Throughout the week we’ll be checking in with some of the nonconference opponents facing off with Big Ten teams in 2016 to provide a better idea of what to expect out of the less familiar opponents on this year’s league slate. Today we'll look at the Temple Owls.
Opponent: Temple (at Penn State, Sept. 17)
Offseason storyline: Can Temple and head coach Matt Rhule keep momentum rolling from a 10-win season in 2015? The Owls set all kinds of school records on offense last year en route to a trip to the American Athletic Conference title game. They should be able to move the ball again with Walker at quarterback and stepping into more of a leadership role as a senior. The running game lost some of its punch last season when Thomas started acquiring the wear and tear of a long season. This year, Rhule feels good about a pair of sophomore backs -- Jager Gardner and Ryquell Armstead -- helping to share the burden.
The question mark for Temple is whether the loss of 26 seniors from a class that sparked the program’s recent turnaround under Rhule will take its toll. All-America linebacker Tyler Matakevich is gone, as is offensive leader and center Kyle Friend. The Owls won’t have to face Houston or Navy until a potential championship game, which should help them remain contenders in the AAC, the country’s top Group of 5 conference.
What’s at stake for Penn State? To start: a bit of revenge. Last year’s loss to Temple came before the Owls had established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. The Nittany Lions gave up 10 sacks in a discouraging defeat. With another year of building depth and a new offensive coaching staff, Penn State has to put up a better show at the line of scrimmage or head coach James Franklin will start to feel the heat.
This game is sandwiched between trips to rival Pittsburgh and Big Ten contender Michigan, which sets up a potential make-or-break September for Franklin, his staff and the 2016 team.
What’s at stake for Temple? The trip to Beaver Stadium will be as hostile and frenzied of an environment that Temple witnesses this season. Rhule, a former Penn State linebacker who was born in State College, has plenty of personal motivation to take down his alma mater in his hometown. The rest of the program could get a major bump from knocking off Penn State for the second year in a row, maybe enough to carry them into a New Year’s Day bowl game if they can find a way to win the AAC.