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An Absurdly Premature Assessment of: Temple

A random, too-soon look at next fall, sans the inevitable injuries, suspensions and other pratfalls of the too-long interim.
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The least you should know about Temple... Looking at this team's stats makes me nauseous. Okay, let's get through this together...

What's Changed: Temple joins the MAC after two seasons and one win as a post-Big East vagabond, which ought to be good for the Owls considering their relative competitiveness against the conference last year:

2006 Record
Past Five Years
8-50 (3-17 Big East, through 2004)
Returning Starters, Roughly
12 (6 Offense, 6 Defense)
Best Player
With apologies to the potentially electric Travis Shelton, Alex Derenthal was voted the youngest team MVP in Temple history, either a nice distinction for a sophomore center or a stinging indictment against the value of the rest of the team, depending on your perspective. He was named to the Rimington Award watch list earlier this month, for what it’s worth.
Bizarre Tradition
The short "Traditions" page on the school’s official site is very possessive about its colors, "Cherry and White," which it claims was an original choice by Temple prior to 1888 and remains "almost unique," shared with only a tiny school in New York. Officially, in fact, the only other school that even lists "Cherry" as a school color is New Mexico, which pairs it with silver, but
Since cherry as a color has many gradations, just what the precise color is has raised questions over the years. Cherry, or cerise, which was the somewhat popular word used in earlier days, is considered by most dictionaries to be a moderate red, but one that can range from bright red to dark red...
...meaning the difference between "cherry" the colors employed by, say, the uncouth brutes of Arkansas and Alabama is really semantic. But Temple’s gotta have something, I suppose.
Bizarre Item of Dubious Interest
Temple’s last noted bowl game prior to 1979’s Garden State Bowl is the 1934 Sugar Bowl, but the team went to something called the "Mirage Bowl" in Tokyo, Japan, in December 1977 and ‘78 to play Grambling and Boston College, respectively. It’s only qualified once (1990) since.
vs. MAC vs. Rest
PPG 17.0 4.8
PPG Allwd. 29.5 53.2
YPG 281.4 168.7
YPG Allwd. 406.2 498.7


In Temple's defense, if such a gesture is possible, the staggering futility of the column at right came against the formidable likes of Clemson, Penn State, Navy, Louisville and Minnesota, the last two of which dealt Temple consecutive 62-0 defeats in September. So they improved from there.

We're talking moral victories, though, and against the MAC, the numbers are within the realm of hypothetical competitveness, especially given that four of those six games were against teams from the top half of the league. The Owls also somehow beat Bowling Green, to whom they lost by nine touchdowns in 2005, and took Buffalo into overtime, so, uh, that might portend a non-last place finish.

He got a pass off! Kid's a star!
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What's the Same: Near-suicidal hopelessness. Temple played 22 true freshmen last year, reputedly more than any team in the country, but oh my god, optimism does not remotely mix with this program. It was 14-80 in 14 seasons in the Big East, winless in its first season as a refugee; Al Golden may have achieved something special in his first season by winning any game at all. Temple's been outscored by an average of 33 points the last two years, and last year couldn't even muster two yards per carry, which is beyond pathetic even for Temple.

I would think it would be almost impossible to be so incredibly bad in so many areas, since teams would tend to not throw very much, for example, or you, the incompetent, would at least pick up a few yards and a garbage touchdown or two trying to catch up from five touchdowns back against the third string after halftime. But of the 13 non-special teams categories the NCAA tracks, Temple finished 100th or worst - that is, among the bottom 20 in the country - in ten of them:

• Rush Offense 118
• Total Offense 119
• Scoring Offense 116
• Rush Defense 119
• Pass Eff. Defense 106
• Total Defense 117
• Scoring Defense 118
• Turnover Margin 118
• Sacks 106
• Sacks Allowed 117

That's rather optimistic, actually, since it doesn't include them finishing 98th in passing offense (again, the catching up) or dead last in punt return average (didn't get much practice). The only remotely positive aspect of the team may have been running back Tim Brown, who had four 100-yard games and almost 1,000 total yards, and he graduated. Bring back all the starters you like, but none has done much good yet.

: Adam DiMichele and Vaughn Charlton both "register very high on the coaching staff's maturity and `coachability' indexes," however that's gauged, but though its hard to cultivate expectations when your passers lose more than 440 yards in sacks, other measures indicate some minor promise under maximum pressure as first-year starters.

DiMichele took the vast majority of snaps and out of nowhere had one really solid stretch of work against three MAC teams in October after he missed the entire Clemson game, throwing for 322 and 3 touchdowns in a loss to Northern Illinois, completing 10 of 13 with two touchdowns in the upset of Bowling Green and throwing three more scores against eventual league champ Central Michigan. Temple scored 21, 28 and 26 in those games after a 19-game streak at 17 points or less, but whatever momentum was gained there was lost amidst DiMichele's immediate regression to humiliating lows against Penn State and Navy. True freshman Vaughn - impressive size at 6-4, 210 - came in and led a touchdown drive against USNA's scrubs, and so he was in the mix in the Spring despite predictably ineffective small-ball efforts at Minnesota and Clemson.

Just get Travis Shelton the damn ball.
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The position is not resolved, and the only advice I could possibly offer is to pick the guy best able to heave it on a straight line to 100 meter sprinter Travis Shelton, who, whatever his hands or abilities as a route runner, is allegedly a sub-4.3 guy. He only played the last six games last year, but actually would have led the nation in all-purpose yards per game by a pretty good margin (196.7, 30 more than official leader Garrett Wolfe) if he'd had enough touches. A lot of that is a result of having the opportunity to return so many kickoffs, but he ran one back against Bowling Green, took a reverse for 30 yards against Clemson and had 200 yards receiving and two touchdowns against NIU. Shelton disappeared just as quickly in the last two games, along with the rest of the offense, but is obviously a catalyst - the only one, it seems - if he can stay on the field.

Overly Optimistic Post-Spring Chatter: There is some solace that comes with hitting bottom, and knowing the worst must be in the past. The team remains unusually young and future-oriented, with only two seniors on the depth chart, four mid-year transfers and two true freshmen penciled as starters from a recruiting class ranked as best in the MAC by Scout. That whole conference thing is a motivator in itself:

"That changes the whole landscape," Golden said of his team's new home. "Every day, we have a goal that we work for, and that's the only way the kids will be judged.

"They'll be judged on whether they attend classes like at a MAC championship level, they'll be judged on whether they hit the weight room like a MAC championship team, and, obviously now, the way we practice and prepare. It's good to be in a league again."

It would be interesting to do a no-holds-barred documentary on this team's effort to stay out of the cellar, if only to gauge the minimum number of times per day players mock the "go about your life at a MAC championship level" routine, which must have peaked at intolerable levels by finals week and suffered diminished returns since. "Excuse me, sir, but you didn't roll through that Stop sign at quite a MAC championship level." "We'll settle for nothing less than a MAC championship level cheese and bacon taquito." "Hey, I've been meaning to mention to you...your hummers lately really haven't been up to a MAC championship level." It's these kinds of moments that really bring a young team together.

Temple on YouTube: Breaking News! Travis Shelton goes to work in the lone win, and Al Golden gets a special victory...what was that, again?

Impressive: that blocked punt and subsequent cartwheel. Unimpressive: the crowd. It initially looked like a walk-through.

See Also: At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Owls take on Clemson ... Al Golden interviews on a MAC championship level ... And the mysterious Temple Bell Tower, entertainingly revealed.

Come on now. Who could fire this face?
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Best-Case: The Owls closed last year by getting their "butts kicked" at Navy, 42-6, and will know where they stand relative to that team when they open at home against the Midshipmen on a Friday night. Psychologically, playing well in a game like this might be more important than actually winning, because three of the next four - Buffalo, Bowling Green and Army - are winnable if the Owls aren't pounded back into a bottom-dwelling mindset out of the gate. If it can hang tough and steal a couple of those, and possibly two more conference games down the line - Miami of Ohio and Kent State both come to the proverbially "cavernous" Lincoln Financial Field, sometimes an eerie sedative for visitors - 4-8 would be a major step forward.

Worst-Case: This team did lose to Buffalo last year, which keeps it on 0-12 alert by default. See "What's the Same" above.

Non-Binding Forecast: Any team as bad as Temple the last two seasons, especially when it's also as young as last year's Owls, is bound to get a little better. In most games, that will just mean being more competitive, but the schedule loses the automatic crushings from Wisconsin, Maryland, Miami (Fla.), Virginia, Minnesota, Louisville and Clemson that have been too frequent as an independent and replaces them with Army, Connecticut and a couple MAC games. That's a wise trade-off, and one that will probably get Temple in the neighborhood of 3-9, for starters. Not MAC championship level, but beggars can't be choosers.

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Previous Absurdly Premature Assessments...

March 12: Tulane March 13: Baylor March 16: UCLA March 20: Kentucky
March 21: Oregon March 22: Arizona State March 23: BYU March 27: Missouri
March 28: Troy March 29: Iowa State April 3: Alabama April 4: Akron
April 5: Cincinnati April 9: UL-Monroe April 10: Army April 11: Syracuse
April 18: Florida April 20: Southern Miss April 25: Southern Cal May 1: North Texas
May 3: SMU May 8: Nevada May 14: Tennessee May 21: TCU
May 24: Notre Dame May 29: UAB May 30: Georgia