This was probably the most unexpected positive of this season. Tyler Matakevich was the team's one first team All-AAC selection, and his significance to the team's success cannot be overstated. Matakevich can make plays on either side of the field, in the backfield, or occasionally in coverage, and that is what makes him the defense's greatest weapon.
Physical corner play from Tavon Young, Sean Chandler, and company was consistently effective, and could have been the highlight of the team's defensive efforts this season if not for the accompanying line play. As a unit, the defensive line was a consistent headache for opposing teams this season.
Their constant pressure on the line of scrimmage was, in my opinion, the most significant contributor to this team having the #6 scoring defense nationally this season. Second team All-AAC selections Praise Martin-Oguike and Matt Ioannidis were most fundamental to that unit's success this season.
The ECU Win
Temple had not beaten a ranked opponent in 16 years. It was an ugly game (which became a hallmark of Owls games this season), but the Owls were able to capitalize on numerous ECU mistakes to get a massive win for a growing program.
The Vanderbilt Win
There are not a lot of big wins in modern Temple football history. This one was a big deal, even after Vanderbilt turned out to be a lemon. Going on the road to beat a power conference opponent is something we don't see often from this program, and such a dismantling (37-7) made it even more satisfying.
The Offense (More Specifically, P.J. Walker)
P.J. Walker's sequel to his exciting 2013 season was underwhelming if I'm being generous and disastrous if I'm being dramatic. He wasn't nearly the catalyst he showed he had the potential to be last season. He finished with a 52.6 completion percentage 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Following a season where he completed 60 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, this can only be categorized as a disappointment. I'm not sure I have the answer for what the Owls need to do next at quarterback, but this season's results were not a long-term endorsement for Walker.
The offense as a whole was unimpressive. They are certainly a victim of balance (the Owls attempted 403 passes to 369 rushes) and thus unable to inflate their production in one specific category like many college teams. They ranked 88th and 118th in rushing and passing offense respectively, with an even more telling 100-ranking in scoring offense.
The Owls really just didn't have much in the way of offensive playmakers this year. Jahad Thomas was the closest, and he produced only 748 yards. Though, this is not Thomas' fault, as one of the flaws Matt Rhule showed this season was unyielding dedication to even splits in the backfield despite Thomas clearly being the team's biggest threat on offense.
The Second Half of the Season
After the 4-1 start, Temple looked like a potentially unexpected threat to take control of the American. The remaining 7 games proved the opposite. The Owls finished the year 2-5 for an even 6-6 mark and the absence of a bowl bid. Their final four games of the season, against Memphis, Penn State, Cincinnati, and Tulane were four of the ugliest games I have ever seen (average score of 17.5-8.75).
I think finishing the season in the minority of teams not selected to go to a bowl game was disappointing to the Owls, especially after the start they had. However, it shouldn't be lost on them how impressive this season was for a team that had a decent chance at going the way of UAB only a handful of years ago. Matt Rhule will be measured by what he is able to do with this team next year more than by what he accomplished this year.
Nobody was surprised by the 2-10 season last year, and a 4 game improvement on that was a pleasant surprise. Next year with two generations of recruits in place, he'll need to show that this team can hang with some of the more established programs in the conference for it not to be considered a step back.
Or, in quick summary: Temple's 2014 season: Two and a half stars.