Temple

Temple’s P.J. Walker gains maturity as he preps for Penn State

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It is not often Temple enters a season with high expectations, but that appears to be the case with the Owls in 2015. Though other teams may be favored to make a run in the American Athletic Conference (Cincinnati is the preseason favorite), many have been lauding Temple’s returning experience this fall. No team can match the experience Temple brings back in 2015 with 10 defensive starters and seven more on offense set to return. It is what Temple does with that experience that matters most, and head coach Matt Rhule feels his quarterback, P.J. Walker, is ready to take the next steps entering his third year under center.

“In the history of Temple, there are only a couple of guys that have been bowl-eligible quarterbacks,” Rhule said in a story published by CSN Philly. “To me, it’s just taking the next step and it’s just one simple thing and one simple thing only: don’t turn the football over as much.”

Walker had 15 interceptions last year, so Rhule’s concern is valid. Fortunately, Rhule also sees improvement in his quarterback in practices.

“You see a totally different kid maturity-wise,” he said. “Not that he was an immature kid; he just understands more and more of the game. He is a winner. My point to him was keep winning. He got us to six wins. Now make the next jump.”

Rhule will see his quarterback put to the test on Saturday afternoon. Temple opens the season at home against Penn State, which should bring a strong defensive secondary to Lincoln Financial Field.

Why people are buying Notre Dame as College Football Playoff contender (and why some might hold off)

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It’s about that time of the year again when Notre Dame starts generating some buzz as a national title contender. This seems to happen every few years or so. If we’re not asking if Notre Dame will be back, we are asking if they will be in the championship conversation. Perhaps those questions are the same for some. Whatever the case is, the Irish appear to be entering the 2015 season with high expectations by many around the college football universe. Are you buying the Irish as a College Football Playoff contender, or are you holding off to see how they start the new season?

Associated Press college football writer Ralph Russo placed Notre Dame in a College Football Playoff semifinal, against Auburn (Ohio State and Baylor are in the other semifinal). Russo’s early summer bowl projections are not the only place you will see preseason hype for the Irish. Stewart Mandel of FOX Sports said in a recent mailbag post he views Notre Dame as a legit playoff contender. The always knowledgeable Matt Brown, of Sports On Earth, lauded the playoff talent on Notre Dame’s roster, suggesting Notre Dame may actually be underhyped. Fresh off Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl victory over LSU at the end of last season, Chicago Tribune writer Chris Hine set the bar for the Irish at the College Football Playoff level. Anything short of a playoff game won’t cut it for the Irish in 2015, Hine suggested. Travis Haney of ESPN.com reviewed first-time starting quarterbacks for this upcoming season’s supposed playoff contenders, which naturally included Malik Zaire of Notre Dame.

So here we are on June 10, with many respected names around college football’s media coverage dropping Notre Dame in the playoff conversation. Are they on the mark with the Irish, or is it a tad early to suggest Notre Dame will have everything in place to make a postseason run?

A quick review of what the Irish have shows why so many seem to be optimistic about Notre Dame in 2015. First, the Irish return 19 starters from last season. This does not account for the possible returns of potential starters Ishaq Williams at defensive end and KeiVarae Russell at defensive back. As mentioned above, Zaire is set to take control of the offense without anybody standing in his way following Everett Golson transferring to Florida State. Zaire has shown some promise, but now the job is his. Let’s see how he and head coach Brian Kelly handle it.

Notre Dame’s defense was hampered by injuries down the stretch of the season in 2014, and it showed. What will ultimately place Notre Dame in the playoff hunt will be an improvement in turnover margin. When the Irish defense was beat, it was torched. Last season the Irish forced 23 turnovers, but gave the football away 26 times. It was the third time Notre Dame had a negative turnover margin in a season since 2008. Not so coincidentally, when Notre Dame made a run to the BCS Championship Game in the 2012 season, the Irish had their highest turnover margin in that stretch, with a +8. The Irish will also have to improve inside the red zone. Last year the Irish entered the opponent’s 20-yard line 62 times. On 40 of those trips the Irish scored a touchdown, good for the 45th best red zone touchdown percentage in the country. Three of the four playoff teams had a higher percentage last season (Florida State was significantly lower).

If Notre Dame can improve in these two areas, then the schedule does set up well for the Irish to remain in the playoff discussion into November, but there are some significant hurdles along the way. Notre Dame opens the season at home in primetime against Texas, but the Longhorns are still in a bit of a rebuild state right now under Charlie Strong. Georgia Tech can be a stingy test early on for the Irish as well, but the defending ACC Coastal champs are on the road in week three. Notre Dame plays at Clemson in the first weekend in October, followed by a home game against Navy and another home game against USC. The Trojans could be dangerous, but you never know what will happen when they visit South Bend. A road game at Pittsburgh could also be tricky given the offensive talent the Panthers have (James Conner and  Tyler Boyd are among the best at their positions in the ACC, if not the country). Notre Dame’s season ends with games in Fenway Park against Boston College and on the road against always tough Stanford.

Under the new College Football Playoff model, one loss is not nearly as catastrophic as it may have been before for Notre Dame, but the margin for error is still small. The Irish not playing a conference championship game could lead to a similar fate as last season’s Big 12 co-champions from Baylor and TCU (although the Big 12’s strength of schedule was also a fair target, one that may not apply for Notre Dame).

Is Notre Dame for real in 2015? Yeah, they could be, but we will have a much better idea of what to make of Notre Dame by mid-October. If Notre Dame is 7-0 or 6-1, get ready for a Notre Dame playoff push coming down the stretch of the regular season.

UConn creates rivalry with UCF… to the surprise of UCF

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Rivalries are, in a way, like friendships. Both take two to tango. And, like a friendship, calling yourself a rival of someone or something puts you on equal footing with that person or thing. For instance, I could call myself a friend of our own John Taylor, but Taylor could never call himself my friend considering he’s never acknowledged my existence. I could call him my rival but, again, the whole acknowledging-my-existence thing prevents us from having the true rivalry I so desperately crave.

On that note, Connecticut on Tuesday declared a rivalry with Central Florida. They’re calling it the “Civil Conflict.”

Let’s now cut to Orlando, where the Knights stand with question marks above their heads.

The schools have played twice: a 62-17 UCF win in 2013 and a 37-29 UConn upset last October. It was after that Huskies win, the program’s only AAC win last season, that head coach Bob Diaco for what would later become college football’s sparest rivalry.

“Maybe I’ll, with my money, make a trophy,” Diaco said last November, as uncovered by Matt Brown of SportsonEarth. “I’ll buy it myself. I’ll put a big, giant Husky and another big, giant Knight on it. Make a stand. Put it out in the hallway.”

Temple’s Matt Rhule confirms addition of Pitt’s Adonis Jennings

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Back in mid-March, Pittsburgh’s Adonis Jennings, a formerly touted member of the Panthers’ recruiting class last year, announced on his personal Twitter account that he would be transferring from Pittsburgh to Temple to continue his collegiate playing career.

On the same social media website two months later, the wide receiver’s new head coach confirmed the player’s addition to the Owls.

Jennings is seeking a waiver that would give him immediate eligibility in 2015, although Rhule told the Philadelphia Inquirer that no decision has been reached by the NCAA.  If he’s granted the waiver, he’d have three seasons of eligibility remaining beginning as well as his redshirt.  If the waiver’s denied, he’d take a redshirt for the 2015 season and then have three seasons of eligibility left beginning in 2016.

Jennings was a four-star member of Pitt’s 2014 recruiting class, rated as the No. 38 receiver in the country and the No. 9 player at any position in the state of New Jersey.  Along with a running back and a pair of offensive linemen, Jennings’ 5.8 Rivals rating was the highest in the Panthers’ most recent class.

Playing sparingly as a true freshman, the 6-3, 195-pound Jennings started one of the six games in which he played.  He caught six passes for 55 yards in the limited action.

Temple officially adds NFL experience to coaching staff

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An assistant who would be very familiar to Atlanta Falcons fans over the past half decade or so is one of two additions that have been made to the Temple coaching staff.

In a press release earlier this week, and as had been previously reported as a likelihood, head coach Matt Rhule announced that Glenn Thomas as well as Frisman Jackson have been hired as Owl assistants.  The former will serve as quarterbacks coach, the latter as wide receivers coach.

Adam DiMichele, the receivers coach last season, has been reassigned to director of player development, the school added

“I’m very excited to add such talent and diversity to our coaching staff,” Rhule said in a statement. “Frisman and Glenn have worked at the highest level and can lead our student-athletes to greater heights. I’m also excited about what each man brings to the table as a recruiter.”

Thomas had been on Mike Smith‘s Atlanta staff since 2008, the last three of which were as quarterbacks coach. Midwestern State (2001-07) was his last stop at the collegiate level, while he began his coaching career as a grad assistant at his alma mater Texas Tech (1998-2001).

Jackson was the receivers coach at North Carolina State the past two seasons. Last month, Jackson was let go by NCSU head coach Dave Doeren and replaced by George McDonald.

Following a six-year playing career, Jackson coached receivers at Northern Illinois (2012), Akron (2010-11), and Western Illinois (2008-09).