The young players who helped the Owls make the transition from Mid-American Conference also-ran to postseason player are now veterans, which has football fans in Philadelphia excited about more than the Eagles this year.
Al Golden's fourth season at Temple was his finest. The Owls won nine of their last 11 games, finished 7-1 and tied for first in their division and played in a bowl game (a 30-21 loss to UCLA in the EagleBank Bowl) for the first time in 30 years. The 40-year-old Golden was rewarded with a contract extension in May that runs through the 2014 season.
The Owls have the talent -- seasoned talent -- to continue their success. Nineteen starters -- nine on offense, eight on defense and both specialists -- return, and 11 of them are upperclassmen. Bernard Pierce, who rushed for 113.4 yards per game and 16 touchdowns as a true freshman, should be one of the MAC's top tailbacks, and there is talent and depth at the rest of the offensive skill positions.
Temple also returns four starters from a front seven that allowed just 3.2 yards per carry and nine rushing touchdowns all season. Rush end Adrian Robinson and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson should be able to provide plenty of quarterback pressure.
Golden's ability to find talent in and around Philadelphia the last few seasons has helped the Owls build depth, and his willingness to rely heavily on freshmen and sophomores during the last two seasons gives him a current roster filled with veterans and will allow the current underclassmen to develop at their own pace.
A nine-win season at Temple can be viewed as nothing but a success. Golden's current challenge is to raise the bar even higher.
"It was a great learning experience for our guys," Golden told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I think there's evidence now. Before that, there was belief with-out evidence. That's the hardest thing to do in terms of teaching a program how to win. Hopefully, we learned a lot from that experience."
Vaughn Charlton, who made nine starts at quarterback last year, will once again be in the offensive lineup this fall -- but as a tight end. That means junior Chester Stewart (6-3, 214) will have his chance to be the man under center on a full-time basis.
Stewart started four of the last five games of last season and is a threat to move the ball with his feet as well as his arm. He completed just 40 percent of his passes (26-of-65, three touchdowns) but averaged nearly 20 yards per completion.
"He's got every tool, and he's tremendously smart," offensive coordinator Matt Rhule said. "The thing that he has needed is experience. The spring was a really good one for him. He made the right decisions, threw the ball well. It's never been a question of can he make this throw, just time and experience, and he's gotten time and experience."
Redshirt freshman Chris Coyer (6-3, 210), a left-hander who Rhule says adds "an athletic dimension" and junior Mike Gerardi (6-2, 205) were hot on Stewart's heels during the spring.
"All of those guys were running with the ones at quarterback," Rhule said. "They've all shown they can operate the offense. Now it's who can win games for us?"
The 2009 season began without Bernard Pierce (6-0, 218) in the starting lineup. It ended with him holding a fistful of school records.
Pierce piled up six 100-yard games and a pair of 200-yard games. He scored a school-record 16 touchdowns on the ground and averaged nearly six yards per carry in accumulating 1,361 yards. The Owls believe he can and will only get better.
"The biggest thing you can say about Bernard Pierce is that he really likes football," Rhule said. "He wants to understand things and learn things. He doesn't let his natural ability just take over."
Pierce improved his consistency, discipline and footwork this spring, Rhule said, and is learning how to pick up blitzes.
Pierce wasn't the only rookie running back to turn heads at Temple in 2009. Matt Brown (5-5, 167) showed his ability last season when Pierce missed the Ohio game with a shoulder injury, rushing for 172 yards and a touchdown. Hard to spot behind blockers and hard to catch in the open field, Brown, who averaged 5.9 yards per carry, gives the Owls a great change of pace and is also a threat as a slot receiver.
"He's the most competitive player on the team," Rhule said.
Redshirt sophomore Ahkeem Smith (6-0, 215) and junior college transfer Anthony Brown (6-0, 195) will provide depth.
Brown is a legacy. His father was a Temple running back from 1975-78 and later played in the NFL.
Temple returns its top three pass catchers from last season but is looking for more consistency from its receivers as a group.
Senior Michael Campbell (6-2, 202) caught 27 passes for a team-best 419 yards last season and had a "really good spring," said Rhule. He's a big, physical target who should complement the player opposite him perfectly.
That would be junior Joe Jones (5-11, 195), who began 2009 as a running back but moved to receiver in mid-season and caught a team-high 28 passes. The Owls believe he'll be even better after a full off-season of work at his new position.
Redshirt sophomore C.J. Hammond (6-2, 193), true freshman Deon Miller (6-5, 200) and transfer Rod Streater (6-4, 190) will push the starters and or could wind up as starters themselves.
Miller, out of Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, caught 38 passes and scored eight times last season.
Streater played for Alfred (N.Y.) State, where last season he caught 24 passes for 539 yards and six touchdowns. He also participated in track for Al-fred State and was an All-American in the high jump.
"Someone has to really become our go-to guy," Rhule said. "We don't know who that is yet."
There are plenty of options at tight end, beginning with junior Evan Rodriguez (6-3, 245), a returning starter who could also play H-back, and redshirt fresh-man Alex Jackson (6-4, 240), who emerged from spring drills atop the depth chart. He should be ready to rumble; in addition to his redshirt year, he played a post-high school season at Milford (N.Y.) Academy.
There's also Vaughn Charlton (6-4, 230), who moved over from quarterback late in the spring and should be in the mix once he gets more comfortable with blocking and route-running.
"He's just a natural athlete," Rhule said. "He's going to find a way to get it done."
If you're going to have a beat-up offensive line, it's best to have it in April as opposed to October.
Junior John Palumbo (6-6, 305), a starter at center in 12 games last season, missed the entire spring with a foot injury. Reserve tackle Derek Dennis (6-5, 325), still recovering from a torn ACL that kept him out of all but three games in 2009, was also sidelined, as was reserve guard Sean Boyle (6-5, 315), shoulder. Senior right tackle Darius Morris (6-4, 315) and starting right guard Colin Madison (6-4, 320) missed part of spring practice, as well as the annual spring scrimmage, with minor injuries.
The good news is that all five players are expected to be ready in time for the start of the season, and plenty of younger players -- and a few veterans -- got extra chances to prove themselves in their stead.
That includes junior Wayne Tribue (6-4, 324), a part-time starter at left guard last season who was chosen the Owls' most improved offensive player of the spring.
"He's really worked on his weaknesses, his feet, things that are holding him back," Rhule said. Palumbo's absence gave Jeremy Schonbrunner (6-3, 300) a chance to start at center all spring, and the two are expected to have a great battle for the starting job during the preseason.
Steve Caputo (6-5, 319) will challenge Dennis for the other tackle spot opposite Morris, while Boyle and his twin brother Pat Boyle (6-5, 310) give the Owls big, aggressive options at guard.
Even without three-time all-conference nose tackle Andre Neblett, the Owls will enter the season with one of their most experienced and balanced de-fensive fronts in recent memory.
Junior Muhammad Wilkerson (6-5, 300), who had 61 tackles and seven sacks last season, should anchor one of the tackle spots. Redshirt freshman Levi Brown (6-2, 305) is the frontrunner to replace Neblett at nose tackle.
Adrian Robinson, Jr. (6-2, 245), who led the Owls with 13 sacks and five forced fumbles in 2009, is a terrific outside pass rusher and disruptor who is rapidly improving the other aspects of his game. "He built on the success he had last year," defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said. "He knows his role, knows the defense better. He made a lot of progress this spring."
Senior Elisha Joseph (6-3, 280) and redshirt junior Morris Blueford (6-4, 260) provide veteran options at end.
The Owls are confident sophomore end Kadeem Custis (6-4, 295) and redshirt freshmen Shahid Paulhill (6-3, 300) and Kamal Johnson (6-4, 280), as well as Brown, are ready for increased roles this season.
"Those guys all kind of came in together and a lot of them redshirted," D'Onofrio said. "They got their first real taste of it this spring."
This might be the area on the Temple defense with the most question marks -- starters Alex Joseph, the team's leading tackler, and John Haley must be replaced -- but the Owls believe there are answers. It just might take some time to find them.
Senior Elijah Joseph (6-2, 240), who had a consistent if moderately productive season on the weak side, is the lone returning starter in the Owls' 4-3 scheme. But senior Amara Kamara (6-2, 235), after making seven of his nine starts at defensive end last season, moved back to his natural position this spring and will be looked to for leadership and consistency. The final spot is there for the taking. Redshirt senior Jordan Martin (6-3, 235), a standout special teams player for the last two seasons, "continues to get better," said D'Onofrio, who played linebacker at Penn State and for the Green Bay Packers and specifically coaches the position at Temple.
D'Onofrio also liked what he saw this spring from sophomore Marcus Green (6-1, 240) and junior Quinten White (6-3, 215).
Also looking to find their way into the mix this fall are an impressive pair of redshirt freshmen, Blaze Caponegro (6-1, 220) and Gary Onuekwusi (6-1, 235).
Opponents were able to move the ball through the air on the Owls last season, mostly out of necessity -- they couldn't run the ball. The defensive back-field should be a little stingier in 2010.
"We had a big loss at safety [Dominique Harris]," D'Onofrio said. "But on the whole, we're deeper in the secondary right now."
Senior Jaiquawn Jarrett (6-2, 197) started at least six games in each of his first three seasons. He was second on the team with 76 tackles, intercepted three passes and broke up seven others last season.
At strong safety the Owls hope to replace Harris, the only departed starter in the secondary, with Zamel Johnson (6-0, 170), a redshirt freshman who will be immediately eligible after transferring from Hofstra.
The Owls were greener at no position than cornerback last season, and it showed early on. Barring injury, they shouldn't have an experience problem this fall.
Marquise Liverpool (5-11, 190), who had 38 tackles and three interceptions last season, and Maurice Jones (5-10, 192), praised by the coaches for a strong spring, will likely be the starting cornerbacks alongside Jarrett and Johnson.
"Those four guys will get the majority of the work," D'Onofrio said.
The secondary got a boost this offseason when sophomore Vaughn Carraway (6-2, 189) moved over from wide receiver. The Owls are also excited about the potential of junior college transfer Deonte Parker (5-11, 190).
James Nixon (6-1, 188), who averaged an impressive 29.2 yards per kickoff return and had a 100-yard touchdown, and tiny but dangerous Matt Brown (5-5, 167), give the Owls' legitimate playmakers in the return game, as does senior punt returner Delano Green (5-10, 170), who had a pair of touchdown returns in 2009.
The Owls were also solid in defending kickoff returns (23rd in FBS) and punt returns (55th) last season. Expect that to continue as Temple continues to reap the fruits of strong efforts on the recruiting trail.
Brandon McManus (6-3, 190), who made 17-of-24 field goals (14-of-15 from inside 40 yards) last season, is a reliable threat, though the Owls need him to do better on kickoffs; he had just nine touchbacks on 78 kicks last season.
Punter Jeff Wathne also has experience on the kickoff team.
The Owls have a veteran starter in senior Jeff Wahtne (6-2, 195), who averaged a modest 37.2 yards per punt but put 11 of his 46 kicks inside the 20 and just one into the end zone. He can also hit a 50-yarder when called upon.
Wahtne's backup is sophomore Brandon McManus who handles the placekicking duties.
A huge, 27-member recruiting class doesn't have many marquee names but is balanced and includes a couple of players who could contribute immediately.
Golden's stamp is firmly on the class. He spoke when he was hired about recruiting within a three-hour drive of Temple's campus. Twenty-three signees live in that radius. Eighteen of the 23 high school recruits, 78 percent, attended Golden's football camp.
Zamel Johnson, who transferred from Hofstra after its football program was canceled, could start at strong safety. Rod Streater, a transfer from Alfred State, could be in the mix at wide receiver.
Antonio Belt (5-11, 157), a receiver from Forestville Military Academy, and Deon Miller, a receiver from Fork Union Military Academy, could have an early impact on what has not been an impact position for the Owls of late.
Running back Myron Ross (6-1, 205) probably won't steal too many carries from Bernard Pierce this fall but has a promising future. Ross was rated a three-star prospect by Rivals and Scout out of Wissahickon High School in Ambler, Pa. As a senior, he rushed for 2,215 yards.
Elijah Grant (6-6, 340) of Fork Union, a product of Piscataway (N.J.) High School, gives Temple an intriguing offensive lineman prospect. His high school teammate, defensive end Aaron Hush (6-4, 265), also joins Temple.
Editor's Note: MAC Sports.com preview taken from the Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook. To order the complete 2010 edition of Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, visit www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.