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How good can Temple be? Time to start finding out

This spring, Temple football coach Matt Rhule, his assistants and the players have talked about how the team is light-years ahead of last year.

This spring, Temple football coach Matt Rhule, his assistants and the players have talked about how the team is light-years ahead of last year.

How far ahead?

"Now they are a bowl team, and how far they go from there, how much they accelerate we will see," Rhule said of his team. "Right now if they don't go to a bowl, they should be absolutely devastated."

A year ago, Rhule said coming out of spring practice that the Owls looked like a 5-7 team. Temple finished 6-6, so the now third-year coach was close in his prediction.

The progress will be measured when Temple concludes its spring with Saturday's 1 p.m. Cherry and White game at Edberg Olson Hall's Chodoff Field.

This season, Temple won't split the squad up, instead going with the offense vs. the defense.

"With offense vs. defense, you have continuity in the groups, guys are used to playing with each other," Rhule explained.

Rhule said don't expect some of the veteran seniors such as linebacker Tyler Matakevich, defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis and center Kyle Friend to see much action. Those three have made a total of 82 starts.

"I still can't wait to go out there and see what these young guys can do," said Matakevich, who has 355 career tackles. "They are going to have a great opportunity to go out there and really show all the coaches and everybody else . . . what they can do."

An exception to the rule of veterans not seeing much action will be junior P.J. Walker, who enters his third season as a starting quarterback. After a banner freshman year in which he threw 20 touchdown passes and eight interceptions after taking over the starting job around midseason, Walker threw 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season, one in which he had to battle through an ankle injury.

Walker is expected to be busy on Saturday.

"He will get a lot of snaps," Rhule said. "He won't be live, they won't be hitting him, so it will be a little different."

With a young group of receivers, the continuity they have with Walker will be important.

"I think P.J. needs all the game reps he can get," Rhule said.

Rhule and the coaches are looking for the way he runs the team. "I am not worried about stats," Rhule said. "I am looking to see our quarterback run the offense efficiently."

Cherry and White Game: What To Look For

The progression of junior quarterback P.J. Walker is the focus. By all accounts, the addition of former Atlanta Falcons quarterback coach Glenn Thomas to the same position at Temple has had a positive impact on Walker this spring. After throwing 20 TDs and eight INTs as a freshman, he threw 13 TDs and 15 INTs as a sophomore. Walker said his goal this spring has been to cut down on mistakes and he says he is a much more confident player.

Junior Sam Benjamin, who had been a cornerback, has a chance to be a much-needed big-play performer as a wide receiver. The Owls need experienced receivers, especially to replace Jalen Fitzpatrick (53 receptions, 730 yards, 6 TDS).

Three redshirt freshman defensive players who have caught coach Matt Rhule's eye: linebacker Jared Folks, defensive lineman Michael Dogbe and defensive back Jyquis Thomas. How these three and the other young players will fit into a defensive unit that returns 10 starters will be critical.

The kicking game improved last year but the Owls still made just 15 of 24 field goals, and it's been a sore point in Rhule's first two seasons. Sophomore Austin Jones got most of the action last year, going 13 for 22.

Redshirt freshman receiver Ventell Bryant (6-foot-3, 180) has been the talk of camp, especially with his potential in the red zone. He has gotten much stronger, improved his hands and should get plenty of chances to show his ability on Saturday.

- Marc Narducci