5 Storylines Leading Up to Temple Football Spring Practice

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5 Storylines Leading Up To Temple Spring Practice

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Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The movie Groundhog Day had a great line uttered by Bill Murray and written by the late Harold Ramis about the winter: “It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be gray and it’s going to last you the rest of your life.”

Being a Temple football fan is all about understanding how that line transfers to seemingly every fall season. Cold, gray and unrelenting losing and the despair has been particularly acute these past two seasons when the Owls went 4-7 followed by a 2-10 record. The despair part of it is because the 4-7 and 2-10 followed three straight years of being bowl eligible, including the school’s first bowl win in 30 years. Fans thought those years of losing were over when Matt Rhule replaced Steve Addazio.

They were wrong.

After winter, though, there is always spring and hope always seems to spring eternal for all 125 FBS teams, including Temple. On the last Saturday of every April, the school hosts a Cherry and White Game and on that day, the Owls always look like Alabama and Notre Dame probably because they weren’t playing either one of those schools.

The optimism this spring, though, seems well-founded because the school has finally found a quarterback, sophomore-to-be P.J. Walker, who had some significant success as a true freshman after working his way into the starting lineup midway through the season. The team extended a BCS bowl-winning team, Central Florida, to the last play in a 39-36 loss and hammered Memphis, 41-21, in their final game of the season on the road.

Walker is certainly the school’s best quarterback since Adam DiMichele and maybe even the best quarterback since Canadian Football League legend Henry Burris. Best of all, almost everyone returns for 2014 including legitimate All-American candidates on both sides of the ball, Walker and linebacker Tyler Matakevitch, who led the nation in tackles as a true sophomore.

For all the cold and gray to turn into warm and sunny, though, these five storylines will have to be answered in a positive manner.

Mike Gibson, an Associated Press Sports Editors' Association award-winner for Best Sports Story and Best Sports Feature, is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @papreps , “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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5. Plugging Offensive Line Holes

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Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Tackles Zach Hooks and Ray Korang are gone for different reasons. Tackle Shane Rafter is transferring. Guard Adam Metz “retired” on Facebook. Of those, only Hooks figured to be a starter. Still, it looks like an area of strength on the team with Kyle Friend as potentially the AAC’s best center and flanked by an improving group that includes Leon Johnson. Freshman Dion Dawkins was making an impression starting games at right tackle before a fracture of his fifth metatarsal sidelined him for the rest of the season. Brendan McGowan, a redshirt freshman, started three straight games. Sophomore Jacob Quinn started the last three games at RG. Junior Eric Lofton also returns.

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4. Will Defensive Backs Finally Play The Ball?

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In defensive coordinator Phil Snow, the Owls have a guy who was defensive backs coach for an 0-16 Detroit Lions team and Temple fans saw first-hand why the Lions were 0-16 when the Owls refused to play the ball and went for the man for all 12 games last season. The Owl DBs face-guarded so much last season that just about every reasonable person had to come to the conclusion that they were taught to do so.

Still, the Owls have some defensive backs with ball skills on the roster, including Nate L. Smith, who led the state of Pennsylvania with 11 interceptions in 2011 for Archbishop Wood in Warminster, Pa. He seldom saw the field, probably because he was taught to play the ball with the state champion Vikings.

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3. Who Will Emerge as No. 1 RB?

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This probably will be a three-way battle between the steady-if-not-spectacular Kenny Harper and the potentially spectacular duo of Zaire Williams and former Tennessee commit Jabo Lee. Williams showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman last season and Lee is coming off a long injury rehab. If Lee is back to his pre-injury form, he could win a tight race, but that's a big if and Williams is healthy.

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2. Who Will Replace Robby Anderson?

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Anderson caught nine touchdown passes the last five games for Temple, but flunked out of what former Temple professor Norm Kaner jokingly called “Harvard on the Delaware” in January. The Owls have not seen a receiver of his talent since former Washington Redskins WR Leslie Shepherd played.

Anderson was better than current Oakland Raiders starter Rod Streater and that’s saying a lot. Anderson and quarterback P.J. Walker had a special connection.

This question probably will not be answered until the late summer, when the high school recruits with Anderson’s speed and size return. In Khalif Herbin, a 5-foot-7 slot receiver, the Owls have a potential game-breaker both catching the ball and in the return game. Still, Herbin might be better-suited as a third-down back because he’s very similar to former Owl running back Matty Brown in both size and breakaway ability with the ball in his hand and that will be easier to do with a handoff than throwing it down the field. Brown was switched from the slot as a freshman at Temple and that move proved to be a stroke of genius by then head coach Al Golden. A similar switch for Herbin could have the same kind of impact. Plus, the Owls already have a similar-type player at that position in the more experienced Jalen Fitzpatrick.

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1. Do JUCO Recruits Start at Safety?

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Yes, the two JUCO All-Americans probably will start at safety unless Rhule and Snow take the wraps off talented former West Virginia commit Nate L. Smith. Still, Rhule’s “rule” is that the two must earn their spots so just how good these two are will be the most interesting. Shahid Lovett, who was a midyear transfer from Lackawanna (Pa.) Community College, and Alex Wells from ASA College (N.Y.) are the two safeties who earned JUCO All-American honors. Also coming from prep school is former Virginia Tech commit Cequan Jefferson, a cornerback who was rated the No. 1 prep school player in the country at his position (and No. 8 prep school player overall) by the website 247 Sports.

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