NEWPORT, R.I. — Temple coach Geoff Collins and his players seemed so much more relaxed at American Athletic Conference football media day than a year ago, and for good reason.

Last season, Collins was debuting as a college head coach. From the time he was hired — Dec. 14, 2016 — until the opener on Sept. 2 at Notre Dame, it was a full sprint.

The coaches had to get used to the players and vice versa. The adjustment took time, but after a 3-5 start, Temple finished 4-1, ending the season with a 28-3 win over Florida International in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.

It was a much more confident Collins who arrived during this year's media day, which took place Tuesday. "One of things is that 18 months together brought us closer together," he said.

Winning at the end of the season accelerated the relationship, but the familiarity with one another has been a major reason for the improved comfort level of  Collins, his staff and the players.

"We are so much more comfortable, just understanding what the coaches expect from us," said defensive tackle Michael Dogbe, who attended media day along with quarterback Frank Nutile, running back Ryquell Armstead and all-conference safety Delvon Randall. "And we have established team goals and everyone can work more efficiently and understand the standard."

What also helps is, unlike last year's unsettled quarterback situation when a starter wasn't decided until days before the 49-16 opening loss at Notre Dame, Temple has its leader under center.

An injury to starter Logan Marchi enabled Nutile to assume the job in the eighth week of the season and he never lost control, going 4-2 in the final six games.

Marchi has since transferred to East Tennessee State and there will be no looking over Nutile's shoulder. Nutile is the established veteran.

"We are so excited going into camp," Nutile said. "I think being comfortable with everything about the program has done wonders for us as a team."

Temple should be improved, and it will be a disappointment if the Owls don't increase their win total.

The Temple players are looking for more.

"This team is loaded and we have a bunch of competitive guys, a ton of leaders and I think we are just as good as anybody in the conference," Nutile said.

But not all agree. In the AAC preseason media poll, Temple was picked to finish third in the East Division. Defending conference champion Central Florida, coming off a 13-0 season, was picked to win not only the division but the league title. South Florida was picked second in the division.

Temple contingent at AAC football media day in Newport, R.I. (L to R: DL Michael Dogbe, S Delvon Randall, coach Geoff Collins, RB Ryquell Armstead, QB Frank Nutile).
Marc Narducci
Temple contingent at AAC football media day in Newport, R.I. (L to R: DL Michael Dogbe, S Delvon Randall, coach Geoff Collins, RB Ryquell Armstead, QB Frank Nutile).

So Temple will have the proverbial chip on its shoulder for being picked third. Last year, the Owls were also picked third and that is where they finished.

"We have a great bond and connections and that will help us have a great team," Armstead said.

It would help to stay healthy. Armstead didn't miss a game last season,  but he was rarely 100 percent.

Any team must remain relatively healthy to be competitive, but as training camp opens Aug. 3, there is no doubt the Owls enter this year with justifiably higher expectations.