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Temple football notes: Keys to the Owls season

A look at the strengths and weakness of Temple and some predictions on top players.

Frank Nutile (18), Todd Centeio (16), Logan Marchi (12), and Anthony Russo (not pictured) are candidates for the Owls’ starting quarterback job.
Frank Nutile (18), Todd Centeio (16), Logan Marchi (12), and Anthony Russo (not pictured) are candidates for the Owls’ starting quarterback job.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Temple went 10-4 the last two seasons, tying a single-season school record for wins. Can the Owls duplicate this feat in coach Geoff Collins' first season? Here are some of the things to look for as the Owls prepare for their season opener Saturday at Notre Dame.

Team strengths

Secondary. It's not out of the question that all four projected starters could have a future in the NFL. Free safety Sean Chandler has 35 career starts and made a smooth transition after being a corner his first two seasons. Strong safety Delvon Randall is a hard hitter and keeps improving in coverage. Redshirt senior Artrel Foster enters his second season as a starter and graduate transfer Mike Jones of North Carolina Central was considered a potential late-round NFL pick last season before deciding to play at Temple.

Wide receiver. Four of the Owls' top five receivers from a year ago return – redshirt junior Ventell Bryant, redshirt senior Keith Kirkwood, senior Adonis Jennings, and redshirt junior Brodrick Yancy. A handful of other receivers are pushing for time.

Biggest unknowns

Quarterback. Nobody in Temple's quarterback derby had ever started a college game. In fact, nobody had played any meaningful football at the position because Phillip Walker started the last 47 games. The next Temple starter could be another Walker, but nobody knows at this point.

Candidates are redshirt junior Frank Nutile, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, redshirt freshman Anthony Russo, and freshman Todd Centeio. Collins indicated last week that it's possible three of the four could see action in the opener.

[Temple football looking to keep the success going]

Linebacker. The Owls must replace all three senior starters from last season, and this will be a young unit but a much faster one. Can they outrun some of their mistakes? Redshirt sophomore Chapelle Russell is coming off an ACL injury and he may not start, but he is a player to watch.

Where will the sacks come from?

Last season defensive ends Haason Reddick and Praise Martin-Oguike accounted for 18 of the Owls' 41 sacks. The Owls will rotate along the defensive line as much as any position with redshirt senior Sharif Finch and senior Jacob Martin expected to be the starting ends. Most likely the Owls will need more than the eight sacks that they received from the tackle position last year. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Michael Dogbe, who had 1.5 sacks last season, could be among the more improved linemen on the team.  Martin and Finch are expected to show quickness off the edge.

Offensive player of the year 

Ryquell Armstead, a junior from Millville, went from rushing for 197 yards (3.7 average) and two touchdowns as a freshman to a breakout season last year, when he totaled 919 yards (5.9 avg.) and 14 touchdowns. Armstead has just seven career receptions, but in the new offense, he could be a greater threat as a pass receiver.

Defensive player of the year

Sean Chandler, the Camden product, missed four games last season with a knee injury, but still produced 51 tackles and two interceptions. He has added some muscle and there won't be many players more intelligent  than Chandler, who will bait some quarterbacks into making mistakes.

Top newcomer

Redshirt freshman center Matt Hennessy appeared in three games last season but eventually earned a redshirt year. Before entering his first season as a full-time starter, Hennessy saw his name on the Rimington watch list for the top centers in the country. He has drawn raves from both his teammates and coaches.

Unsung performer

Collins has called Nick Sharga (6-2, 240) "the best fullback in the country." A redshirt senior, Sharga carried the ball only 18 times last year, a total that might grow this season, but Sharga is a devastating lead blocker who is one of the keys to the running game.

On the spot

New offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dave Patenaude had tremendous success the last five seasons as offensive coordinator at Coastal Carolina, where he presided over three 10-win seasons. Last season the Chanticleers averaged 37.3 points per game. Patenaude is known for his innovative spread offense, but he's smart enough to know that with an inexperienced quarterback the Owls will also need to run the ball, so the balance between passing and running will be fascinating to watch.

 Surviving September

The schedule won't allow Temple much time to ease into the season. In fact, the Owls will know by the end of September if they will be contending for a third straight East Division title. Opening at Notre Dame won't be easy, despite the Fighting Irish's 4-8 season last year. After facing Villanova and UMass at home, Temple has to travel to South Florida, the consensus favorite to win the AAC title. On Sept. 30, Temple will host a Houston team that beat the Owls in the first AAC title game in 2015 and is a major threat in the AAC West Division. At the least, the Owls would have to split the games against South Florida and Houston, but the reality is that a loss to USF could end any realistic conference hopes. Temple stunned USF, 46-30 last year, but doing so this year in Tampa, Fla., won't be as easy.