Breaking down the EagleBank Bowl between UCLA (6-6) and Temple (9-3).
WHO TO WATCH: UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince has been inconsistent this year and is coming back from a shoulder injury that he suffered against USC. If he is healthy and on-target, the Bruins should be able to attack an Owls secondary that isn't terribly skilled. And the passing threat should open up the Bruins' typically anemic running game a bit against a tough Owls run defense. In other words, Prince is the linchpin here. If he play well, UCLA should be able to score. But the Bruins won't be able to just line up and run right at Temple, which boasts a solid front-seven, particularly with a banged up offensive line.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Bruins' run defense has been hot and cold this year, ranking seventh in the Pac-10 while giving up 144 yards on the ground per game. Temple is a run-first team with a good pair of true freshmen running backs in Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown. The good news for UCLA is middle linebacker Reggie Carter, who has been slowed by a sprained knee much of the year, is healthy again. And it's unlikely that the Owls have faced many front-sevens with as much power and athleticism as UCLA, particularly junior tackle Brian Price, a potential first-round NFL draft choice if he opts (as expected) to enter the NFL draft. If Temple struggles to run, it could be in trouble because it ranks 112th in the nation in passing and the Bruins' ball-hawking secondary is among the best in the country.
WHY WATCH: It's a last chance to see -- probably -- three of the Pac-10's best defensive players in Price, Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner. Also, the Pac-10 is looking to even its bowl record after an 0-2 start to the postseason. Further, if Price and the offense show some sparks, it bodes well for the Bruins continuing their deliberate climb in the conference pecking order in 2010, Season 3 under Rick Neuheisel.
PREDICTION: UCLA has better players, but Temple, playing in its first bowl game in 30 years, will compete as though its collective hair is on fire. So the big issue is will the Bruins match the Owls' passion? Or at least approach it? And might chilly temperatures in Washington, D.C., get the best of the Bruins, who are accustomed to the warmth of Southern California? If UCLA is focused, it should win. The guess here is that the Owls will scrap and claw into the third quarter, but the Bruins will gradually take control and win 24-17.