By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Temple Owls are preparing for their return to the Big East Conference here in 2012.
Of course, the Owls are returning to a conference which sent them packing back in 2004. But the program is in a vastly different place now than it was then. The Owls never tasted success in that first Big East go around, and in many cases, they were simply just not competitive. But now, they have emerged as very good college football program that found firm footing during a run in the MAC.
Temple is coming off a 9-4 season that ended with the program’s first bowl win since 1979, as they hammered Wyoming 37-15 in the New Mexico Bowl.
Head coach Steve Addazio is ready to get started in their new conference home.
“This is the start of a new era,” Addazio says. “A lot of work has been done here by a lot of people. Coaches, former coaches, administrators and now we take that next step and we’ve got to now build this thing and keep it growing. I think that this is the start of a new era, not just for Temple, but for Philadelphia. It’s major college football, it’s national football and I think it is tremendous and I can’t think of a city that would embrace it more than Philly.”
The conference move is not lost on players like senior offensive lineman Martin Wallace.
“It just makes everything a little bit more critical. We know the competition’s bigger, we know they’re faster, we know that they are a little bit more skilled than what we used to play. So there is more emphasis on you have to do your job with more clarity and more efficiency than usual.”
Listen to Matt Leon’s interview with Martin Wallace:
As for what the 2012 Owls will look like on the field, Addazio thinks that right now their depth is a bit of a concern.
“We have had, in the last two years, a first-round, second-round, third-round, fourth-round, fifth-round pick. We’ve had 13, 14 free agents. That’s a lot of high caliber football players that have come through here. So there’s a time where you have to start to reload that chamber up a little bit. And were in that process, but we still have a lot of very talented football players. It’s our depth that’s in question right now.”
Temple with just nine starters back from last year’s team.
The biggest name that has moved on is running back Bernard Pierce, who was drafted by the Ravens. Pierce rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and an amazing 27 touchdowns a season ago. However, senior Matt Brown is back, and he nearly rushed for 1,000 yards last season and Addazio thinks the backfield is still in pretty good shape even with Pierce’s departure.
“I think our running back position is very strong, we’ve got some talented guys. The two obvious guys that people want to talk about are Matt Brown and Montel Harris (a transfer who comes from Boston College where he left as the school’s all-time leading rusher), but we’ve got a stable of backs I think that are quality, talented backs. So that’s a strength for sure.”
Under center, junior Chris Coyer exploded on the scene last season after taking over as the starter, completing 30-of-50 passes for 463 yards and six touchdowns while adding 562 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
“I think we have strength at quarterback right now for sure,” Addazio says. “I think we’ve got a starting quarterback that’s really got his arms around what we’re trying to get done offensively. I think we’ve got another guy behind him that I think has a great command in (junior) Clinton Granger. And I think (junior) Kevin Newsome (transfer from Penn State) is trying to be as quick a study as he can to pick things up.”
As for the receiving corps, Coyer says it is coming together.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys that are showing some promise here in camp. We’ve had some older guys really step up and take charge and move themselves into a starting role for us.”
On defense, Temple will have five starters back, but four players who were All-MAC in 2011 have moved on. The Owls defense was a real strength in 2011 as they held opponents to fewer than 14 points a game.
Temple opens the 2012 season on Friday night against Villanova in the annual Mayor’s Cup game at the Linc.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.