We can finally say it - it's Temple week. The start of Notre Dame's season is just five days away and the Irish are set to take on an opponent - the Temple Owls - they have never faced before. Temple opens its season with two major new components - a new head coach and a new quarterback.
Matt Rhule is just 38 years old as he gets set to coach in his first game. Rhule spent last season as the New York Giants' assistant offensive line coach. While this is his first season as Temple's head coach, he is actually returning to the school where he was an assistant from 2006-2011 under Al Golden and then Steve Addazio.
Golden left Temple to take over at Miami just before Notre Dame's 2010 Sun Bowl win over the Hurricanes. He resurrected the dormant program in his five-year tenure. The Owls went 9-4 in 2009 - their first winning season in 30 years - and then were 8-4 in his last season. Addazio had records of 9-4 and 4-7 in 2011 and 2012 and then parlayed that into the top job at Boston College.
The Owls were young in 2012, ranking 116th in passing offense (120 Yds/game), 107th in total offense (322 Yds/Game), 100th in rushing defense (200 Yds/Game), 90th in total defense (437 Yds/Game) and 86th in scoring defense (31 Pts/Game).
The offense will have a drastically different look in 2013 - starting with the quarterback. Both Chris Coyer and senior Clinton "Juice" Granger shared time at quarterback last year. Coyer has moved to H-back and Granger spent the spring and all of training camp battling with redshirt junior Connor Reilly for the job. Rhule finally named Reilly the starter for the season-opener late last week.
"It was a hard decision for us," Rhule said at Temple's media day. "But we've made it for now and we'll move forward. We feel like they both can lead the team. They both have done a great job."
Reilly was Temple's primary holder on field goals and extra points last season. He was the fourth-string quarterback a year ago, but now finds himself starting at Notre Dame to open the season.
"I was smiling," Reilly said of his reaction to earning the job. "It was a competition to the very end. Clinton was there neck and neck with me to the very end."
Reilly redshirted as a freshman in 2010 and played in just three games in 2011. He fits the pro-style offense Rhule is expected to run this season. Granger played in seven games with two starts last season. He passed for just 370 yards and two touchdowns with 206 rushing yards and a TD.
Addazio put Temple fans to sleep with his run, run and then run some more offense last year (only the three service academies and Bob Davie's New Mexico team passed for fewer yards). Rhule is expected to try to find more balance this year. He will have to after losing running back Montel Harris, who ran for 1,054 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Coyer was Temple's second-leading rush with 444 yards and two TDs.
The Owls return three seniors on the offensive line and Jamie Gilmore (94 yards in 2012) and Kenny Harper (64 yards in '12) will share the load with Coyer making some kind of contribution as well.
Temple's defensive line should be the team's strength, but it is a unit that still allowed 200 rushing yards a game. The Owl's linebacking corps is led by 2012 Big East Defensive Rookie of the Year Tyler Matakevich, who led the team with 101 stops as a true freshman. Fellow sophomore linebacker Nate Smith was right behind Matakevich with 75 tackles.
The Owls did not get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks last season. They managed just 25 sacks and 53 tackles for loss in '12. Starting cornerbacks Zamel Johnson and Anthony Robey both return, but safeties Vaughn Carraway and Justin Gildea must both be replaced on a defense that had just four interceptions last fall.
The one true positive Temple had last year was special teams. The Owls had the 13th best special teams production in 2012, but that was due in large part to kicker/punter Brandon McManus. The current Indianapolis Colt averaged 45.1 yards on punts and hit 8-of-10 field goals and all but one of his 33 extra point attempts last year. Kick returner Matt Brown (25.5 yard average and one TD) must also be replaced.
Rhule has gone back to a practice started by Golden when he was still at Temple. The nine "toughest" players on the roster each receive single-digit jersey numbers. The tradition went away during Addazio's two years as head coach, but Rhule - a Golden assistant from 2006-2010 - brought it back.
Granger was the last player to receive a single-digit at the end of fall camp. The backup quarterback wore No. 17 for the last two years, but he will sport No. 3 this year. Granger got the last single-digit jersey by a vote of his teammates.
The other eight Owls with single digits are: No. 1 - Sr. DL Sean Daniels, No. 2 - Jr. DB Anthony Robey, No. 4 - Sr. WR Ryan Alderman, No. 5 - Jr. WR Jalen Fitzpatrick, No. 6 - Sr. LB Blaze Caponegro, No. 7 - So. WR John Christopher, No. 8 - So. LB Tyler Matakevich and No. 9 - Sr. DL Levi Brown.
Temple players wore a special padded helmet covering during training camp. The "Guardian Cap" (pictured above) looks like the padding on the inside of a helmet and is made of polyurethane material that is designed to reduce the risk of brain trauma.
"We saw no downside to it," Rhule said of wearing the extra padding on the outside of helmets. "If it does help, great. If it doesn't, it's the same as not having it. We liked it. We liked it in the spring and we got good feedback from the players. What you want to do is you always want to err on the side of caution."
The makers of the Guardian Cap say their product reduces impact to the head by 33-percent. The company is working on a cap that they hope will reduce impact by up to 55-percent. Clemson and South Carolina are among other programs that are using the product.