"I didn't think the chemistry was very good on that team," Wallace said. "I'm sure that had a lot to do with bringing in so many junior college players, and so many [of them] coming in August. There wasn't time to develop that chemistry."
The Owls, who will leave the Big East following the 2004 season, loaded up on junior college recruits prior to the '03 season because the staff sold that group on playing two years against major-college competition. Wallace hopes team chemistry will be better with so many of the two-year players fully integrated into the program.
"It's a whole different game when you've been here for a year," Wallace said. "You've been through the spring, through summer workouts."
Chemistry wasn't the only problem. The Owls were last in the Big East in both total offense and total defense. Even if the Owls are improved this season, their record may not show it -- eight of their opponents won at least eight games last season.
OffenseA full season from multi-threat quarterback Walter Washington should help the Owls immensely. He started the last four games, and although he averaged 315 yards in total offense over Temple's last three games, Wallace said, "I don't think we've seen the best of Walter Washington yet, and what we've seen is pretty good.
"The thing about Walter, even when he keeps it and he shouldn't have, nine times out of ten, he makes the person miss him anyway."
Temple didn't receive satisfactory production from its tailbacks, so the Owls signed Tim Brown, a junior college star who got strong looks from some Top 25 programs. And the Owls think wide receiver Phil Goodman is ready for a breakout year.
The X-factor then should be the offensive line. "I know we're going to have our biggest, most athletic offensive line since I've been here," Wallace said. "With depth -- for the first time. We have seven, eight, nine guys who all can play at this level."
DefenseDefense has been the strength of the Temple program in recent years, but this unit fell hard after being hit by graduation and injuries. After allowing just 108.3 rushing yards per game in '02, the Owls gave up 202.8 yards per game last season. Opponents scored at least 30 points eight times. Wallace attributed that to inexperience.
"We weren't very good against the run or the pass," Wallace said.
The coach thinks this unit will rebound, led by a more mature secondary. Cornerback Pete McBride recorded one interception in each of the Owls' final four games. "That's a position, where if you're inexperienced, you're very cautious," Wallace said.
The star of the defense is junior linebacker Rian "Goo" Wallace, who made 148 tackles in '03, good for sixth nationally. He is the top returning tackler in the Big East.
"He makes plays all over the field," Wallace said. "Size, speed -- he's got all those qualities. The next step is to be the leader of the defense. We've talked about that, how when you're that good a player, you need to lead."
Look for dramatic improvement from nosetackle Antwon Burton, who lost almost 50 pounds. "Besides Danny Klecko [now with the Patriots], he looks as good as any defensive lineman since I've been here," Wallace said.
SpecialistsThe kicking game was a disaster in '03. In the Owls' three overtime losses, Jared Davis missed four field goals and an extra point. Wallace signed junior college All-American Ryan Lux to remedy that problem. The competition at punter is between another junior college signee, Jake Hendy, and junior Mike McLaughlin, who averaged 39.9 yards per punt last season.
Jamil Porter and Lawrence Wade return as solid kick returners. Temple has to replace Zamir Cobb, a first-team All-Big East wide receiver, as a punt returner.
Final AnalysisTemple has the ability to be an improved offensive team. Washington must continue his growth as a multi-threat quarterback, and Brown needs to be a difference-maker in the backfield. But none of this will mean much unless Temple's defense -- especially the run defense -- returns to being a strength instead of a weakness. The kicking game also needs to be solid since Temple simply can't afford to lose the close ones.
But even if everything comes together -- and that's a big if -- it will be very difficult for Temple to finish anywhere but last in its final season in the Big East.