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TGS 2013 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW...A LOOK AT THE "AMERICAN"
Get used to hearing about "the American" this fall.

No, not a new TV series, or a new shortened name for that big airline based out of DFW. Rather, it's the preferred label of the newly-named American Athletic Conference, which includes the bulk of the non-Catholic version of the old Big East plus some stray former Conference USA entries to form a new league.

Which, by the way, as the direct descedent of the old Big East, still retains automatic entry for its champion into the last version of the BCS as we have known it for 15 years before the 4-team playoff commences next season.

And, since "AAC" and "ACC" are too close in sound and pronunciation and thus likely to confuse, conference commissioner Mike Aresco would simply prefer the league to be called "the American" instead. So, we'll comply.

But where does the American fit in the new order of college sports? Well...follow along for this brief synopsis and see if you agree with our conclusion.

The 2013 football season is fast approaching! And we're ready at TGS with discounted JULY subscription prices! Click here for more special JULY subscription info on THE GOLD SHEET now!


Who left: Everyone who could. Specifically, the Catholic Seven skedaddled and took the old league name (Big East) with them. Syracuse and Pittsburgh have run off to the ACC, which effectively completed a corporate takeover-type raid of the Big East's old gridiron operation over the past decade while also stripping some of its best basketball assets. Football independent Notre Dame also affiliates with the ACC in the new order.

Who arrived: The upwardly mobile portion of Conference USA, namely Central Florida, Houston, SMU and Memphis. TCU, Boise State and San Diego State never showed up.

What’s still to come: Plenty. Next season, Louisville is ticketed to the ACC (for the moment completing its raid of the old Big East...but could more still be to come?). Rutgers is taking its dysfunctional self to the Big Ten. The raid on CUSA continues in 2014 when new arrivals will include Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina. Who knows, maybe UAB , Rice, and UTEP will be next to get a call. Navy is still slated becomes an affiliate football member in ’15, too.

Better or worse? This looks like a bombed-out shell of a league to us, and the deconstruction will accelerate next year. Losing Louisville will cost the American its greatest all-around power, and Rutgers’ departure will snip the last tie to New York. A conference that sprawls from Connecticut to Florida to Texas has no identity, and not much in the way of excellence, either. Don't be surprised if UConn and/or Cincinnati depart at the first opportunity, too (ACC poaching again, perhaps?).

Winner or loser? Loser. Big loser.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's see what Chief Analyst Gary Olshan thinks about the American's debut campaign on the gridiron this fall. Teams are ranked in projected order of finish, with last year's straight-up and spread records included... Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


AMERICAN PREVIEW


by Gary Olshan, Chief Analyst


LOUISVILLE (11-2; 6-7)...After sharing the Big East title in the past two campaigns, the loaded and experienced Cards, who finished 11-2 and ranked 13th in the AP poll in 2012, are the clear-cut choice in the newly-branded AAC. Louisville, which has returned to national prominence under fourth-year mentor Charlie Strong, figures to be favored in every game this campaign, with probably no top-25 teams on the schedule. And the Cards, who join the ACC next term, commence 2014 with supreme confidence buoyed by their stunning 33-23 upset win over SEC power Florida in LY’s Sugar Bowl.

With more weapons added to the arsenal, the explosive offense (31. 2 ppg; 6 starters back) has a good chance to even more potent this year behind dynamic jr. QB Teddy Bridgewater (3,718 YP, 68.5%, 27 TDP), who is a prime candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The 6-3 Miami native Bridgewater—who needs to stay healthy since the backups lack zero game experience—welcomes back his top three receivers, including speedy jr. DeVante Parker (40 catches,10 TDs; 18.6 yds. per catch), Damian Copeland (50) & Eli Rogers (46). And quality depth abounds with a couple of key transfers, 6-5 jr. Matt Milton (Tennessee), Robert Clark (Florida) and gifted 6-2 frosh James Quick, who was one of the most heavily recruited receivers in the nation. Top RB Jeremy Wright is gone, but the ground attack should continue be a force. Productive RB Senorise Perry (705 YR, 10 TDs; tore ACL vs. Syracuse LY) & Dominique Brown (533 YR in 2011), who is back after missing LY with a knee injury, are both ready to show their stuff.

The highly-seasoned 4-3 defense (9 starters back; 23.8 ppg) should be a stouter, more consistent unit this season after yielding 31 pts.-or-more in four games last year. The DL is a rock-ribbed front, with returning DTs Brandon Dunn & Jamaine Brooks, who’re proven run stuffers, along with aggressive DEs Lorenzo Mauldin & Marcus Smith (combined 8 sacks). Second-team All-Big East sr. MLB Preston Brown (109 tackles) and safeties Hakeem Smith & Calvin Pryor (combined 173 tackles) are a trio of ferocious hitters. The Cards need to improve their return game, but the kicking game is solid, with PK John Wallace (nailed 16 of 21 FGs; 14 of 14 inside the 40) & punter Ryan Johnson (39.5 yd. avg). With a roster of filled with Florida-born talent under outstanding fourth-year mentor, defensive mastermind Charlie Strong (former Gator d.c.), believes Louisville will capture its third straight title in the AAC before leaving for the ACC in 2014. Strong says, “If we stay humble and hungry, then there’s no telling what this team can do.” We concur.


RUTGERS (9-4; 7-6)...Though only 10 starters return, expectations remain high for a Rutgers contingent, which began 9-1 last season before dropping its last three games, including a hard-fought 13-10 OT loss to Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Second-year mentor Kyle Flood has brought in first-year o.c. Ron Prince (former Kansas State mentor spend last four years as an NFL assistant) in an attempt to bolster a rather containable offense (21.5 ppg; 329.9 ypg), which surpassed 28 points only twice year ago. Knights, who’ve posted a winning season in 8 of the last 9 years, is moving to the Big Ten in 2014.

We believe jr. QB Gary Nova (2,695 YP, 22 TDs; 16 ints.) can become more consistent than last season, when he threw just three interceptions in the first seven games, and 13 in the final six. RB Jawan Jamison, a 1,000 yard rusher, declared for the NFL after his soph season. But coaches believe the run game can improve upon its lowly 121.4 yd. avg. (103rd) behind former top recruit Savon Huggins (431 YR), who has a chance to reach his unfulfilled potential aided by a veteran OL (4 starters back), featuring first-team All-Big East LG Antwan Lowery & second-teamer LG Kaleb Johnson. Nova possesses a marvelous target in 6-6 jr. WR Brandon Coleman (43 catches, 10 TDs), who is just 5 TD catches away from setting the school’s career record with 21. Also, the return of FB Michael Burton, who suffered a season-ending injury after just four games, is a big boost for the pro-style attack.

First-year d.c. Dave Cohen, who served as the LB coach last year, has some rebuilding to do on a tenacious defense (five starters return; 14.2 ppg, 97.2 ypg rushing) that had five players drafted in the NFL, including Khaseem Greene, the two-time Big East Defensive Player of theYear, But we don’t see any meaningful drop-off, thanks to a nasty, veteran front four, spearheaded by DE Jamil Merrell & highly-touted soph DT Darius Hamilton (former prep All-American). In the retooling secondary (3 starters gone) built around reliable jr. SS Lorenzo Waters (68 tackles), coaches have moved former WR Jeremy Deering to FS, while proven Western Michigan transfer Lewis Toler, a three-year starter who enrolled as a graduate transfer, will compete for one of the vacancies at CB. With Nova expected to display more season-long consistency and cut down his interceptions, Rutgers has a legit shot at a second place finish, especially if Dave Cohen can re-organize the back seven sooner than later. Defeating revenge-minded Arkansas (Sept. 21) in back-to-back seasons would help set the tone and build momentum for league play commencing at SMU following a bye week.

UCF (10-4; 7-7)... Following their fourth East division title in eight years in C-USA and 10-win campaign that culminated in a resounding 38-17 victory over Ball State in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, no question that UCF can make some real noise in its first season in the AAC. The Knights’ highly-challenging preconference games vs. Penn State (in “Happy Valley”) & South Carolina force them to quickly cohere on a somewhat remodeled defense, while the high-flying aerial attack should pick up where it left off in 2013.

Knights’ 10th-year HC George O’Leary says he plans on airing it out even more in 2013, with strong-armed, accurate jr. QB Blake Bortles (3,059 YP, 25 TDs, only 9 ints.) back in command of a high-powered attack (six starters back; 35.4 ppg). Mistake-free Bortles (has 174 consecutive pass attempts without a pick to end LY) is blessed with a fast, deep WR corps (eight players who caught at least 10 passes return). Soph WR Breshad Perriman, son of former NFL WR Brett Perriman, is poised for a breakout season after hauling in 26 catches for 388 yards & 3 TD as a true freshman. And shifty RB Storm Johnson (507 YR), who began his career at Miami, will get the chance to be a featured back with 1,000 yard rusher Latavius Murray headed for the NFL. Three starters are back on the OL, led by mammoth LT Torrian Wilson.

Second-year d.c. Jim Fleming has no easy task plugging in a bunch of young players on a defense (5 starters back; 22.1 ppg) that was ranked first in the wide-open C-USA in scoring and pass “D” in 2012. Coaches believe the bigger and more physical DL might even be better, boosted by the addition of 6-3, 300-pound soph DT Demtris Anderson (Western Michigan transfer), who’ll team up with solid pass-rushing soph DEs Thomas Niles & Deion Green, who combined for nine sacks. Vet LB Terrance Plummer (108 tackles) anchors the middle line of the stop unit working in two new starters, while the secondary will rely on a couple of untested RS frreshmen to quickly grow up. UCF had 11 interceptions LY, but players who accounted for nine of them are gone. PK Shaw Moffitt (10 of 14 FGs LY) needs to improve on his longer boots after converting only 2 of 5 beyond 40 yards LY. Frosh Caleb Houston takes over punting duties. Knights went “over” in 10 of 13 reg.-season tilts LY.

CINCINNATI (10-3; 9-4)...Tommy Tuberville went only 20-17 in his three seasons at Texas Tech and was never truly embraced by the loyal supporters in Lubbock. But the Cincy boosters are thrilled to have the 58-year-old Tuberville, who established his reputation at his previous stop, Auburn, going 85-40 from 1999-2008. The Bearcats, who had 10-win seasons in both 2011 and 2012 under Butch Jones, have a realistic shot at double-digit victories again, with the opportunity to build plenty of early momentum prior to a difficult trio of reg.-season-ending games—November trips to Rutgers & Houston then hosting powerhouse Louisville on Dec. 5.

Seven starters are back on a offense (32.3 ppg) that is radically switching from the spread to a more pro-style attack under Tuberville, who said he has made no decision at QB between competing Brandon Kay (63%; 10 TDs, only 2 picks; 4-1 as starter), who gained a sixth year of eligibility via a medical hardship waiver, and sr. Munchie Legaux (only 52.2%), who went 6-2 as a starter, but was benched due to accuracy issues. The growing pains at RB with the graduation of star George Winn (1,334 YR & 13 TDs) could be minimized behind an intact OL (only 15 sacks allowed), led by a pair of first-team All-Big East performers, LT Eric Lefeld & LG Austen Bujnoch. Either highly-touted juco RB Rodriguez Moore (considered the nation’s premier juco all-purpose back) or diminutive but speedy Ralph David Abernathy (366 YR; 5.3 ypc) could emerge as an every-down back, while the go-to WR is sr. Anthony McClung (34 catches), who was the No. 2 guy behind departed TE Travis Kelee (45 grabs).

Six starters are back on a gang-tackling unit (18.5 ppg; 14th nationally) that will stick with the 4-3 scheme, which was base defense in 2012. Tuberville, who must replace 3 of 4 starters up front, says he’ll play a gap control defense with speed favored over size, especially on the edges. The centerpiece of the stop unit is first-team All Big East MLB Greg Blair (league-high 138 tackles), while high-motor Florida State transfer LB Jeff Luc (rated nation’s No. ILB out of high school) is ready to make an immediate impact. Sr. CB Deven Drane (son of former Buffalo Bill safety Dwight Drane) & sr. SS Arryn Chenault will anchor the secondary, which is looking to trim its lowly 252.5 ypg allowance LY. Special teams took a hit when punter Pat O’Donnell opted to transfer to Miami-Florida for his final season, but highly-reliable third-year starter Tony Milano (17 of 22 LY) is back. Following the stinging 29-23 upset loss at instate foe Toledo on Oct. 20, the bounce-back Bearcats went on a 6-1 pointspread tear to finish the season.

HOUSTON (5-7; 5-7)...Though Houston badly regressed with a disappointing 5-7 campaign year ago following a school-record 13-1 mark in 2011, there are reasons for some optimism. The school is building a 45,000-seat on-campus stadium that will open in 2014, and the last two recruiting classes have brought in an abundance of talent. Plus, UH has the opportunity to build some early momentum helped by a backloaded slate that allows for a possible 4-1 or 5-0 start before a home clash with BYU on Oct. 19. But, suddenly under-pressure, second-year HC Tony Levine (check Coaches Hot Seat. com)--who brought in a pair of new coordinators--still has a lot to prove following the departure of wunderkind Kevin Sumlin. And the undersized defensive front seven must show it can cope with more physical attacks in the AAC.

Even with eight starters returning to a high-octane attack, pass-happy (32.4 ppg, 479.6 ypg; 49.3 pass attempts pg), new o.c. Doug Meacham (spent last 8 years on Oklahoma State staff) is expected to show more “creativity” with the offense, even if the scheme doesn’t change too much. Jr. QB David Piland (2,924 YP, 16 TDs, 12 ints.) is blessed with a deep, experienced & dangerous WR corps, bolstered by the addition of juco wide-out Markeith Ambles, a former Southern Cal recruit who averaged 17.2 yds. per catch at Arizona Western College. If Piland doesn’t cut down his ill-advised throws, coaches won’t hesitate to insert either soph Bram Kohlhausen or highly-touted, 6-4 dual threat prep signee John O’Korn, who led national power St. Thomas (Fla.) Aquinas to a state title year ago. The complementary ground assault took a HUGE blow when versatile RB Charles Sims (851 YR,14 TDs & 37 catches in only 9 games LY) opted to transfer in the preseason. On the plus side, four starters return to the OL.

First-year d.c. Dave Gibbs (spent 8 of the last 9 years in the NFL) has his work cut out for him. Only four starters return to a toothless defense (36 ppg; 483 ypg) that allowed 30 pts. or more 8 times, including a 72-42 debacle at SMU LY. Gibbs has a building block in MLB Derrick Mathews (232 tackles in 26 starts), who’ll form a tough 1-2 punch with promising LSU transfer Trevon Randle slated to start at WLB position. While the secondary lost first-round NFL draftee D.J. Hayden, there is talent and experience, beginning with soph FS Trevon Stewart (126 tackles) & sr. CB Zach McMillian, who led the C-USA with five interceptions LY. The DL is a major ?, but athletic soph DE Eric Eiland (spent 4 years playing baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays) could give the redesigned front a dangerous pass rusher. Strong-legged punter Richie Leone (school-record 45.5 avg. LY) is projected to take over the placekicking job for departed Matt Hogan, who booted who 20 of 25 FGs LY.

CONNECTICUT (5-7; 6-6)... UConn has recorded consecutive 5-7 seasons. Hence, it is likely this is a must-win season for third-year mentor Paul Pasqualoni, who inherited a talented team that posted winning records in Randy Edsall’s last four campaigns, including a trip to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010. Pasqualoni brought in a new o.c. to try to reboot a pathetic offense that produced a mere 24 TDs last season (only UMass & Idaho scored fewer!). But, reversing the losing trend over the past two campaigns won’t be easy with challenging home games against Michigan, Maryland (and former UConn mentor Randy Edsall), Rutgers, South Florida and Louisville. But, there was a fine line between winning and losing LY, with the defense-minded Huskies suffering 4 of 7 setbacks by 7 pts.-or- fewer.

First-year o.c. T.J. Weist (former Cincinnati WR coach) will try to energize a revamped, faster-paced offense (7 starters back; 17.8 ppg) that had become far too predictable and conservative. Jr. QB Chandler Whitmer (2,664 YP, 9 TDs, 16 ints.), who did display steady progress in starting all 12 games last year, operates behind a veteran OL (4 starters back) seeking to provide stronger pass protection after yielding 33 sacks LY. Whitmer figures to be able to work play-action passes to experienced WRs Geremy Davis (44 grabs) & Shakim Phillips (32), thanks to fleet-footed RB Lyle McCombs, who is ready to rediscover his 2011 form (1,151 YR) after slipping to 860 YR (only 3.5 ypc) in an injury-plagued campaign in 2012.

The proud, hard-hitting defense (19.8 ppg; 309.9 ypg; 9th nationally) must replace six starters, including three key performers taken in the NFL draft. The DL should be a strength, with DEs Elijah Norris & Jesse Joseph back after injury-shortened seasons LY. Head-hunting MLB Yawin Smallwood (120 tackles) is a leading candidate for AAC Defensive Player of the Year, while two transfers, Ryan Donohue (Maryland) & Graham Stewart (Florida) should quickly help ease the graduation losses on the semi-depleted middle line of the defense. And despite losing a pair of all-league CBs, the still-experienced secondary (3 upperclassmen start) should suffer little drop-off, with proven jr. Byron Jones moving from safety to CB. On special teams, explosive Nick Williams must be replaced on kick returns, but Chad Christen, who nailed 14 of 21 FGs (including his last 7), is back. Keep in mind, UConn is a noteworthy 15-3 as an underdog at noisy Rentschler Field since 2005.

SMU (7-6; 8-5)...Sixth-year mentor June Jones might not be all that jazzed about leaving C-USA for the more challenging AAC this season after guiding his squad to a school-record four straight bowl games. And though SMU is the only conference team to avoid preseason favorite Louisville, reaching a fifth straight postseason game will still be a tall task, since the Mustangs face a brutal preconference slate that includes Texas Tech, Texas A&M and TCU. Jones brought in old friend Hal Mumme as the passing game coordinator to help revive his struggling Run-And-Shoot, which was ranked an uncharacteristically-low 62nd nationally in 2012. “Hal and I have been talking football for 35 years,” Jones says. “He brought some things, and we’ll use some of his ideas with our stuff.” Mumme, who brought the Air Raid attack to Kentucky from 1997-2000, has high goals when he asserts, “I think we’ll come up with a great package that may be the 21st Century Version of the Air Raid.”

Five starters return to the offense (30.5 ppg) directed by Texas transfer Garrett Gilbert (2,932 YP,15 TDs; 15 ints.), who had consistency issues early, but improved later in the season. Gilbert, who showed a tendency to force throws against heavy blitzes, made better decisions down the stretch, failing to throw a pick over the final 5 reg.-season games. Look for Jeremy Jones (67 receptions) to be the go-to WR, with blazing Der’rirk Thompson (41 catches, 4 TDs) equipped to stretch defenses as a deep threat. And converted CB Kenneth Acker—the best Mustang DB last season—could quickly become a surprise element as a two-way player at WR. Big cleats to fill with the graduation of RB Zach Line (4,185 career yds.), but coaches are excited about Texas transfer Traylon Taylor, who signed with the Longhorns after amassing an eye-popping 10,291 yds. as a prepster. But for the pass-happy attack to thrive (Jones says he’ll pass 75% of the time!), tighter protection is required from an OL, which permitted 34 sacks year ago.

Five starters are back on LY’s up-and-down defense (25.7 ppg). The “D” surrendered 13 pts.-or fewer five times, while yielding 42 pts.+ on four other occasions. That unit did have a penchant for coming up with momentum-shifting plays, returning a jaw-dropping 8 interceptions for TDs (tying an FBS record) and picking off 21 passes overall. The injury-riddled secondary (278.2 ypg; 109th) had trouble defending long passes, but CB J.R. Richardson, who was sidelined by a torn ACL last year, could make an immediate impact with his physicality. Defensive coordinator Tom Mason must replace a defensive front that finished 15th in the nation vs. the run LY, but we don’t see a steep decline with the return of sturdy LBs Stephon Sanders & Randall Joyner, both of whom are potential all-leaguers.

SOUTH FLORIDA (3-9; 3-9)...After a miserable 3-9 campaign--which was the worst season in USF’s 16-year history--Skip Holtz, who dropped 14 of his last 16 conference games, was fired. Enter former Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggert, who grew up in nearby Palmetto. Taggert, who did a marvelous job in leading the Toppers to their first bowl game in 2012, has already made an impact by raising the recruiting and energy level in Tampa. Don’t underestimate the up-and-coming, laser-focused Taggert, whose mantra is “do something.” That’s appropriate for a South Florida program that hasn’t done nearly enough in recent seasons.

There will be a MAJOR overhaul on an offense (20.6 ppg) replacing its QB and top RB, while returning only four starters. The void left behind by four-year starter B.J. Daniels (10, 501 career yds.) will be filled by either sr. Bobby Eveld (healthy after a non-throwing shoulder injury ended his 2012 season) or soph Matt Floyd, who floundered in three games at the end of the LY after Daniels went out with a injury. The infantry is a work-in-progress, with only injury-plagued sr. RB Marcus Shaw (391 career yds.) benefiting from any appreciable playing time. Jr. juco Mike Pierre, who redshirted in 2012, is also in the picture after a solid spring. There is far more depth at WR, featuring jr. Andre Davis (46 catches) & 6-5 soph D’Vario Montgomery, who has a tremendous upside. And there is solid foundation up front, with five OL having started at least one game last season.

New d.c. Chuck Bresnahan (long-time NFL defensive assistant) says he is encouraged by his inherited talent on a defense (27.4 ppg; 7 starters back) that failed to protect a late lead in three defeats and had a major lack of takeaways (Bulls were a ghastly -19 TO margin; 118th). The pass rush could be a real force. Soph DE Aaron Lynch, a Notre Dame transfer and Frosh A-A in 2011, was virtually unblockable in the spring. On the other side, sr. DE Ryne Giddins (11 TFL; 5.5 sacks in 2011) is primed for a return to form after being limited by a shoulder injury last year. And while both CBs must be replaced, the secondary can’t be much more passive after only two interceptions LY, both coming in the final period of the 13-6 win vs. UConn. The Bulls are looking for two new kickers after losing Maikon Bonani, the program’s all-time leading scorer. USF does play 4 of its first 5 games in Raymond James Stadium, including the big revenge game vs. instate foe Miami-Florida (Sept. 28), which handed the Bulls a season-worst 40-9 blasting in Coral Gables LY.

MEMPHIS (4-8; 7-5)...For the first time in several years, the program appears to be on solid foundation as it enters the AAC. After compiling a sickly 5-21 mark the previous three terms, the Tigers finished 4-8 in the debut season of HC Justin Fuente, who was able to retain each member of his coaching staff even though several received job offers from more prestigious programs. Yes, after compiling a 2-22 mark in the C-USA from 2009-11, finishing 4-4 in league play represented notable progress. And with revived Memphis entering the 2013 campaign with some positive momentum by capturing the final three reg.-season tilts, Tigers could be flirting with a winning season for the first time since 2007. And Memphis can’t complain much about the schedule, with 6 of the first 8 games at the ancient Liberty Bowl (bye week prior to UCF home clash), including only one trip outside its home state until Nov. 16.

Seven starters return to a pro-stye offense (24.7) that picked up steam down the stretch, thanks to the maturation and improved decision-making of sr. Jacob Karam (1,895 YP, 14 TDs, 3 ints; 64.2%), who completed an eye-popping 40 of 52 for 597 yds. & 7 TDs during the aforementioned three-game win skein. Karam’s job, however isn’t a lock, as he was seriously pushed by rifle-armed, 6-6 RS frosh Paxton Lynch (Florida native) & backup Eric Mathews, a dual-threat QB who showed noticeable improvement as a passer in the spring. Decent ground support will be provided by LY’s top two RBs Brandon Hayes (576 YR, 4.9 ypc) & Jai Steib (427 YR), who’ll have to stave off challenges f rom four quality freshmen, including highly-touted Marquis Warford (2,322 YR, 11.9 ypc as a prep senior). The experienced WR corps (6 of 7 return) added much needed speed with the addition of Clemson transfer wide-out Joe Craig (track star), who joins a group which includes returning leader Keiwone Malone (44 catches). a former Alabama player. Three starters back on the OL, with 6-6,330-pound soph filling the shoes of departed all-conference LT Jordan Dewey.

Eight starters are back on a defense (30.3 ppg, 331.6 ypg) that made remarkable improvement in 2012, finishing 48th in total defense, up from 117th the previous season. Astute second-year d.c. Barry Odom (former Missouri assistant) likes his talent level/depth on the veteran DL, featuring the strong NT tandem of 6-2,285-pound Terry Redden & protoypical run-stopper 6-2, 300-pound NT Johnnie Farms & jr. DE Martinifedi (7.5 sacks). Coaches believe there is more athleticism in the secondary, led by jr. CB Bobby McCain, who is the vocal leader of the group & rangy 6-3 FS Lonnie Ballentine (66 tackles, 3 ints.), who is a legit NFL prospect. And that unit got a boost with the addition of punishing Reggie Ball, who moved from OLB to SS. The Tigers must find a placekicker, but strong-legged sr. punter Tom Hornsey (43.4 avg.), a leading candidate for the Ray Guy Award, is back.

TEMPLE (4-7; 4-7)...After recording a noteworthy 26-12 SU mark from 2009-2011, the Owls slipped to 4-7 last season under 2nd-year HC Steve Addazio, who left Philadelphia to take over at Boston College. Temple is now adjusting to its third HC in the past four seasons, but 38-year-old Matt Rhule played a vital role in the team’s renaissance, having been a member of the Owl staff from 2006-11. And though rebuilding Temple is transitioning to the AAC, Rhule has some lofty goals. “We’re here to win championships," Rhule says. “We’ve been to bowl games and won bowl games, but that’s one thing that’s missing from the trophy case.” Certainly, a conference title is not a realistic goal in the immediate future. Actually, avoiding the cellar in the 10-team AAC would be small first step for an Owl squad that was smashed in its 5 Big East losses by an avg. of 25 points, with the “closest” setback coming by 18 points to Syracuse. And the road schedule is a tough one, with away games at Notre Dame, Cincinnati, SMU and Rutgers.

Only three starters return to a totally redesigned offense (24.7 ppg) under the tutelage of new o.c. Marcus Satterfield, who is switching to a pro-spread attack from the ground-and-pound Owls of 2012. The QB job has gone to untested jr. Conner Reilly (plays outfield on the Temple baseball team), who is the type of drop-back throwing threat to rapidly bring some life to a moribund passing game that finished 116th nationally LY. But Reilly must rely on unproven RBs Kenny Harper & Jamie Gilmore (combined for 159 YR), with the graduation of highly-productive Montel Harris & Matt Brown, who supplied strong infantry support LY. Look for hotshot frosh RB Zaire Williams (received offers from Iowa, Pitt & Wisconsin) to get a good look in fall camp. There’s more experience at WR, with sr. Jalen Fitzpatrick (30 grabs) leading the group. And the shift in the offensive philosophy has resulted in a change for LY’s starting QB Chris Coyer (444 YR), who’s now a hybrid fullback/TE.

Six starters are back on a stop unit (31.2 ppg LY; 13.9 ppg in 2011) that struggled mightily in its first season in the Big East, ranking last in the league in rushing, total and scoring defense. There are some key building blocks. with the return of the LB corps, featuring sophs Tyler Matakevich (2012 Big East Rookie of the Year) & Nate D. Smith (75 tackles). LY’s secondary, which had only 4 picks in 2012, returns both CBs, but must replace both safeties. The Owls will basically start over on special teams after losing standout punter/plackicker Brandon McManus (school’s career scoring leader) & dynamic punt/kick returner Matt Brown.


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