here and tell you, to be quite honest," Addazio, whose team opens Friday night against Villanova at the Linc, said earlier this week. "In my heart, I had a vision that this is where we could be right now. But man, just look around. From the season we had, to recruiting, to the campus with the changes in the athletic facilities, to this [football] building, to the Big East. I would say that I don't think in my career I've seen a faster-growing Division I program in the country. Every once in a while you sit back and go, 'Wow. Really?'

"After you get rid of that little dream, you've got the reality of here's year 2, you've got to perform. You lose a game, no one cares where you've been and where you've come. Now we have to keep going. But I read somewhere that if Temple doesn't win 'X' amount of games this year it's all for naught, so to speak. Are you serious? I mean, what are we talking about here? We're building something for the long haul. You can't be delusional and not realize we've lost a bunch of players. That's where you have to have your wits about you.

"We're all competitive. We're going to hard-charge this. But we also lost some [good] guys. Does that derail the commitment of the university or where this program's headed? The fact that one day you woke up and now you're going to play in the Big East. And we haven't had a chance to recruit that yet. We're doing it now. They're not here. This program is here to stay, and it's going to grow. Does it happen instantaneously? I'm sorry that there's scars from the past. People are at the highest level of awareness for Temple football. What we need to do is keep our perspective. That's my soap box . . .

"I don't have a crystal ball. I don't know how this is all going to play out [in 2012]. I know we're young. I know we're going to battle. I know this: There's going to be twists and turns. That's college football. There'll be some bad obstacles we have to overcome. I'm really looking forward to all that good stuff that goes into it."

Certainly fair enough.

He has playmakers, especially in the offensive backfield, where Chris Coyer is the trigger man trying to utilize many of the same schemes that made Tim Tebow a household name. Bernard Pierce left early for the NFL, but Matt Brown is back. And he's joined by Boston College transfer Montel Harris, who might be every bit as talented as Pierce. The offensive line is thin, and the wide receiving corps has to prove itself. There are also questions on defense. But coordinator Chuck Heater was able to overcame the loss of two top 54 NFL draft picks last season. And in case there's any need for a security blanket, both the punting and placekicking are once again being handled by the quite capable right foot of Brandon McManus.

Last season Addazio inherited 14 starters from Al Golden. This time around he has to replace roughly the same amount. That's what being a program is about. The names change. But hopefully, that's the only thing.

"We feel real good about the new guys we're plugging in," Addazio said. "They have to make plays for us. But young guys make mistakes. They're still learning how to play. That's the way it is. You're going to see some great plays, and some that are maybe a little hard [to digest]."

But it'll be a lot easier now that the Owls have made their way back to where they always needed to be. At some point, it won't be enough to just be there. But even if they're keeping score, 2012 is way too early to define anything, other than inclusion. Regardless of whatever the standings might say.

TEMPLE AT A GLANCE

Coach: Steve Addazio (9-4 in his first season).

Last year: 9-4, 5-3 in the MAC East.

On the web: www.Owlsports.com.

Ticket info: 215-204-Tixx.

Worth watching: Chris Coyer showed at the end of last season that he's well-equipped to run the offense, with both his feet and left arm. Behind him in the backfield, Matt Brown always provided a complementary piece to Bernard Pierce. Now he'll share things with Boston College transfer Montel Harris, who put up some serious numbers his 3 years in the ACC. Brandon McManus could well be the difference in at least a few games with his placekicking and punting.

Great unknowns: Can the revamped offensive line stay healthy and develop into a solid unit? Likewise, can one or two wide receivers become the kind of weapons who are going to be needed at some point? And on the other side of the ball, can enough new faces, or even familiar ones, start to emerge as playmakers?

It all comes down to: Can these Owls take that initial step up into their new surroundings? The Big East isn't what it used to be, but neither is it the MAC. And the Owls didn't exactly dominate the better teams in that conference. Now there will be fewer gimmes.

Circle the dates: Well, the Big East opener against South Florida in South Philly on Oct. 6 would appear to be fairly significant, just because. And Rutgers here 2 weeks later should not lack for interest as far as proximity goes. Should we mention at Penn State on Sept. 22, coming off a bye?

Number crunching: The Owls were 7-1 in games decided by 22 points or more, 1-3 in those decided by four or fewer. They've won 15 of their last 18 at the Linc.

Prognosis: The landscape obviously has been altered. The Owls figure to be underdogs a lot more than they were lately. So maybe that means they'll finish last, as projected. Still, there's no reason to think they can't at least be mostly competitive and even win some conference games. Two years ago they beat a Connecticut team that ended up in a BCS bowl. This is the next part of a process, which warrants a certain degree of patience.

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