Monday, August 6, 2012

Five questions in 25 days

The most-anticipated home season in my lifetime opens in about 25 days. Get your tickets now.

As I see it, there are more answers than questions to be found in the next 25 days Temple's football team has  to prepare for the opening game against Villanova (Aug. 31, be there a couple of hours before kickoff, even if you have to go straight from work).
That doesn't mean there are no questions that have to be answered in the next 25 days.
1) Who is here?
These are the guys the Owls are going to war with. I like the list.
Fortunately, the important pieces in the puzzle have arrived on campus. Montel Harris will be wearing No. 8 and head coach Steve Addazio says he is fully recovered from a knee injury. If so, that represents an upgrade over the departed "franchise" Bernard Pierce. No bigger BP fan than me (that's well-documented by searching the name Bernard Pierce in the box at the top of this blog), but can you imagine BP having the same career in the ACC that Harris had? I think the answer to that is a clear no. My fervent hope is to see Harris go for 252 and five touchdowns in a 52-28 win over Rutgers, like he did in a 52-28 win over North Carolina State. Remember, BP got a lot of those yards in the MAC. As much as ACC football gets minimized, not even the biggest Big East fan can say their conference is a better football one than the ACC. I see two "true" freshman either starting or competing to start and those are Khalif Herbin (No. 27, slot receiver) on offense and Nate L. Smith (No. 1, free safety) on defense. They are here, too, and incredible playmakers. Matty Brown is an NFL-level third-down back and kickoff returner. Having a healthy Harris here enables him to showcase those skills. The Owls lose nothing by making Herbin the kickoff and punt returner, either.
2) What about the offensive line?
Only two guys who have started games in the past, Sean Boyle (center) and Martin Wallace (tackle) return but part-time 2010 starter Alex Jackson also returns and is a good blocker and I have confidence that Addazio and offensive line coach Justin Frye will be able to bring two guards and a tackle up to speed in 25 days. There is no better offensive line coach in the country than Addazio (even his Florida detractors will admit that). Remember, there is some good backup talent there. Adam Metz, for example, was a Big 33 starter.
3) What about the pass rush?
Moving John Youboty from inside to outside should help. Sean Daniels, the second-leading sacker from the 2010 season, needs to become the other starter at end to get a push from both sides. The interior wall, anchored by pre-season All Big-East tackle Levi Brown, is in good shape.
4) What about the depth?
Without a doubt, the biggest concern going into the Big East season is injuries. The Owls drop off considerably after the first two units. At times, they drop off considerably after one unit. For example, if they lose starting kicker and punter Brandon McManus, they go from potentially an eight-win team to an eight-loss team because field goals and field position will decide so many close games and all 11 games figure to be close. I'll call McManus "bubble boy" because they need to keep him in a bubble to achieve their dreams. I don't want him laying out a runner like he did on a 2010 kickoff vs. Connecticut. I want him running off the field. We all know he's Temple TUFF. We need him to be Temple HEALTHY.
5) What about the backline defense?
If linebacker Nate D. Smith plays like he did in the spring, he gives Temple an upgrade over NFL-bound Stephen Johnson. That's a big statement, but Johnson did not have the kind of spring in 2011 that Smith had in 2012. Another potential upgrade is Nate L. Smith at free safety over Kevin Kroboth, a steady and heady safety who didn't make mistakes but also didn't make many game-changing  plays. Nate L. Smith is a game-changer. I like the two starting linebackers returning, Blaze Caponegro and Ahkeem Smith as well as returning starter Justin Gildea at strong safety and lock-down left corner Anthony Robey.
Twenty-five days and five questions.
We should know the answers by Aug. 31.