5 Things to Watch: The 2012 Temple Owls

5 Things to Watch: The 2012 Temple Owls

If you're interested in viewing the very best officiated football in the nation this year, then the college game is for you.

The 2012 season starts tonight, thereby opening up one of the most underrated gambling weekends of the year. If a 25 1/2-point spread doesn't get you going -- well, I don't know what will.

If you're looking for the best game on this evening's slate, No. 9 South Carolina is at Vanderbilt at 7 p.m.

As for the events in our own backyard, the Temple Owls kick off their season Friday in the fourth and -- for now, final -- playing of the Mayor's Cup against Villanova. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m. inside Lincoln Financial Field.

In advance of that game tomorrow night, and to get you set for the regular season, here are five of the key Temple story lines to keep an eye on this season...

1. Return to the Big East

For the first time in eight years, Temple will play an in-conference football game as a member of the Big East when they take on South Florida on Oct. 6. Of course, they'll take on a Big East member (in everything but football) long before that when when face 'Nova tomorrow night.

It's obviously been a long road back to respectability for the program since being unceremoniously ousted from the conference in 2004. Under head coaches Al Golden and Steve Addazio, the Owls slowly but surely rebuilt themselves in the Mid-American Conference and have managed to win 26 games in the past three seasons, including their first bowl victory since 1979.

The key now is to keep the momentum going, and that's easier said than done. As Addazio has so often pointed out this off-season, he and his staff have yet to have an opportunity to recruit to the Big East. The 2012 Owls have talent at their starting spots but lost 13 starters from last year's team, meaning they're very young and very thin in certain spots.

Temple was picked to finish last in the preseason Big East coaches' poll and, again, is making the leap to a better conference after losing 18 guys (five draft picks and 13 free agents) to the NFL in the last two seasons. Addazio got up "on his soap box," as he termed it, on Tuesday, reminding reporters that a constant rise is unsustainable, that there will always be ebbs and flows in every program's development and that neither he nor his team nor those who follow it can afford to be delusional with regard to their expectations.

In short, there's no reason to think the Owls can't be immediately successful in their new/old conference. It just shouldn't be surprising if they need a year or two to adjust and properly recruit.

2. Replacing Bernard Pierce
In three seasons, Bernard Pierce became the program's all-time leader in touchdowns in a game (5), season (27) and career (54). He's second behind only Paul Palmer (21 / 4,895) in 100-yard rushing games (18) and yards (3,570). He was drafted in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens to backup Ray Rice. He's gone.

So what did Temple do? They lucked into an all-time rushing leader from somewhere else. Montel Harris spent three years at Boston College, amassing a record 3,735 yards. He was the ACC's leading runner in 2010, before knee issues kept him out of all but two games last season. He received a medical redshirt and was set to return for his senior year Boston College,  as the nation's active leader in 100-yard rushing games.

What specifically happened next remains unclear, but he was dismissed from his former program in May for a repeated violation of a team rule, and now he's property of Temple University for the next year.

Harris has been telling reporters all summer that he's fully healthy and that his formerly injured knee feels better than his uninjured knee. Should that prove the case, Harris and 5-foot-5 senior Matt Brown could form a duo not unlike what Brown had with Pierce in the three years prior -- obviously good news for a Temple program almost singularly focused on running the football.

Read more on Brown and Harris' relationship and just how they complement one another here.

3. Last year's QB carousel appears done with
Two-thirds of last season's quarterback depth chart is no longer with the program. Chester Stewart's eligibility expired and Mike Gerardi opted out of his final year, deciding instead to graduate.

That leaves junior quarterback Chris Coyer exactly where he finished last year -- the starting quarterback on a team just starting to figure out its offensive identity. I characterized the Owls as "almost singularly focused on running the football" above, because in the past they were. That said, last year's uncertainty under center was -- according to Addazio -- dictated by the coach not having the personnel immediately experienced enough to run his preferred spread-option.

Now that he has Coyer -- who the Owls were able to depend on at the end of last season, to provide a dual-threat -- Temple has a definitive starter under center capable of running the offense its coach wants to run. Though the receivers still need to prove they're capable of making plays down the field, the overarching scheme is finally starting to take shape and the guy running it seems much improved from what they had.

After a gradual and at times frustrating implementation last year, expect Temple to fully move into what Addazio wanted from the start: a spread-option attack mixed with a power run game.

Read more on the offense's scheme changes and Coyer's emergence as the starter here.

4. A short-handed offensive line
Of course, all the scheming in the world won't make a difference if the offensive line can't stay on the field. And just accomplishing that much has been a challenge this preseason.

The starting five practiced together as a unit on Tuesday morning for the first time in three weeks. Add in that they're replacing four of five starters from last year and there are reasonable concerns over chemistry and cohesion. Further add the fact that Addazio can't get through a media session without mentioning the team's lack of depth at the position and there's even greater concern.

Not only does the unit to need to stay healthy in order to gel, but also to cover up for the depth the Owls don't currently have. Somebody -- everybody -- has to block, protect and not get called for a variety of holding penalties.

Read more those issues, which frankly could make or break the entire season, here.

5. The
re's a game missing

Prior to the conference switch, Temple had UCONN slated on the schedule as an out-of-conference opponent. Of course, the Huskies are still on the schedule -- they're just now in-conference.

Temple filling the hole left by West Virginia meant that the Big East stayed with eight teams playing a seven-game conference slate. That said, since Temple lost an out-of-conference opponent they were unable to replace in time for the season, they'll be playing 11 games this season, rather than the usual 12.

That means, to get bowl eligible for the fourth season in a row, they'll need to be better than .500. In honesty, this isn't too much of change, as 7-5 teams are (nearly) always given preference over 6-6s, but getting to seven wins now means they can only afford four -- not five -- losses.

That and if you're trying to figure out where the extra gap in the schedule came from -- there you go.

Speaking of schedules, get a good look at what's left of the Big East this year, because come 2013, it will be unrecognizable. Pitt and Syracuse will be gone and UCF, Houston, Memphis, SMU, San Diego State, and Boise State will be coming in. Navy joins in 2015. That means, with 13 teams, the conference will undoubtedly be looking to add another for balance and two seven-team divisions.

As we've mentioned once, twice or 17 times -- realignment is far, far from over. And just one of five things to keep a watch on this season.

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Hellickson good to go; Franco sits again

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Hellickson good to go; Franco sits again

Phillies (15-28) vs. Rockies (30-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' nightmarish skid continued Tuesday as they dropped a second straight game to a Rockies rookie starting pitcher.

They've been outscored 16-3 in the first two games of this four-game series against a Colorado club that has the best record in the NL and more road wins (17) than the Phillies have total wins.

Let's take a look at Game 3:

1. Hellickson good to go
The Phillies got a scare last Friday night when Jeremy Hellickson hurt his lower back during his seventh-inning at-bat, but they avoided disaster when it was diagnosed as mere stiffness as opposed to something more serious like a strained oblique.

Hellickson said that night and again the next morning that he felt fine and wouldn't miss a start. The Phillies are thankful for that given the inefficiencies of their rotation, which has just 16 quality starts in 43 games, third-fewest in the majors.

Hellickson (5-1, 3.44) was locked in last weekend against a weak Pirates lineup but this is much more of a challenge. Don't expect him to set down 16 of 17 batters the way he did in Pittsburgh.

The Phillies are 8-1 when Hellickson pitches this season and 7-27 when anyone else does. The only loss in a Hellickson start came against the Cubs on May 2, the first of a three-start skid in which Hellickson allowed 12 runs in 13⅔ innings. Of those 12 runs, 11 scored via home runs. He allowed seven homers in those three starts after giving up just two in his first five.

The Rockies present a lot of challenges and one of them is that they've been the second-best team in the majors this season against changeups, which is Hellickson's go-to pitch. Only the Marlins (.312) have a higher batting average vs. changeups than the Rockies (.286).

(For reference, the Phillies are 28th in baseball against changeups with a .201 batting average.)

Then again, not all changeups are the same, and Hellickson did limit the Marlins to one run on seven hits over six innings when he faced them April 27.

Current Rockies are just 10 for 56 (.179) off Hellickson. Ian Desmond has the only homer (2 for 5, HR, double).

2. Blackmon the Destroyer
Charlie Blackmon, good lord.

The guy has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. Over that span — Aug. 12, 2016 through last night — Blackmon has more homers at CBP than any Phillie.

Think about how ridiculous that is. Aaron Altherr and Ryan Howard are next with six homers in 15 and 17 games, respectively. Then comes Freddy Galvis with five in 26 games.

3. Fading fast
At 15-28, the Phillies are on pace to finish 57-105. They've dropped 19 of 23 and now have the second-worst record in the majors, ahead of only the 16-31 Padres.

The offense has been completely devoid of life lately. It's not like these guys are going out and playing with zero energy, but when you don't hit it's always going to seem like that.

Since May 12, the Phillies are 2-9. They've hit .225/.273/.345 as a team for the second-worst OBP and OPS, ahead of only the Mariners.

They've been middle of the pack with runners in scoring position over that span, but they have just 89 plate appearances with RISP, which is seventh-fewest in baseball.

A lot of this can be attributed to the top of the order. Cesar Hernandez is 9 for 54 (.167) with no extra-base hits over his last 14 games. And that vaunted 1-2 in the Phillies' order — a duo which hit close to .350 in April — is down to .282.

4. Scouting Chatwood
The Phillies face 27-year-old right-hander Tyler Chatwood (3-6, 5.09).

He was the Rockies' best starting pitcher last season when he went 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA in 158 innings. He walked 70 and those control issues have continued this season — 27 walks in 53 innings.

He's been especially wild lately, walking 19 in 21⅔ innings this month. 

Chatwood averages 95 mph with his fastball and sinker and 88-90 with his slider and changeup. He also throws a high-70s curveball.

He faced the Phillies twice last year and went 0-2, allowing 10 runs (eight earned) in nine innings. Interestingly, though, no active Phillie has an extra-base hit against him.

Hopefully, the Phils will be able to make Chatwood work tonight and take advantage of their opportunities with men on base. They stranded the bases loaded three times last night.

5. Franco sits again
Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp are sitting again. Pete Mackanin wants the extremely inconsistent, wild-swinging Franco to sit back and watch for a few days to regroup. He also wants to see some more of Andrew Knapp after a rough defensive week from Cameron Rupp.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Aaron Altherr, LF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Andres Blanco, 3B
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Andrew Knapp, C
8. Michael Saunders, RF
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

Bringing fun back: Counting down the 10 best Eagles touchdown celebrations

Bringing fun back: Counting down the 10 best Eagles touchdown celebrations

Up until Tuesday afternoon, many fans assumed NFL stood for No Fun League. And with often-excessive fines for celebrations such as this and that, it's easy to see why.

In a letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell, though, the NFL finally wants its players to have "more room to have fun."

Yes, there will still be no twerking -- sorry, Antonio Brown -- as the league will still flag "offensive demonstrations," but we might actually get back to the good old days. And of course, I wish we could enjoy the creativity of guys like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco on a weekly basis.

But the Eagles have had plenty of fun on the field in years past and we're all hoping to see more from Carson Wentz, Jordan Matthews and the rest of the new wide receiving corps in months to come. Until then, let's count down the (entirely objective) 10 best Eagles dances and celebrations of all-time:

10. Shady's got moves...
WATCH
LeSean McCoy danced plenty and although he didn't change it up very often, the guy had his signature celebration.

9. ...And Donovan too?


Well, let's not give Donovan McNabb too much credit here. His moonwalk pales in comparison to Michael Jackson and I'm still unsure of who he was imitating with his air guitar in Dallas. Hey, at least he tried...

8. Rip it down, Terrell Owens (October 24, 2004)
WATCH
Alright, can we stop bringing pain to Browns fans?

T.O. absolutely torched Cleveland in this one when the teams faced off in 2004, catching four balls for 109 yards and two touchdowns. And to cap it off, he brought Browns fans down just a bit more, ripping off their sign that read "T. Akes O. Ne To Know One."

Clever? Yes. Smart to mock one of the best wide receivers of the generation? Probably not.

7. Freddie Mitchell: The People's Champ


This one didn't happen in the end zone, but Aaron Rodgers, I think Fred-Ex wants his celebration back.

Although the wide receiver is best known for his catch on 4th and 26 against the Packers, Mitchell once called himself "The People's Champ" and after snagging a long bomb from McNabb against the Cowboys, he showed off his own championship belt.

6. Mike Bartrum doing his thing (September 26, 2004)
Before Jon Dorenbos, there was Mike Bartrum. The guy was a stud -- he played seven seasons with the Birds and not only could he long snap, but he could also catch passes as a tight end.

We don't have a video of this one, however, according to Larry O'Rourke of the Allentown Morning Call, Bartrum caught a touchdown in Detroit in 2004 and was then flagged 15 yards after what O'Rourke termed a "jubilant long snap."

Apparently, this was an elaborate plan by Bartrum's two young sons and the long-snapper told the media afterwards, "No more celebrating.... I don't think coach Reid was too happy. He didn't really say anything. Just that he wasn't happy."

I wonder how Doug Pederson would react if Dorenbos breaks out an end-zone magic trick this season.

5. Fred Barnett's Backflop (December 2, 1990)
WATCH
Now, I don't think Barnett's celebration was the highlight of this play. I mean, wow, Randall Cunningham was absolutely amazing on this one.

With the Eagles backed up inside their own five-yard line, the quarterback somehow ducked under a Bills defender and then hucked a pass 70 yards down the field. Let's pray Carson has some Randall in him somewhere because the guy was a wizard in green and white.

But let's get to Fred Barnett. He runs into the end zone untouched for the score, stumbles to the back, and then proceeds to do some kind of backflop while shooting the ball into the stands. I'm not entirely sure what was going on with this one, yet Cunningham's work pushes his teammate up this list.

4. Vai Sikahema boxes with the goalpost (November 22, 1992)


The current NBC10 anchor didn't last long on the field with the Eagles, but maybe he could have had a career as a professional boxer. Vai showed his skills off after returning an 87-yard punt vs. the Giants as the Birds blew out their division rivals 40-20 in the Meadowlands.

It wasn't much and I wouldn't necessarily recommend stepping into the ring against Floyd Mayweather anytime soon, but who knows? The multi-talented Sikahema might not fare all that badly (yes, he would).

3. Koy Detmer gives the Patriots the "Whuppin' Stick"(December 19, 1999)
Yes, you read right. We're actually discussing the same Koy Detmer that once backed up Eagles backup Doug Pederson and spent most of his time in Philadelphia as the holder for David Akers.

With the game in hand and the Birds' season going down the drain, Detmer stepped in as the third-stringer against the Pats in 1999, tossing three touchdown passes in a 24-9 victory. Afterwards, he told reporters that his hilarious touchdown dance was known as the "whuppin' stick."

It's not like he hadn't done the dance before — Detmer "whipped it" the year prior against Green Bay — but as he stepped toward the sidelines, he flipped his arm back and forth in a raunchy fashion that I still think might get flagged under today's rules. Andy Reid later said of the celebration, "[Detmer's] a beauty, but he's definitely not a dancer."

2. DeSean's "Nestea Plunge" (December 12, 2010)
WATCH
You remember the old commercial where the construction working dying of thirst does a backflop onto a carpet and somehow lands in a pool of water? Well, that were before my time and still doesn't make much sense to me.

But they became relevant again once more in December 2010 when DeSean broke loose for a 91-yard game-breaking score in Dallas. With no one around him, Jackson got to the goal line, turned around with no one covering him and took the plunge right for paydirt.

In the moment, it was awesome just to watch D-Jax mock the Cowboys, yet that was a huge play in a crucial game for the Eagles that season. The Birds took a 27-20 lead that they would never relinquish, and the win wound up being just enough to give them the 2010 NFC East crown.

1. T.O. mocks Ray Lewis to his face (October 31, 2004)
WATCH
I don't think anyone would ever dare try to replicate soon-to-be Hall of Famer Ray Lewis' infamous "Squirrel Dance" — except maybe T.O. Owens never feared an opponent, so would it surprise anyone that he'd rip off the 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker's own intro dance with Lewis just a couple of paces away? Not a bit.

With the Birds leading Baltimore 9-3 midway through the 4th quarter of their 2004 matchup, Owens eluded a trio of Ravens defenders to slip into the end zone and give the Eagles some breathing room. And just as he had planned, T.O. scooped up a piece of grass and got right into the motions. Although this one was not original, it definitely took some guts and certainly earns its spot at the top of this list.

Not-so Honorable Mention: Brent Celek is Captain Morgan
WATCH
There is not much to be said here. Brent, let's stick to blocking and maybe the occasional spike. Or at least watch a few ads and practice some more before trying again.