While there is optimism entering this football season for Temple, there is still a huge unknown - whether this senior class can have the same leadership and production as the previous one.

When Temple opens its season Friday at Lincoln Financial Field against Army, the Owls must replace 22 letter winners. But more important, they must fill the void left by some of the top leaders.

Last year's seniors helped a 2-10 team from 2013 turn into a 10-4 squad that won the East Division of the American Athletic Conference and tied the school record for wins in a season.

Cornerback Tavon Young was a fourth-round draft pick by the Baltimore Ravens. Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis was a fifth-round choice by Washington. All-American linebacker Tyler Matakevich was selected in the seventh round by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

All were leaders who had major roles on that 2-10 team and watched the program make steady progress, going 6-6 the next season before last year's record-tying season.

Not only were they productive players but tremendous leaders who held everyone accountable.

"It's tough following that senior class. That was a great group," said redshirt senior tight end Colin Thompson, a product of Archbishop Wood High who began his college career at the University of Florida. "But we are excited and we want to win a championship."

This year's seniors don't appear to be overwhelmed about taking over the leadership mantle, especially quarterback Phillip Walker.

Last year's seniors "did a great job molding and being there for us and leading the way. But we had a good junior class as well that was right behind them," Walker said. "We helped them when they had bad days."

It's not just that the previous senior class was stacked with several leaders. It was a talented group that had seven players invited to NFL camps during the beginning of the preseason.

So the seniors' production will be a big theme this season, and there are plenty of players ready to lead their class.

Walker is a fourth-year starter coming off a productive season in which he passed for 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions and threw for a school-record 2,973 yards.

He is not as fiery as leaders like Matakevich and Ioannidis, who would tear a teammate's head off if they felt he was dogging it. Walker is a leader by example, the type of player his teammates don't want to disappoint.

"I can get on guys if I have to," Walker said.

So can his sidekick, all-AAC running back Jahad Thomas, Walker's high school teammate in Elizabeth, N.J.

The 5-foot-10, 188-pound Thomas, who began his career as a defensive back, rushed for 1,246 yards (4.6 average) and 17 touchdowns last year.

Temple coach Matt Rhule said that seniors usually go one of two ways - either thinking of their future and the possibility of the NFL or buying fully into their college team in that final season.

"Based on his actions, Jahad is 1,000 percent bought into having a great senior year," Rhule said.

Another key senior on offense who could help with the leadership void is left tackle Dion Dawkins (6-5, 320), a certified NFL prospect who has made 26 career starts.

Redshirt sophomore Ventell Bryant leads a mostly unproven receiving corps but one that Rhule considers deep.

Redshirt senior linebacker Avery Williams is the leader on defense. But the best player could be defensive back Sean Chandler, a junior from Camden. He started his first two years at cornerback but is moving to safety.

"He is a guy who leads by example, works hard, and I think he will make a lot of plays," Rhule said.

There are many other underclassmen who will likely play prominent roles. But success at Temple - as with most teams in college football - is dictated by the seniors. It's a strong class. Whether it can match the production and leadership of its predecessors could determine whether the Owls duplicate last year's success.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard