Sunday, January 12, 2014

Even the Losers: Temple

Over the past three seasons, 210 teams have participated in bowl games. 47 of those teams had losing records in the years immediately preceding their bowl game. This semi-regular piece will showcase the losers from 2013 who just might find themselves participating in Capital One Bowl Week in 2014. We'll begin our sojourn with Temple, a team from the American Athletic Conference.


2013 Record: 2-10 (1-7 American Athletic Conference)

Summary: The Owls won just two games in 2013, losing their first six games under new coach Matt Rhule. Three of their ten losses came to teams that finished the season ranked in the AP Poll (Notre Dame, Louisville, and UCF). However, they also lost to Idaho (the Vandals lone win on the season) and Fordham (IAA playoff team, but a IAA team nonetheless).

What Did the Owls Do Well?
Throw the football. Collectively, the Owls ranked just 60th in yards per pass attempt averaging 7.2 yards per throw. However, freshman quarterback P.J. Walker averaged 8.2 yards per throw on the year. Walker did not see much action in the first four games, netting just three pass attempts, but he became the full-time start over the final two thirds of the season and shined.

What Didn't the Owls Do Well?
Finish and play defense. Temple finished 0-5 in games decided by one score. In four of those games, the Owls held a lead at some point during the fourth quarter. Against Fordham, they led by six in the fourth, but the Rams scored a touchdown with four seconds left to even the games, and won on the ensuing extra point. Against Rutgers, the Owls led by four in the fourth, but allowed Rutgers to convert a fourth and ten play into a touchdown with 35 second left. Against eventual Fiesta Bowl winner UCF, the Owls led by seven in the fourth, but the Knights evened the game with just over a minute left and kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired. Against Connecticut, the Owls led 21-0 at the half, but did not score again for the rest of the game in a seven point defeat. While the final score was not close, the Owls also blew a 21-point first half and 14-point halftime lead in a double-digit defeat against SMU. The Owls lost these big leads primarily because their defense was horrendous. Opponents averaged nearly 30 points per game against the Owls and a robust 6.40 yards per play (101st nationally).

The Owls Over the Past Four Years:
The following table lists Temple's performance (in conference play only) in a few key categories and their respective conference rank in those categories. To help you read the table here is a handy translator.
Conf: The Conference Temple played in. With the ever-changing college football landscape, this is helpful.
Coach: Who was leading these yahoos into battle?
Rec: Conference Record
YPP: Yards per play. The number of yards per play the Owls averaged in conference play.
YPA: Yards per play allowed. The number of yards per play the Owls allowed in conference play.
Net: Yards per play net. The difference in YPP and YPA. Higher is better.
OTD: Offensive touchdowns. Touchdowns scored by the offense (no kick, punt, interception, or other returns are counted) in conference play.
DTD: Defensive touchdowns. Touchdowns allowed by the defense (no kick, punt, interception, or other returns are counted) in conference play.
Pythag: Adjusted Pythagorean Record. Take offensive touchdowns and defensive touchdowns and plug them into a handy formula to estimate the number of conference wins. For a full rundown of the APR, continue reading here.
In 2010 and 2011, the Temple Owls were a legitimately strong mid-major team, particularly on defense. In particular, the 2010 team featured four future NFL players on defense, including first round draft pick Muhammad Wilkerson. In the 2011 and 2012 NFL drafts, the Owls had five players selected. Losing all that talent caused a tremendous drop off in Steve Addazio's second season. Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Addazio left after 2012 to become coach of Boston College. Into that tough situation stepped Matt Rhule, a young coach who got in on the ground floor when Al Golden began rebuilding the Temple program in 2006. After overachieving in 2012 based on their peripheral numbers, the Owls underachieved last season, finishing more than two and a half games below where one would have expected based on their touchdowns scored and allowed.

The 2014 Schedule:
The ins and out of their conference schedule are not fully known yet, but we do know who the Owls will flap against in non-conference action. The Owls travel to Vanderbilt and Penn State in their James Franklin tour, and host Navy and Delaware State (IAA). Realistically, the Owls can expect to beat Delaware State and compete with Navy. Their road trips to Nashville and State College will more than likely result in losses. In conference play, the American will lose both Louisville and Rutgers while adding East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa. The American is a mid-major conference without an easily identifiable overlord, meaning their are no definitive losses on the schedule for the Owls. However, there is also no punching bag guaranteed to give the Owls a victory. All in all, the American will probably be a little weaker than last season with the exodus of Louisville and the attrition at reigning champ Central Florida.

Reasons for Optimism:
P.J. Walker and a little bit of luck. Walker's twenty passing touchdowns (in just eight plus games) marked the most by a Temple quarterback since Henry Burris threw 21 in 1994! In fact, as a team, the Owls threw just 21 touchdown passes in 2011 and 2012 combined. I've already harped on the Owls struggles in close games and their poor record in relation to their APR. Some regression in clutch situations could add a few wins to their ledger in 2014.

Final Prognosis:
Since teams began playing twelve games in 2006, 45 have finished the regular season with a 2-10 record. Fourteen of those teams have been bowl eligible the next season (every eligible team did not participate in a bowl). That's over 30%! For mid-majors, the results are a little more bearish, as seven of 31 (23%) have been bowl eligible the next season. No, the 2014 Temple team will not have a parade thrown in their honor, but I think their bowl odds are a little higher than one in three.

No comments: