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.

Best of MLB: Nelson Cruz drives in 7 as Mariners pummel Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Nelson Cruz drives in 7 as Mariners pummel Blue Jays

TORONTO -- Nelson Cruz hit his ninth career grand slam and added a three-run shot, and Hisashi Iwakuma pitched six innings to win his fifth straight start in Seattle's victory over Toronto.

Cruz hit his slam off R.A. Dickey (7-11) in the third, then added a three-run drive off Drew Storen in the eighth for his 20th career multi-homer game. He has 25 home runs this season.

It was the 13th time in team history a Mariners player has recorded seven RBIs. The team record is eight by Mike Blowers, Mike Cameron and Alvin Davis.

Kyle Seager hit a two-run homer and Nori Aoki had two RBIs and scored twice as the Mariners used a season-high 19 hits to win their third straight. Iwakuma (11-6) allowed two runs and four hits.

Wade LeBlanc pitched the final three innings for his first save (see full recap).

Stanton leads Marlins past Mets
MIAMI -- Giancarlo Stanton homered and had his first four-hit game since 2012, driving in three runs to give Jose Fernandez all the support he needed, and Miami beat New York.

Miami rocked Jacob deGrom (6-5), who allowed 10 hits and five runs, both season highs, and lasted just 3 2/3 innings in his shortest outing since August.

Fernandez (12-4) gave up two runs in seven innings to match his career high for victories, achieved in his 2013 rookie season. He also had two hits, hiking his average to .265, and drove in the first run.

Home Run Derby winner Stanton put Miami ahead to stay in the third inning when he hit a majestic two-run homer off the left-field scoreboard above the 401-foot sign. He added an RBI single in the fourth, and singled in the first and sixth, hiking his average to .241 after a prolonged slump (see full recap).  

Dodgers snap Cardinals' 5-game win streak
ST. LOUIS -- Adrian Gonzalez hit his eighth homer, red-hot Justin Turner got two more RBIs and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat St. Louis 7-2 on Saturday night to end the Cardinals' five-game winning streak.

Turner's two-run double capped a four-run third. He has 14 RBIs since the All-Star break.

Gonzalez's 429-foot solo blast to center sparked a three-run sixth.

Kenta Maeda (9-7) rebounded from a poor outing against Arizona on July 17, giving up two runs over 5 2/3 innings. Only one of the Cardinals' first 15 batters was able to hit the ball out of the infield against the Japanese right-hander.

Andrew Toles went 3 for 4 and scored once for the Dodgers. He has reached safely in nine of 10 games since being called up from the minors.

Mike Leake (7-8) allowed seven runs -- six earned -- in six innings.

Matt Adams homered for the second consecutive game. His blast to left in the fourth extended the Cardinals' streak of home runs to 14 straight games.

Aledmys Diaz reached safely for the 26th straight game with a first-inning single. Diaz's streak is the second-longest by a Cardinals rookie since Albert Pujols had streaks of 30 and 48 games in 2001 (see full recap).

Drew's walk-off triple lifts Nats past Padres
WASHINGTON -- Pinch-hitter Stephen Drew hit a game-ending RBI triple in the ninth inning to lift Washington past San Diego,

Anthony Rendon opened the bottom off the ninth with a single off reliever Kevin Quackenbush (6-4). Drew entered with one out and drove a pitch off the center-field scoreboard, and Rendon raced around the bases for the winning run.

Jonathan Papelbon (2-2) allowed a leadoff double in the ninth before retiring three straight batters. San Diego left runners in scoring position in each of the last two innings.

Washington starter Max Scherzer struck out 10 over seven innings (see full recap).

Giants top Yanks in extras to snap losing skid
NEW YORK -- Mac Williamson homered in the fifth inning and hit a tiebreaking single in the 12th, lifting San Francisco past New York for the Giants' first victory since the All-Star break.

NL West-leading San Francisco had lost a season-high six straight games and had held just one lead since the break -- when Buster Posey hit a go-ahead home run leading off the 10th inning at San Diego on July 16 only to have the Padres rally for a pair of runs in the bottom half against Santiago Casilla.

Williamson, whose fourth-inning error allowed the Yankees' run, began the comeback when he connected off Ivan Nova leading off the fifth.

Trevor Brown hit an opposite-field double to right off Anthony Swarzak (1-1) leading off the 12th, and Williamson singled up the middle with one out, just past the glove of diving shortstop Didi Gregorius. San Francisco was 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, dropping to 7 for 64 (.111) since the All-Star break, before Williamson's single.

Cheered on by hundreds of orange-clad fans in the Giants' old hometown, San Francisco escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the 10th when Casilla (2-3) retired Brian McCann on a shallow flyout and Starlin Castro on a foulout. Hunter Strickland pitched a perfect 12th for his second save (see full recap).

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

The treasure trove that is Joel Embiid's social media presence unearthed another jewel on Saturday evening.

The Sixers' big man took to Instagram to post a picture of himself chatting with local folk legend Sam Hinkie. As if that wasn't enough, check out the captions he wrote at the bottom.

THE GOAT #HeDiedForOurSins #TrustTheProcess

A photo posted by Joel Hans Embiid (@joelembiid) on

Let us break this down.

"THE GOAT" - As in Greatest Of All Time, not an actual goat you would find at your local petting zoo.

"#HeDiedForOurSins" - St. Sam, patron saint of analytical basketball martyrdom.

"#TrustTheProcess" - The rallying cry of the masses.

Sure, they may have taken away Sam, but they'll never take away JoJo's social media platforms. Never!

Union have no answer for Didier Drogba, Impact in 5-1 loss

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Associated Press

Union have no answer for Didier Drogba, Impact in 5-1 loss

MONTREAL  -- Didier Drogba broke out with a hat trick to lead the Montreal Impact to a 5-1 victory over the Union on Saturday night.

The 38-year-old Ivorian striker hadn't scored since May 28. He returned last week after missing three games with a thigh injury.

Ignacio Piatti returned after sitting out a one-game suspension to score a goal and add two assists. Recent signing Matteo Mancuso, who went in for Drogba in the 79th minute, got his first MLS goal in added time.

Montreal improved to 7-5-8.

Chris Pontius scored for Philadelphia (8-7-6).