By Ryan of The Sportmeisters
The NCAA post-season kicks off December 19 with 33 games being played in a three week span. Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side in the hopes of improving recruiting that follows afterwords. The Sportmeisters will preview each of the 33 games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
EagleBank Bowl: December 29, 4:30 PM, Washington, DC
Temple (9-3) vs. UCLA (6-6)
About Temple : Temple and winning have not gone hand in hand for much of the past, and this season started off as much of the same. Two straight losses had fans thinking, "When does basketball season begin?" But then something clicked, and nine straight wins gave the Owls life. Even though they lost their final game of the season, Owl fans are flying high this year as they roll into a bowl game.
They win by putting the ball on the ground and grinding out victories. Temple is 23rd in NCAA FBS with 192.33 yards a game, and that can be attributed to freshman RB Bernard Pierce. His 1308 yards and 15 touchdowns in only 11 games helped him earn MAC Freshman of the Year honors. Though he missed the final game with a shoulder injury, he is fully expected to play in the bowl game. If he’s a no go, the burden will fall on freshman RB/WR Matt Brown, who had 446 yards and four touchdowns, including 172 yards and a touchdown in the season finale that Pierce missed.
The defense gets enough practice chasing Pierce down that it led to a top twenty rushing defense (20th at 108.83 yards per game). Sophomore DL Adrian Robinson led the team with 11 of its 33 sacks and led the team with 12 tackles for loss. It’s that pressure that forces team to pass, where Temple struggles, giving up 226.83 yards a game. Temple has the tools and the players to contend in the bowl game but could use an improved secondary preventing deep passes.
About UCLA : A 3-0 record had fans and pundits thinking the Bruins were back with head coach Rick Neuheisel. Five straight losses quickly had those fans and pundits hiding. UCLA bounced back, winning three of their last four to make bowl eligible at 6-6. Due to the Army/Navy game, they would have been bounced if Army had won.
The Bruins have had some trouble finding consistency on offense. They switch between freshman QB Kevin Prince (1829 yards, six touchdowns) and senior QB Kevin Craft (722 yards, two touchdowns), with both expecting to see time in the bowl game. Their leading rusher, freshman RB Johnathan Franklin, has 560 yards with five touchdowns. To top it off, their No.1 WR, sophomore Nelson Rosario, has only one touchdown to go with his 657 receiving yards. Needless to say, UCLA has some struggles.
Defensively, there is a little more structure. Though their numbers are still middle of the pack (338.33 yards per game, 21.25 points per game), there are a couple players who stand out. Junior DL Brian Price was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year after recording 43 tackles (22.5 for loss), seven sacks, and two forced fumbles. Sophomore LB Akeem Ayers added 64 tackles (10.5 for loss), five sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble return for a touchdown, and three interceptions (one returned for touchdown). UCLA was eighth in tackles for loss per game (7.83), so expect to see a lot of powder blue in the Temple backfield.
The Matchup : Temple is 1-1 in their bowl history. This is their first bowl appearance since a win in the Garden State Bowl in 1979.
UCLA is 13-15-1 in bowl games. They have lost two in a row, most recently in 2007, their last bowl appearance. This is the first match-up between the two teams.
UCLA gives up 144.42 yards per game on the ground, a number they will have to shrink against a rushing attack such as Temple. Whether it’s Price or Brown, Temple has speed to burn. UCLA gets pressure in the backfield and makes plays, but they will need to make a number of them. This will force the Owls to turn to Junior QB Vaughn Charlton (1231 yards, nine touchdowns, nine interceptions).
UCLA needs to find some consistency in their offense. Temple isn’t the strongest against the pass, and whether it’s Craft or Prince, someone needs to throw the ball in the air, and make crisp throws. Temple recorded 15 interceptions on the season, so accuracy is a must.
The Prediction : Temple snaps a 30-year waiting streak with a victory, 30-17.