The Owls embark on their 2014 campaign Thursday night against Vanderbilt. After a disappointing 2-10 season last season, the team looks to show improvement under second-year coach Matt Rhule as they lean on a few players who can potentially bring the program some more wins this season.
1. P.J. Walker, QB
Walker is without a doubt Temple’s best player on the offensive side of the ball. As a freshman last season, he threw for 2,084 yards and 20 touchdowns with just eight interceptions and rushed for another 332 with three touchdowns.
His 151.5 passer rating was ranked 22nd in the country. He started the last seven games for the Owls last season, compiling a 2-5 record after an 0-5 start.
Walker is also a candidate for the Manning Award, named after legendary quarterback Archie Manning. The list includes 32 of the best quarterbacks in the nation going into the upcoming season, where Walker is one of only four sophomores on the list.
2. Tyler Matakevich, LB
Where Walker is undoubtedly Temple’s biggest threat offensively, Matakevich is the Owls biggest threat on the defensive side of the ball. Matakevich led the nation in solo tackles last season with 99 and has tallied 237 total tackles in the past two seasons. Coach Rhule expects a lot from him this season.
“He’s a leader, he’s tough, he’s physical, he represents what we want to represent,” said Rhule. “Players around him respond to him. He has the physical tools, the mental tools and the intangibles — the instincts, the feel for the game — that are hard to find. I don’t think there’s any secret why he led the nation in tackles last year and right now he’s much better than he was last year.”
3. Jalen Fitzpatrick, WR
If Walker’s going to repeat his success of last season, he’ll have to look to senior Fitzpatrick in the passing game. Fitzpatrick hauled in 38 catches for 429 yards and three touchdowns last season.
He’s expected to serve as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver, with junior John Christopher serving as the team’s No. 2. They’ll need to replace the production of Robby Anderson who left Temple for academic reasons in the offseason.
The 6-foot-3 Anderson led Temple in 2013 with 44 catches for 791 yards and nine touchdowns.
4. Kyle Friend, C
Junior center Kyle Friend will have a tough assignment this season – leading an offensive line that’s implementing four new starters this season. Friend is considered one of the best at his position in the AAC and will look to protect quarterback P.J. Walker at all costs next season. Walker was sacked 23 times in only seven starts. ECU’s Shane Carden was sacked the most in the AAC with 29, but in 12 starts.
“He’s big, strong, fast and extremely intelligent,” Rhule said of Friend. “He keeps everyone on the same page.”
5. Jim Cooper, K
It seems like forever ago that kicker Brandon McManus finished his career with the Owls as the team’s all-time leader in points scored (338), field goals made (60), and field goals attempted (83). The 2012 graduate was traded Tuesday to the Denver Broncos, but it’s the Owls who could desperately use his services again.
The kicking department was not pretty for the Owls last season. They converted on just three of nine attempts on the season, three of which that came from sophomore Jim Cooper who’s expected to be the starter against Vanderbilt. He’ll need to prove himself worthy of the job against the Commodore’s or else freshman Austin Jones and junior Tyler Mayes could potentially steal his job.