Temple Owls

Despite change and new look, Temple now built for Notre Dame-type challenge in opener

Geoff Collins stood behind the podium Tuesday, cloaked in Temple University getup with a white ballcap on, knowing what everyone wants to know four days out of the season opener. He sees the headlines. He’s aware of the tweets. He’s appreciative of it all.

He didn’t budge. He didn’t say a word. But reading his body language, the smile on his face, that of an affirming smirk, he knows who his starting quarterback will be Saturday in South Bend, Indiana, when the Owls kick off their 2017 campaign against Notre Dame.

When pressed about the topic again later in his first weekly press conference as a head coach, this time whether the quarterback knows, Collins went silent, smiled and paused.

Then, as he moved on to the next question, he leaned back and …

“Yes,” he said abruptly.

Temple released Monday its first “above the line” depth chart, and it featured all four quarterbacks — Todd Centeio, Logan Marchi, Frank Nutile and Anthony Russo — “ATL.” It’s believed the four-horse QB competition is down to Nutile, a redshirt junior, and Marchi, a redshirt sophomore, though it’s possible three could see action against ND.

Collins told The Temple News last week three quarterbacks could play against the Fighting Irish, and on Tuesday, he reiterated the rotation will be situational. Having four capable quarterbacks, Collins said, is a “very big challenge” for defensive coordinators.

Neither Marchi nor Nutile said they’re discouraged or surprised by the situation, and all four have pushed each other throughout the summer and camp. While Collins tipped his hand that the quarterbacks know who will start Saturday, Marchi said they haven’t been told.

"We got a good group of guys around us," Marchi said. "The decision was on the coaches and we just go out and do what we do as players. We got a good group of guys around us. No matter what quarterback goes in, there's going to be a good group."

There is more to Saturday’s season opener at Notre Dame than who will be the starting quarterback, or how many quarterbacks will be deployed against the Fighting Irish.

It will be the first game since 2012 that doesn’t feature Matt Rhule walking the Temple sidelines, and, ironically, Collins’ debut comes in the same stadium Rhule made his.

The first-year head coach’s résumé consists of defensive coaching positions. He comes from the University of Florida, where he served as the Gators’ defensive coordinator.

As a defensive coach in the past, Collins didn’t get a chance to build relationships with offensive players, which was something he said Tuesday was one of his favorite parts of his current post. He’s spread out more, forming connections with all of his players.

“I’ve had surface relationships that were really good at other places with offensive players,” he said, “but now, having meaningful relationships with those guys has been a really cool experience. Just being able to interact with them a bit has been a blast.”

There was once a time in Temple football, not too long ago, when a season opener against Notre Dame in South Bend would be an intimidating task. Too big for the program, too daunting to even consider the Owls having a fighting chance to win.

Al Golden began the culture change, and Rhule put Temple on the map. Notre Dame is coming off an eight-loss season, and its head coach, Brian Kelly, enters 2017 on the hot seat. The Irish, too, have a new starting quarterback after DeShone Kizer left for the NFL.

Brandon Wimbush will be under center for Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon, while the Irish have a new offensive coordinator (Chip Long), defensive coordinator (Mike Elko) and specials teams coordinator (Brian Polian). There are a lot of unknowns with ND.

Yet, Notre Dame enters as a 17.5-point favorite over TU. A lot of that has to do with the Irish being a power program with premium talent and the Owls having many questions themselves with a new coach, quarterback and having to replace stars on both sides.

“We know we have nothing to lose,” cornerback Kareem Ali said of Temple’s mentality. “We’re going to go hard, we’re going to kick their ass. We’re ready for it. There’s no pressure. We’ve been in this situation before. We’re going to do what we do.”

This will be the third-ever meeting between the two programs. Notre Dame has won the previous two matchups, but the last time these two schools met, it was on national TV.

The then-No. 9 Irish squeaked out a 24-20 win over the No. 21 Owls on Oct. 31, 2015, in perhaps the biggest game in Temple football history — at least of the last three decades.

“I still distinctly remember watching,” Collins said. “But the team’s different. A lot of the guys who played in that game aren’t here. Probably very few who played are here. It’s a new group, but I’m excited about the guys we have. It’s going to be a new challenge.”

Temple has an infusion of young talent jumping into bigger roles on defense. It has a new linebacking group, a couple new starters in the secondary. Offensively, the QB situation is still fluid. Ryquell Armstead takes over as the lead back after Jahad Thomas graduated. The wide receiver corps is a strength led by upperclassmen.

Still, the Owls are a confident bunch. Sophomore linebacker Shaun Bradley said the players treat “every opponent the same.” Senior D-lineman Jacob Martin said Saturday is “nothing that we can’t handle, nothing that we haven’t seen at Temple University.”

“We don't back down from anybody or any situation or any challenge,” Collins said. “That’s a testament to what the players have done here for the last 10 years.

“Establishing that culture of physicality and toughness. Anybody, anywhere, anytime.”