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UCLA aware of Owls' turnaround

The plan for the UCLA football team Dec. 12 had been to stay together after practice and watch the Army-Navy game on television.

The plan for the UCLA football team Dec. 12 had been to stay together after practice and watch the Army-Navy game on television.

When the session was called off, the Bruins split up but didn't miss what was a must-see event for them.

UCLA had maximum interest in the contest because it would decide whether the Bruins' season would end without a postseason berth for the second straight year.

An Army win would give the Black Knights the spot in the EagleBank Bowl opposite Temple. If Navy prevailed, UCLA would be ticketed to meet the Owls on Dec. 29 at RFK Stadium in Washington.

"A bowl game would give life to our program, and it lay in Navy's hands," said wide receiver Terrence Austin, a senior who was a second-team all-Pacific Ten performer. "It was gut-wrenching."

The Midshipmen won, 17-3, at Lincoln Financial Field, dropping the Black Knights to 5-7 and making them ineligible for a bowl game.

"Army came to play, and it was tough to watch," said defensive back Alterraun Verner, an all-league first-teamer. "After the game, the phones were ringing and the text messages were going around. It was exciting to see us get one more game."

UCLA, which fell to Brigham Young, 17-16, in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl, finished this regular season at 6-6 after going 4-8 last fall in the Bruins' first season under coach Rick Neuheisel.

"That hurt this program that's known as a successful program," Austin said. "Our seniors have been trying to bring the program together."

Temple's bowl drought was far longer than UCLA's - 30 years - but the Bruins had heard about the Owls.

Temple (9-3) has more victories than any other Owls team except the 1979 squad, which won the Garden State Bowl and wound up with a school record of 10. Not since 1990 had the Owls enjoyed a winning season.

"I know it's been a while since they were in a bowl game and they've turned it around," Austin said. "They will be trying to make a statement just like we are."

"I know they're from Philly and their mascot is an owl," Verner said. "And I definitely heard about their turnaround."

While Temple was setting a single-season school record by winning nine straight games this fall, UCLA was consistent only in that when the Bruins were winning they were winning, and when they were losing they were losing.

UCLA started out 3-0 before going down in five straight outings. The Bruins' opponents during the losing streak included four top-25 teams in Stanford, Oregon, Arizona, and Oregon State.

"We were close in a lot of those games, but it was definitely a down period," Verner said.

Notes. Temple coach Al Golden was interviewed and called back for a second session when the UCLA job was open in 2007. He subsequently withdrew from consideration.