Oh, as my own version of Andy Williams' “It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” kicks in with the advent of another college football season, the reality is that a lot of time will pass and that a lot of things will have to happen this fall.
But, make no mistake, with the way the schedule shapes up, the way the roster shapes up and the way the law of averages shapes up, the Temple University football program does, indeed, have payback within its grasp, starting with Friday night's opener vs. Army.
With regard to South Florida, with regard to Houston, with regard to anyone who trivialized the Owls' coming of age in Matt Rhule's third year as head coach.
Not for nothing, but what they accomplished in 2015 was along the “shock and awe” line ... without a smidge of condescending laughter deservedly attached. A school-record 10 wins. A division title. A bowl berth. Two sellouts at 69,000-seat Lincoln Financial Field. The snapping of a 74-year drought against Penn State. A nation-awakening effort against Notre Dame in primetime.
But they got embarrassed by the Bulls, lost the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship game to the Cougars and left the door open for doubters with a poor showing in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Which brings us to this:
A 2016 campaign that will test the legitimacy of the Owls ... while offering them a chance to be even better. Out of the four toughest AAC games on the schedule, three of them are at home, including a Friday night showdown on Oct. 21 against South Florida. The nonconference slate actually allows them to get their proverbial sea legs before diving in Sept. 17 at State College to prove whether or not last season's victory against the Nittany Lions was a fluke or the start of something new in their rivalry – namely the Owls being a real rival.
Now four years into Rhule's reign, talent or depth is no longer an issue. Despite the losses on defense, chief among them first-team All-American linebacker Tyler Matakevich, the Owls' remain strong there and, if anything, Temple has one of the strongest offensive backfields in the country, being able to count on – at minimum – four guys to shoulder the rushing load, headed, of course, by last year's breakout performer, Jahad Thomas, but truly bolstered by a trio of sophomores: Ryquell Armstead, David Hood and Jager Gardner, who merely set an Owls' TD record with a 94-yard run for six in his one start last season.
The key to something special, though, is the return of Phillip Walker as quarterback. For two reasons:
His ability and Rhule's willingness to finally take the reins off.
Should Walker, now entering his fourth season as starter and arguably the best player at his position in school history already, fully reach his seemingly off-the-charts “pass-run-lead” potential after being given the green light to do so, revenge likely will be had. On all fronts.
Even more impressive for a developing program – if not, maybe it still will.
GUY BEHIND THE GUY ...
Yeah, Temple has a few ...
Take Nick Sharga. He is not a household name, even in the family of Temple football supporters. However, he’s an intriguing story and, frankly, an emerging player.
So much so that you almost have to wonder if he might have as much impact as a headliner would … on the field, and not off while showing his guitar-playing skills. A special teams dynamo from the moment he transferred into the program as a walk-on from West Virginia Wesleyan, the Allentown, Pa., area product from a family with 11 kids was awarded a single digit jersey, which honors the toughest (non-OL) players on the team prior to his redshirt sophomore season in 2015. He then went out and played some offense (FB) and defense (MLB), too, being the only member of the squad to do so.
A big kid (6-2, 240) with a penchant for being physical, he begins this season as No. 1 on the depth chart at FB and nowhere to be found on it for defense. Just don’t be surprised if that changes. Sharga has a knack for getting involved. Even had a couple kickoff returns last year.