NEWPORT, R.I. — New Temple football coach Geoff Collins couldn't have been happier when the American Athletic Conference preseason media poll was released.
Temple has won consecutive East Division titles and was the overall champion last season, but the Owls were picked to finish third in the East.
South Florida was the unanimous choice to win the East, earning all 30 first-place votes. The Bulls were also the choice to win the overall AAC title. Central Florida was picked second in the East.
"I loved it," Collins said about his team's projection during AAC media day Tuesday. "The thing with our kids, the last few years they have had a chip on their shoulders naturally."
The preseason predictions have provided plenty of chips.
In 2015 Temple was picked to finish third in the East before winning the division. Last season the Owls were picked to finish second behind South Florida and ended up capturing the overall league title.
While Collins appreciates the extra motivation, the players didn't seem bothered by the poll.
"We are the defending champs, but last year doesn't matter," said offensive tackle Leon Johnson, a redshirt senior who missed the spring because of injury but said he was just about at 100 percent. "I really don't put much in the rankings."
Defensive lineman Sharif Finch agreed.
"This is a new season," said the redshirt senior, who also declared himself ready to go after missing the final 10 games of 2016 because of injury. "I feel we have a championship program, but with that being said, hopefully we will see how it goes."
Temple won't be the only team with motivation. South Florida is looking for another shot at the Owls after Temple upset the Bulls, 46-30, last year.
"Temple has a good team," said USF quarterback Quinton Flowers, last season's AAC offensive player of the year. "We had a lot of mistakes in that game, but at the end of the day, Temple got us."
Memphis, the only AAC team to defeat Temple last season, is the preseason choice in the West Division.
Temple is coming off a second straight 10-4 season, which tied the single-season school record for wins. Collins will make his Temple coaching debut when the Owls open Sept. 2 at Notre Dame.
Here are the preseason selections.
1. South Florida
2. Central Florida
5. East Carolina
Owls nearing series with Miami
American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco mentioned during media day that Temple and Miami will play a football series.
A Temple source said that while a series is likely, nothing had been finalized. The source said the proposal has Temple playing in 2020 in Miami and the Hurricanes coming to Philadelphia in 2023.
Temple's non-league games so far for 2020 are home matchups against Idaho (Sept. 12) and Rutgers (Sept. 19).
The non-league games on the 2023 schedule are at Rutgers (Sept. 9) and home against Duke (Sept. 16).
Starzyk to be in camp
Alex Starzyk, who was Temple's starting punter the last three years and was suspended indefinitely in the spring, will be in training camp, according to Collins.