Temple football took a major step foward under third-year head coach Matt Rhule. The Owls earned just their second 10-win season in their 68-year history. But, they failed to finish the season strong going 3-4 in the team's final seven games. The team returns 14 of its 22 starters, but the team's eight losses are major.
Defense must move on from Tyler Matakevich
Senior four-year starting linebacker Tyler Matakevich is the Owls biggest defensive loss. His leadership and production are irreplacable. He recorded 493 total tackles, 40.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and seven interceptions. The Owls do however return seven starters including defensive ends Haason Reddick and Praise Martin-Oguike. The d-line duo combined for just eight sacks in 2015, but their career production shows they should up those numbers in 2016. Reddick recorded one, two and five sacks over his first three seasons. Oguike had a down year, but he had no trouble getting into the backfield recording a career high nine tackles for loss.
The Owls return two key contributors at linebacker. Seniors Jarred Alwan and Stephaun Marshall combined for 119 total tackles last season. Alwan became a ballhawk forcing four fumbles in 2015 alone. Marshall slowly climbed his way into the lineup which is why his total tackles from last season are just 46. The pair can't fill the void of senior, linebacking leadership Matakevich left. But they can solidify it for this season.
The secondary returns two starters headlined by junior corner Sean Chandler. Chandler was second on the team last season in interceptions with four. He also compiled an impressive 65 total tackles.
Offense and Scheduling headline title hopes
Offensively, the Owls return one of the best backfields in the NCAA. Star running back Jahad Thomas returns after a 1st team All-American Athletic Conference season. He rushed for 1,262 yards and 17 touchdowns along with 216 yards and a touchdown through the air. Thomas's running mate is quarterback P.J. Walker. Walker put together the best season of his career throwing for 2,972 yards, 19 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. The three-year starter broke most of Temple's career passing records in 2015, and should elevate those to an almost unbreakable level in 2016.
The Owls will need all-conference performances from both of them, because Temple lost three of its top four wide receivers including number one wide out Robby Anderson. Luckily, freshman phenom and second-leading receiver Ventell Bryant returns. Bryant recorded 579 yards and three touchdowns at a 14.8 yards per reception average. The offensive line returns three starters as well making this offense formidable as long as Walker and Thomas are healthy.
The biggest positive for the 2016 Temple squad, scheduling. The Owls are playing just five bowl-bound teams from last season. And only three of those teams return key pieces, Cincinnati, UConn and USF. The Owls don't even play conference champion Houston. Coach Rhule and the Owls have a real shot to get 10 or more wins again in 2016 and a shot at the AAC title.
(Video Credit: American Athletic Conference)