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.

Instant Replay: Mets 5, Phillies 1

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USA Today Images

Instant Replay: Mets 5, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

The Phillies returned home from a bad road trip Friday with only three games to play and the only thing to play for being the role of spoilers.

With the New York Mets in town looking to put a stranglehold on a wildcard spot, the Phillies, as another losing season finishes out, could be a thorn in the side of their rivals.

Alec Asher looked like he was playing the part, retiring the first 11 hitters he faced, but the Mets rallied, got behind starter Robert Gsellman, and turned back any Phillies sabotaging on this night, beating the home team, 5-1.

Starting pitching report
Asher retired the first 11 Mets hitters he faced before running into trouble in the top of the fourth inning. With two outs, his brief perfect game bid was ended with a single from Yoenis Cespedes. That was followed by another from Curtis Granderson. 

Jay Bruce then worked a full count but Asher couldn’t put him away. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Bruce singled home Cespedes to tie the score. 

A fourth consecutive single, this time off the bat of T.J. Rivera, allowed Granderson to cross the plate for a 2-1 Mets lead.

Asher’s night and season ended with a Jay Bruce home run to lead off the top of the seventh.

Asher, 24, went six-plus innings Friday, throwing 104 pitches while allowing three runs on five hits. He struck out four and walked zero.

His 2016 finishes with a 2.28 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 27 ⅔ innings pitched. He struck out 13 and walked four.

Bullpen report
Michael Mariot relieved Asher after the Bruce home run.

After getting through the seventh, Mariot got into trouble in the eighth inning. Back-to-back singles from Alejandro De Aza and Jose Reyes put a pair of runners on base. Two batters later, Cespedes hit a pop up into the wind and Ryan Howard couldn’t quite make a play on it, allowing the ball to fall on first base and bounce away far enough for De Aza to score for a 4-1 lead.

Mariot was then removed for Joely Rodriguez, who promptly allowed an RBI single off the bat of Bruce, who had three RBI on the night.

At the plate
The Phillies struck first Friday night. In the bottom of the second, Maikel Franco led off with an infield single and was nearly brought around when Howard hit a double off the wall in center field. 

Franco crossed the plate on a Cameron Rupp sacrifice fly but the Phillies couldn’t do any more damage against Gsellman.

The Phillies had two runners on in the fifth inning with one out but failed to score.

In the sixth, Jimmy Paredes nearly tied the game with a fly ball to the wall in dead center. 

Gsellman and the New York bullpen took care of the rest.

The Mets didn't allow a hit from the final 12 hitters they faced. 

Goodbye Ryan
The theme of the weekend, of course, is the Howard farewell to the home crowd. The longtime slugger was greeted with a standing ovation before his first at-bat. He then promptly doubled off the wall in center field. If not for the wind, the ball likely would’ve gone over the fence for his 25th home run.

Pete Mackanin has said all along Howard will play this weekend to give a proper exit for both player and the fans.

Howard, who went 1 for 4 with two strikeouts, was treated with loud ovations all night, and that trend is expected to continue through the weekend.

Freddy exits
Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis left the game in the seventh inning with what the Phillies called “right hamstring tightness.”

Pete tossed
Mackanin wasn’t happy with first base umpire Will Little in the top of the eighth inning and was thrown out of a game for the first time this year. Mariot threw a fastball in on Cespedes and Cespedes appeared to lose control of the bat through the strike zone. When appealed to, Little ruled Cespedes did not swing, and out came Mackanin.

Up next
The three-game series continues Saturday with a 1 p.m. start. Mets righty Bartolo Colon (14-8, 3.42 ERA) faces Phil Klein (0-1, 8.22).

The season wraps up Sunday with Jerad Eickhoff (11-14, 3.72) scheduled to face Mets ace Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60), but if the game is meaningless for New York, Syndergaard will likely be held back for the wild card playoff game.

Phillies' rookie Zach Eflin has surgery on left knee

Phillies' rookie Zach Eflin has surgery on left knee

Six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair the patella tendon in his right knee, Phillies rookie Zach Eflin went under the knife again Friday.

As expected, Eflin had the same surgery - performed by Dr. Steve Cohen - done on his left knee.

According to the Phillies, Eflin will be immobilized for six weeks and is expected to make a full recovery.

Eflin, 22, has been dealing with knee problems since he was about 11 years old. The issues caused him to make just 11 starts in his rookie campaign. 

“You know this is an issue he’s been fighting since he was a kid,” general manager Matt Klentak said on the day of Eflin’s first surgery in August. “I think he told me since he was 11 years old, he first started battling knee problems. The hope here is that it’s going to alleviate the problem. And that he’s not going to have to deal with it. And in just talking candidly with Zach last night, while not excited to undergo the knife today, he was pretty excited about the possibility of coming to spring training next year pain-free for the first time in his life.”

That is still the expectation.

Eflin finished his rookie year 3-5 with a 5.54 ERA in 63 ⅓ innings pitched. He was 5-2 with a 2.90 ERA in 68 ⅓ innings at Triple A Lehigh Valley.