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Know Your Foe, Week 1: Temple Owls

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Penn State opens with a familiar state-related opponent in the 2015 opener.

Well I wasn't going to choose a play where it looked like they were beating Penn State.
Well I wasn't going to choose a play where it looked like they were beating Penn State.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Temple University

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Enrollment: 37,788
Home Stadium: Lincoln Financial Field

Head Coach: Matt Rhule (3rd season, 8-16 overall)
Conference: American Athletic Conference

Series History

First Game: October 10, 1931 (Temple won 12-0)
Last Game: November 15, 2014 (Penn State won 30-13)
Overall: Penn State 39-3-1 (.919)
Current Streak: Penn State has won 31 straight games dating back to 1952

Last Season (6-6, 4-4 AAC)

After a rough start to his tenure at Temple with a 2-10 record in 2013, Matt Rhule had things trending up in 2014. Temple's signature win came in a home game against then 21st-ranked East Carolina, as the Owls knocked off the Pirates 20-10. Temple finished in sixth place in the 11-team AAC in 2014. Despite being bowl eligible, Temple was not invited to any bowl games following the 2014 season.

Offseason

The biggest story of the offseason involved starting offensive tackle Dion Dawkins and backup defensive Haason Reddick, who were arrested on assault charges after a fight at a club. The court proceedings to this point have been somewhat confusing, as the charges were brought in March, dropped in April, and then brought back again in June. Both players were cleared for football activities by the university after a review determined that they did not believe Dawkins and Reddick were guilty of anything, so for now it is not an issue on the field.

On the recruiting front, Temple brought in the 75th-ranked recruiting class, according to 247 Sports. It does not help that they are competing against Penn State for Philadelphia-area talent, as top players like cornerback John Reid, guard Ryan Bates, and defensive end Ryan Buchholz all went with the Nittany Lions. The top recruits for Temple came from Florida, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Navy was added to the AAC beginning with the 2015 season, which now has 12 teams. The conference has been split into two divisions, East and West, with Temple now competing in the East division.

Temple did not receive any votes in the preseason AP or Coaches' Polls.

Offense (Spread)

This is still a work-in-progress for Temple. Quarterback P.J. Walker struggled passing the ball, especially after an ankle injury left him hobbled. Walker connected on 53.3 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He was still the team's best runner, both an endorsement of his skills there and an indictment of the lack of a primary back. And things aren't much better at wide receiver and tight end, though they have to hope that sophomore 4-star tight end recruit and Florida transfer Colin Thompson steps up.

If there is one saving grace, it's that the offensive line looks like it will be the most solid part of the offense. With Dawkins returning to his post at left tackle, only the guard position seems to be in doubt, and there is starting experience there. Senior center Kyle Friend received second-team all-conference honors, and senior right tackle Eric Lofton returns after he started every game at right tackle last season. It's not a tremendous unit, but it's steadier and more reliable than pretty much anything else the Owls have going offensively.

Defense (4-3)

This is where the Owls made a lot of strides in 2014 – as Bill Connelly noted, it was one of the most improved defenses of all time – and they are returning nearly all of their best unit this season. They were above average against the run and excellent against the pass, and they avoided giving up big plays and touchdowns at a level that suggests a better unit than just a typical mid-major defense. They were dealt some injury issues in 2014, but younger players stepped up to produce and got valuable experience, which has only made the defense stronger heading into this season.

The star is senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, an all-AAC first-team selection last year who has had over 100 tackles in each of his first three seasons, but Matakevich has help in the front seven. Defensive end Praise Martin-Oguike had 7 sacks and defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis had 11 tackles for loss as both were all-AAC second-team selections. In the secondary, all-AAC third-team cornerback Tavon Young had 4 interceptions. There are plenty of seniors in this lineup as well, so experience is certainly not an issue.

Special Teams

The Owls are also very good on special teams, with their newfound defensive depth giving them the ability to put quality players on the coverage units. Despite not having particularly good play from kicker Jim Cooper or punter Alex Starzyk, their coverage numbers on both kickoffs and punt returns were excellent. With Penn State not having scholarship players at kicker and punter for another year, Temple represents a model for how the increasing depth of the roster and a good approach can turn things around.

Blog

Temple falls under the purview of SB Nation's Underdog Dynasty, a site that just last week posted about the aforementioned Tyler Matakevitch.