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Temple's Rhule high on Walker's command of the huddle

NEWPORT, R.I. - Matt Rhule's decision not to redshirt freshman quarterback P.J. Walker last season wound up being a good move by the Temple coach.

Temple coach Matt Rhule.
Temple coach Matt Rhule.Read more

NEWPORT, R.I. - Matt Rhule's decision not to redshirt freshman quarterback P.J. Walker last season wound up being a good move by the Temple coach.

 All Walker did as a freshman was rank third in American Athletic Conference pass efficiency (150.8) and help the Owls set a school record for passing yards in a season (2,996).

Those numbers are why the sophomore is on the watch list for the Davey O'Brien Award, which is presented to college football's top quarterback.

"I think it's really hard for all freshmen to play at that level," Rhule said Tuesday at the AAC media day. "But P.J. started as a freshman in high school. He knows what it's like to be a 15-year-old freshman in the huddle with 18-year-old seniors.

"It just goes back to who he is. He's of high character. He's extremely polite and respectful. What that does is when you're telling older players, 'Hey, do this or do that,' he says it in such a way that they know P.J. just wants to win."

Watch out

Walker isn't the only Owl who has received preseason attention.

Linebacker Tyler Matakevich is on the watch lists for the Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Butkus Award, and the Rotary Lombardi Award. The junior is the only AAC linebacker named to a preseason all-American team.

Junior center Kyle Fried is on the Rimington Trophy watch list, and senior running back Kenny Harper is on the Doak Walker Award watch list.

Gaining respect

Rhule has an interesting take on what the conference needs to do to gain nationwide respect.

"The only thing we need to be successful is access," he said. "We need an opportunity to play those [top-ranked] teams. When teams play the American Athletic Conference teams, they recognize that 'maybe we don't want to play them. Maybe they have really good teams.'

"I think our future is bright, and over the next couple of years we'll be regarded as one of those power conferences."

The AAC took a step in that direction for 2014. American teams have scheduled 10 nonconference games against teams that were ranked in the top 25 in the final 2013 USA Today poll.

Why was media day in Newport? No AAC schools are in Rhode Island, but the conference office is in Providence since most of its employees used to work for the Big East, which moved to New York.

New arrivals

New AAC teams East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa received varying degrees of respect in the preseason media poll.

The Pirates are ranked fourth, while the Green Wave are tied with Connecticut for ninth, and the Golden Hurricane are last.

Temple was picked to finish eighth. Cincinnati, third in 2013, was picked to win the conference this year.

Preseason Poll

The American Athletic Conference preseason media football poll (first-place votes in parentheses).

Rk Team Pts.

1. Cincinnati (17) 311

2. Central Fla. (7) 296

3. Houston (6) 268

4. East Carolina 262

5. SMU 158

6. South Florida 157

7. Memphis 133

8. Temple 105

9. Connecticut 98

Tulane 98

11. Tulsa 94