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.

With new name, new number, Phillip Walker remains key for successful Temple season

With new name, new number, Phillip Walker remains key for successful Temple season

One would think that Temple’s all-time leader in touchdown passes, completions and total offense might not want to change much.

Think again.

Entering his senior season, Owls quarterback Phillip Walker is embracing plenty of changes, starting with his own name.

“It was a maturity thing for me,” Walker said last week during the team’s annual media day of the decision to ditch the nickname P.J. for his given name Phillip. “The older I get, the less I wanted to be called P.J. 

“It’s just something that I wanted to do. I didn’t mind being called P.J. or anything like that, but I feel like the more I get older and older and the more I’m about to get into the real world of being done with football in a year or whatever or at the next level or anything, I’d rather be called Phillip than P.J.”

While the name switch may take a while for Walker’s teammates to get used to, it shouldn’t be an issue for Matt Rhule. Temple’s head coach has routinely referred to Walker as Phillip over the years … when he was upset with the QB’s performance on the field.

“He told me, ‘Coach, you can keep calling me P.J. but I’m going to try to go by Phillip to everybody moving forward,’” Rhule explained. “I call him Phillip. When I get angry, I call him Phillip a lot. I call him P.J. probably on the practice field. There was a tweet I said I’ll call you Phillip if you call me Matt. I called Coach Paterno Joe. That’s what we did at Penn State, so he tweeted Matt and I are getting ready for a great year.

“I’ll call him Phillip. I’ll call him Walker. I’ll call him P.J. I’ll call him a lot of other things.”

The Owls are most proud of the fact that they can call Walker a leader. The quarterback has made great strides during his time on North Broad Street, both on the field and in the locker room.

No one knows just how far Walker has come more than starting running back Jahad Thomas. The two, who attended Elizabeth High School in New Jersey together and won a state sectional championship in 2012, are close friends and roommates.

“Unbelievable. I’m really at a loss for words on that question because where we’re from not too many guys get that opportunity,” Thomas said of his trek from high school to college with Walker. “To see friends and someone that’s like a brother to me just go through the journey that I’ve been through – the losing seasons, the ups and downs throughout our careers and our lives, the different paths that we took to get here – for us to just have that type of bond and to have another four years coming into college, playing here and winning that [American Athletic Conference East Division] championship, it’s just greatness. 

“Somebody like that you really cherish just outside of the field, not only for what they can do on the field but for who he is and what type of role he plays in my life. I’ve been excited for him since high school, since we started playing together, his freshman year playing, getting to start versus Louisville. Just seeing him blossom after that, man, it kind of brings tears to my eyes.”

The advancement in Walker’s maturation is exactly what TU is hoping for, but the quarterback isn’t about to pretend he is a finished product by any means.

Walker (5-11, 205) was able to throw for a career-high 2,973 yards with 19 touchdowns and cut his interceptions to eight — down from 15 — in 2015. However, his completion percentage was 56.8, a number he wants to bump up to 65.0 percent this season.

Getting Walker, who trails Henry Burris by only 121 yards and 72 attempts for No. 1 on Temple’s all-time list, to check the ball down when necessary is something quarterbacks coach and new offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas has stressed during the summer.

“I’ve gotten better at [checking the ball down] throughout the past couple days of camp,” Walker said. “It’s just something that Coach Thomas preaches every single day — completions, completions, winning plays. Just going up there with a purpose at the line of scrimmage, knowing what’s going on, knowing when to make checks, knowing when to change the plays and things like that, just having a purpose and knowing what to do on the field.”

Those decisions to check the ball down instead of forcing the big play are what TU hopes can take Walker to a new level on the field. And, frankly, the team will need it to have any chance of repeating last season’s historic success.

The Owls lost defensive back Tavon Young, defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis and linebacker Tyler Matakevich to the NFL draft. Those are three key pieces to a fearsome 2015 unit that helped lead the team to its second 10-win season and fifth bowl game appearance in program history.

That means the 2016 squad will flip its focus from having a powerful defense to being a force on offense, as Walker looks to become the first Temple quarterback ever to lead his team to two bowl games.

He’ll do so with one more change: a new number. Walker ditched his No. 11 and will play his senior season in a single-digit jersey, given out by the staff to the Owls’ toughest players. Walker will don No. 8, previously worn by stalwart LB Matakevich.

From the heart and soul on defense to his counterpart on offense.

“He’s the key. Phillip’s the key to us being a dominant offense,” Rhule said. “We’ve been really good on defense for a while. We’ve never really been a dominant offense. It’s not just his play. It’s him demanding that guys do things right all the time. There’s always been guys on defense who have demanded that we play at a certain standard every rep, every play of practice. What you’re seeing right now is you’re seeing guys like Phillip and like Jahad demanding that from the offense.”

“I put a lot of pressure on myself every day just to be out there to be the best player on the football field, be as good as I know can be each and every day,” Walker said. “I know if I’m at my best then guys around me will be at their best.”

MLB Notes: Yoenis Cespedes sits vs. Phillies because of quad injury

MLB Notes: Yoenis Cespedes sits vs. Phillies because of quad injury

NEW YORK -- Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes again has soreness in his right quadriceps and was held out of the lineup for Sunday afternoon's game against Philadelphia.

Cespedes originally suffered the injury on July 8 after chasing Daniel Murphy's RBI double to deep center field in the Mets' 3-1 loss to Washington. He went 1 for 2 with a mammoth home run in the Mets' 12-1 rout of Philadelphia on Saturday. He walked and scored in the seventh inning but was pinch-hit for in his second at-bat in the inning, as New York sent 11 men to the plate. He leads the team with a .295 average and is among the National League leaders in home runs (26).

Second baseman Neil Walker is also out of the lineup with a stiff back. Walker returned to the lineup on Friday after being away from the team for three days following the birth of his daughter, Nora, on Aug. 23.

Orioles: Tommy Hunter signed; McFarland, Borbon cut
NEW YORK-- The Baltimore Orioles have signed right-hander Tommy Hunter, bringing him back for a sixth straight season.

The Orioles announced the move before Sunday's game against the New York Yankees. They also recalled righty Oliver Drake from Triple-A Norfolk and designated lefty T.J. McFarland and outfielder Julio Borbon for assignment.

Hunter was 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA in 21 games for Cleveland this season. He was in the minors rehabbing a recent back injury when the Indians cut him on Thursday.

The 30-year-old Hunter played for Baltimore from 2011-15, going 21-20 with a 4.22 ERA. He said he was thrilled to rejoin the Orioles, adding there were "a lot of smiles, a lot of hugs" when he walked into the clubhouse.

Manager Buck Showalter said Hunter brought a lot of experience, having spent so much time in the AL East.

"Felt fortunate to add him at this time of year," Showalter said.

Drake has pitched four games for Baltimore this year, giving up six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.

McFarland was 2-2 with a 6.93 ERA in 16 games. Borbon went 4 for 13 in six games.

NFL Notes: Falcons sign safety Dashon Goldson

NFL Notes: Falcons sign safety Dashon Goldson

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons signed veteran free-agent safety Dashon Goldson on Sunday.

The Falcons will be without rookie starting strong safety Keanu Neal, the first-round pick, for at least the first two regular-season games with a right knee injury. He will have arthroscopic surgery on Monday.

Coach Dan Quinn has said that backup Kemal Ishmael would fill in for Neal as the starting strong safety.

Goldson, a 2012 All-Pro with the 49ers, had 110 tackles in 15 starts with the Redskins in 2015. He spent his first six seasons with San Francisco and played with Tampa Bay in 2013-14 (see full story).

Bills: Ryan says standing for anthem pays respect to military
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan believes standing for the national anthem is a way for NFL players and coaches to show respect and give thanks to members of the armed forces.

Ryan says he can appreciate how some players have personal or religious beliefs that lead them to not stand for the anthem. However, he adds people should appreciate the "gift" they have in playing football, which is the result of "the men and women that serve our country."

He was asked about his opinion before practice Sunday, a day after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he is refusing to stand for the anthem because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities.

Ryan did not specifically reference Kaepernick in his response (see full story).

Colts: Former Patroits RB Steven Ridley signs
INDIANAPOLIS -- Free agent running back Steven Ridley signed with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Ridley was cut Thursday by Detroit, which had signed the sixth-year veteran in April.

Ridley, 5-11, 220 pounds, has played in 60 career NFL games with 26 starts. He went to a Super Bowl with New England in 2011, his rookie year, when he was a third-round selection, and again in 2014, when he was hurt.

Indeed, he's been injury prone, appearing in six games for the Patriots in 2014 and nine for the Jets last year.

He has 685 carries for 2,907 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career.

Indianapolis also waived wide receiver Justin Berger, safety Alden Darby, guard Eric Herman, defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, tight end Mike Miller, running back Chase Price, cornerback Winston Rose, defensive end Delvon Simmons, wide receiver Josh Stangby and inside linebacker Junior Sylvestre.