Despite the sour ending after receiving notification that Temple would not be competing in a bowl game, head coach Matt Rhule enters his third season with a roster fit to compete. Plenty of seniors return on both sides of the ball, the defense made incredulous strides last season, and P.J. Walker is primed for a bounce-back campaign.
Rhule's not satisfied with last year's 6-6 finish. He's always striving to field and coach a better product:
"My goal as a head coach is to be better every year then we were last year," said Rhule at Temple Media Day. "I think we are better than we were last year and hopefully next year we'll be better than we were this year."
Last year's roller coaster season had tough battles and some blowouts, but the wear was evident, per Rhule.
"They're scarred up. They've been through a lot of heartbreaking losses and they've been through some really high moments."
With a daunting non-conference schedule, Rhule's Owls are facing a more arduous task at finding weekly and continuous success than previous years. Temple opened 2014 with a bold SEC battle at Vanderbilt and utterly dismantled the favorite by 30 points. They hosted the now-AAC member Navy, but couldn't handle the infamous triple-option attack.
Vanderbilt and Navy both are teams good for a bowl game in most seasons, but Temple's facing perennial powerhouses in both Penn State and Notre Dame. It starts week one at Lincoln Financial Field as Rhule faces his alma-mater.
1. Home vs. Penn State: Big Ten (7-6, 2-6), 9/5
The pivotal in-state battle is one of the Owls' most pivotal match-ups at home in a long time. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg struggled against pressure and loses bookend left tackle Donovan Smith to the NFL. He's still capable of lighting up any defense with returning targets in senior Geno Lewis and junior DaSean Hamilton. Corner's Alex Wells and Sean Chandler are going to have to have career days in handling the downfield threats.
Temple boasts one of the most underrated front sevens on the east coast as Tyler Matakevich and Praise Martin-Oguike are NFL-caliber talents at their respective positions. If the Owls can put pressure on Penn State's O-Line, the contest will be close and the offense won't have to be as relied upon as last season's matchup.
The Nittany Lions are notoriously strong on D as well, finishing seventh in the nation in points allowed. Expect a low scoring affair as both teams will be sluggish in their season openers. Also brace for a hard hitting impactful contest for bragging rights.
2. Away vs. Cincinnati: AAC (9-4, 7-1), 9/12
It was an offensive struggle last season at the Linc as the Bearcats left Philadelphia with the 14-6 win. Gunner Kiel struggled, but so did Walker and the Owls. In what looks to be Temple's most difficult away game on the season, they'll have to stop the Kiel-Mekele McKay tandem.
Cincinnati's one of the most talented AAC teams the league has to offer, but if Temple wants to get on their level, the offense is going to have step up on the road. The Owls averaged 12.6 points on the road in their final games away from Philadelphia last season.
Newly reinstated WR Robbie Anderson and Walker don't have much time to get in sync in back-to-back tough match ups. Pulling out a huge conference victory on the road is paramount for their bowl aspirations and synergy throughout the season.
3. Away vs. UMass: MAC (3-9, 3-5), 9/19
Blake Frohnapfel and the Minutemen can't be overlooked. The Owls travel to UMass to embark on a less difficult path, but both teams struggle to run the ball. Wideout Tajae Sharp is one of the top receivers in the MAC (1,281 yards on 85 receptions) and can break open against most corners.
Temple won the last meeting as they previously played in the MAC, but UMass is a better team on both sides of the ball then their previous teams. Look for a shootout on a hot summer evening.
4. Away vs. Charlotte: C-USA (5-6), 10/2
Charlotte's making their transition from FCS to full-fledged FBS member and will play in the C-USA in 2015. Running Back Kalif Phillips rushed for 1,436 yards and 20 TDs and can cause problems out of the backfield. It's difficult to game plan for Charlotte as they're a newer FBS school, but Matt Rhule and the Owls shouldn't have many problems down south.
5. Home vs. Tulane: AAC (3-9, 2-6), 10/10
Temple closed out their season last year eeking out a 10-3 win against the Green Wave as running back Jahad Thomas had a career game. Freshman Tanner Lee struggled throwing the ball as he had more interceptions (14) than touchdowns (12). They also lose defensive back Landon Doss to the NFL and have only one projected senior starting on defense.
This is one of the more safe locks on the season as Temple should cruise by the Green Wave.
6. Home vs. UCF: AAC (9-4, 7-1), 10/17
One of the most consistent teams in college football, George O'Leary's Golden Knights play hard every week and can surprise anyone. They return dual-threat QB Justin Holman who took over for Blake Bortles last season and led the team to a bowl game. Losing stud wideout Breshad Perriman is going to hurt in many ways and NFL talent on the defense also has to be replaced.
The X-Factor is tailback Will Stanback whose a bruiser that can blow up any defense on any given saturday. The two teams excel on both sides of the ball and this vital AAC matchup will have serious East division and AAC Championship implications.
7. Away vs. East Carolina: AAC (8-5, 5-3), 10/22
ECU is going to have to find a replacement for a record-setting QB and record-setting wideout in Share Carden and Justin Hardy. Temple beat the Pirates for their first victory over a ranked team at home in plenty of years last season. They forced five fumbles, but can't expect a repeated performance in order to make it two in a row.
Walker and the Owls need road consistency in order to challenge for the AAC crown. Losing to a rebuilding program would dent their resume, but ECU has one of the best coaches in the conference in Ruffin McNeill.
8. Home vs. Notre Dame: Independent (8-5), 10/31
Notre Dame has NFL talent on both sides of the ball, but hasn't showed the dominance exhibited in previous years. Tackle Ronnie Stanley is a bonafide first round option for the Fighting Irish. QB Malik Zaire will need to stay upright to avoid the upset.
In a raucous environment playing against a storied football power, both P.J. Walker and the defense have to stay in the fight early and avoid getting slugged by the favorites. Like Penn State, Notre Dame has a star wideout in Will Fuller whose 15 receiving touchdowns last season paced the team by a large margin. Temple's secondary will be tested as this season features a lot tougher covers and match ups.
9. Away vs. SMU: AAC (1-11, 1-7) 11/6
This shouldn't be a problem as the Owls get a breather traveling to Texas to play the Mustangs. SMU was a train wreck offensively as they only threw six touchdowns all season. They also had one less interception than total touchdowns. Hiring Chad Morris steers this team in a positive direction, but this rebuild will be a long one.
The Owls lost in a shootout two years ago to SMU, but their secondary has made major strides to be a dependable unit.
10. Away vs. USF: AAC (4-8, 3-5) 11/14
An away matchup down in the sunshine state screams trap game. USF once was a Big East juggernaut and perennial bowl caliber unit, but their move to the AAC has yet to prove dividends. Their number one quarterback Mike White decided to relieve his duties as a starter, but running back Marlon Mack is another AAC tailback with burst.
USF still has a defense that can salvage a porous offensive group. So does Temple. The outcome should be low scoring with a couple big plays from both teams.
11. Home vs. Memphis: AAC (10-3, 7-1) 11/21
Memphis escaped Lincoln Financial Field last season on a game-winning field goal by Jake Elliot and picked up one of the biggest wins in school history against BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl. Paxton Lynch was the primary benefactor in getting the Tigers to heights rarely seen as the QB shredded defenses for over 3,000 passing yards and 22 touchdown passes.
This might be a matchup in the first ever AAC Championship game, but Temple is going to have to contain the air game and jumpstart an offense who struggled last year against Memphis.
12. Home vs. UConn: AAC (2-10, 1-7) 11/28
Five years ago, the Huskies were playing in a BCS bowl game. Now there struggling to find players at key skill positions. They are turning to JUCO transfer Bryant Shirreffs as another play calling option. Their defense ranked 49th in the nation in yards allowed but the offense couldn't muster enough to compliment their counterparts.
This might be the deciding game in getting Temple back to a bowl game. The fervor to get there should be high as Matt Rhule gets to his first in style.
The chance for a breakthrough season falls on the shoulder of QB P.J. Walker. Rimington candidate Kyle Friend anchors a seasoned O-LIne and wideout Robbie Anderson returns to team with Pitt transfer Adonis Jennings and holdover Romond Deloatch. Jahad Thomas has been on the brink of a breakout campaign, but won't face serious competition as Kenneth Harper graduated.
Hoping to continue a defensive initiation as the fifth scoring defense in the nation, the Owls return plenty of talent across all three levels. Praise Martin-Oguike, Tyler Matakevich and Tavon Young all are dominating players at their respective positions. Expect a bowl appearance for the Owls this season.