Temple Owls (2000: 4-7)
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Coach and programIt would be hard to find another team in the country that could be so excited about a four-win season. But when Temple ended 2000 with a 7-0 near-miss against Pittsburgh, the Owl players and coaches had the kind of optimism usually reserved for a team which would be charging into its upcoming season after soaring to great heights.
Then again, everything is relative. Four wins at Michigan would be cause for a palace insurrection. At Temple, which hadn’t won that many games since 1990 (really), a 4-7 mark served as a harbinger of great things to come. For the first time in a decade, the Owls weren’t overwhelmed by the better teams on their schedule.
With 20 starters scheduled to return and a schedule that might just produce the six wins necessary for bowl qualification, Temple appeared to be on the verge of a renaissance. In February, all that changed. In a move that staggered the Temple community, the Big East Conference announced that it would be severing its ties with the Owls.
The reasons for the break were simple. Temple had spent the last decade wobbling from season to season, playing before meager gatherings at cavernous Veterans Stadium, providing little or no real competition for other Big East members and siphoning off a couple million a year in bowl and TV monies.
So, the Owls head into what they had hoped would be a landmark season in a bad state of limbo. Yet coach Bobby Wallace and the players forge ahead, amidst the uncertainty.
“We haven’t given up hope that we will be in the Big East," said Wallace. "We’re telling recruits that we hope a decision will be made before next year’s signing date and that they should keep us in their plans.”
It doesn’t matter to Wallace what predictions are being made. He can only put a team on the field and try to win games with it. Temple’s non-conference schedule (Navy, Toledo, Connecticut and Bowling Green) could well produce four wins, particularly from a team with 20 starters returning.
The Owls will have talent and good depth across the offensive front for the first time in years. Wallace wants to start the season today.
OffenseTanardo Sharps’ 2000 outburst was not predicted by anybody, even within the Temple community. After being part of one of the nation’s most anemic ground attacks in ‘99, Sharps (5-11, 182) was expected to improve over his 184-yard total from his freshman season, but not go for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“He gained 1,000 yards last year behind a pretty weak offensive line,” Wallace said. “This year, we should be better than average up front, so he could be better."
Even though Devin Scott shared part of last season under center with Mike Frost and even watched as Frost started three contests, the 6-1, 202-pound senior never really lost his status as the program’s top quarterback. When spring drills finally ended in April, Scott was again atop the depth chart, and Wallace was talking about redshirting Frost, who struggled mightily at times last year and finished with an awful 38.6 percent rate of completion.
Leading the list at receiver is senior Greg Muckerson (5-11, 190), who caught 41 balls last year and scored two touchdowns -- tied for the team lead in receiving scores. Although Muckerson averaged just 11.9 yards per reception, he does have the nation’s longest streak of games with a catch (22).
Defense and special teamsWhen Wallace says that all four of the Owls starters up front could “possibly make All-Big East,” he isn’t hyperbolizing. Temple has one of the league’s top quartets and should be able to rotate in some solid reserves this year, making the line the strength of what should again be a fine defense.
Although senior tackle Russell Newman (6-2, 274) was the sole all-league honoree (second team) last year, the real horse on the Temple front is junior Dan Klecko (6-1, 264), who missed a good part of last year with a sprained knee that he followed up with a sprained ankle. Although Klecko gamely played in eight games and made seven of his 21 tackles behind the line, he was clearly a shell of his highly talented self for much of the season.
The only significant hole in the Temple defense can be found at linebacker, thanks to the graduation of LeVar Talley, last year’s top tackler (135).
At least Wallace doesn’t have to worry about the strong spot, which is manned by 6-2, 231-pound senior Taylor Suman, who was second to Talley in stops last year with 110, including seven behind the line.
The safeties are experienced and productive. Senior Jamal Wallace (6-0, 186) made 91 tackles last year, the third-best total on the team, while Wallace describes senior strong safety Lafton Thompson (6-2, 199) as a “solid, physical football player.”
Because the Owls had only 67 scholarship players last year, they were unable to populate their special teams the way they wanted to or create competition for those spots. Now that they’ll be up near 85, Wallace is excited, particularly because the team’s depth at linebacker and defensive back will provide some much-needed depth on punt and kick teams.
Bottom lineIt’s too bad that the Owls were bounced from the Big East, because it finally appears they have their football act headed toward prosperity. There is a new football headquarters and practice field on campus. Temple will move into a new, state-of-the-art stadium in 2003. Wallace is clearly qualified to run a I-A program, and a winning program at that.
Temple could well win six games this year. It might even sneak in a seventh victory. But the Owls need a quick start to build momentum, or else they could get depressed about the program’s state of affairs and begin to slide.