With nineteen returning starters and the best defense in the American Athletic Conference, Temple will find itself bowling in the third year under head coach Matt Ruhle. The Owls have 20+ seniors in the two deep entering the 2015 campaign and have high expectations for quarterback PJ Walker.
Following an excellent freshman season wherein he threw for 2,084 yards and completed 61% of his pass attempts (20-8 ratio; 332 rushing yards), Walker struggled in 2014 due to a lingering ankle injury and an inexperienced wide receiving unit. While Walker eclipsed his 2013 yardage (2,317), his 13-15 ratio raised concerns within the coaching staff.
It should also be noted that Walker played in five more games last season than he did in 2013. Despite a disappointing 2014 campaign, I have high expectations for the mobile quarterback who can make plays both with his feet and through the air. Walker also lines up behind a veteran offense line that returns 87 career starts, including Second Team All-AAC Kyle Friend at center.
Two transfers – Colin Thompson from Florida and Keith Kirkwood from Hawaii – should pay immediate dividends for Temple’s attack. Thompson suffered through an injury-plagued season last year, while Kirkwood underperformed with only four receptions in 2014. Despite the loss of Jalen Fitzpatrick, who led the team with 730 receiving yards last year, the Owls will see increased production from their wide receivers in 2015.
Temple’s strength remains its defense that is arguably the best in the league. The Owls boast the AAC’s best secondary behind seniors Tavon Young (3rd Team AAC honors), Will Hayes and Alex Wells. Temple also possesses the conference’s best linebacking corp. behind the team’s leading tackler in Tyler Matakevich. After giving up just 17.6 points per game last season, I look for the Owls to match or exceed that number in 2015.
Temple also enters the season with a very good special team’s unit that is coached by Ed Foley. The team’s leading punt returner – Khalif Herbin – has departed but the rest of the group returns intact for what should be a very strong year for the Owls.
People will underestimate Temple in light of its 7-16 record in conference play over the last three seasons, but that is a mistake when coach Ruhle has a league-high nineteen returning starters and is in his third season in Philadelphia. The Owls will also be motivated by the fact that they were passed over for a bowl berth last season despite being bowl eligible.
Temple is 3-9 in home-openers and kick-off the 2015 college football season with a home contest against Penn State. Temple was tied with Penn State late in the third quarter last season before ultimately falling to the Nittany Lions, and I expect the Owls to be looking for revenge on September 5.
Even if the Owls can somehow walk away with an upset win over Penn State, they still have their AAC opener at Cincinnati the following week, which is a prime letdown spot regardless of week one’s outcome. Regardless of the first two weeks of the regular season, I’m calling for Temple to win the AAC East in 2015.