It’s hard to imagine Temple struggling to get to the end of a season more than it did last year.
But the Owls enter this fall with more optimism and many new faces.
Curbed by COVID-19 complications and injuries, the Owls finished last season with a 1-6 record.
“I know this, nobody can throw anything at us that we can’t handle now,” head coach Rod Carey said Wednesday. “You go from them telling us how we can practice, or what we should do or when we should do it -- anything light of that, we can tackle it.”
The culmination of their struggles came in a season-ending home loss to East Carolina in November. Before kickoff, it was reported that a player in the Owls locker room tested positive, forcing the absence of five players, three of whom were starters.
Carey said afterward that Temple should not have played the game.
Temple sent out at least 30 underclassmen in each of its final four games last season, including 41 against ECU, 26 of whom were freshmen. Perhaps the most depleted roster Carey had all season came in a Week 6 road loss to Central Florida. The team traveled to Orlando with just 45 scholarship players.
For a handful of drives from Temple’s season-opening road loss to Navy, the offense that was promised looked largely productive. While three-year starting quarterback Anthony Russo had his faults, he was the Owls’ best option under center. That became more apparent as they struggled to find a suitable replacement after he was lost to injury and COVID-19 protocol.
The Owls this season will look to Georgia transfer D’Wan Mathis, who was named starting quarterback during spring ball.
“D’Wan is a really self-motivated guy,” Carey said. “So he’ll want to go ahead and keep getting better himself. We don’t have to push that a whole lot ... the rapid improvement, the curve for improvement is fantastic.”
Beyond his new starting quarterback, the third-year coach is confident in his personnel, despite the drastic turnover.
Over the last nine months, the Owls have seen Russo (Michigan State), Isaiah Graham-Mobley (Boston College), Khris Banks (Boston College), Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State) and Ifeanyi Maijeh (Rutgers) leave by way of the transfer portal. They also lost graduate receiver Branden Mack and graduate defensive tackle Dan Archibong to the NFL.
But Carey was equally active bringing in players from Power 5 leagues.
Incoming transfers Iverson Clement (Florida) and Ra’Von Bonner (Illinois) should bolster the backfield, while Cameron Ruiz (Northwestern) and Lancine Turay (North Carolina) could help the defensive line.
Temple will hold at least part of its fall camp at SUNY Maritime in the Bronx, first reported by OwlScoop.com. The decision was made largely as a way to have more control over their environment even though more than 80% of the team is fully vaccinated, according to Carey.
In his eyes, having preseason camp away from the North Philadelphia campus should be good for team bonding.
“The biggest thing is you can set a schedule and stick to it,” he said. “That will be the number one advantage we have. Then we got to get the work in, which we’re going to get in on schedule.”