WASHINGTON - If a comparison of the Temple and UCLA football programs were based on the number of players on each roster who were considered top-level high school recruits, the Owls of the Mid-American Conference would finish a distant second to the tradition-rich Bruins of the Pacific Ten.
No matter, the Owls and Bruins will meet on the field today in the EagleBank Bowl at RFK Stadium.
"Obviously, they recruit at a different level than we do, and that's the challenge here in this game," said Temple coach Al Golden, who is the 2009 MAC coach of the year. "Can we play well enough against this outfit to win? If we don't have our focus . . . if we think this is just a vacation . . . this team is good enough to really put it to us."
In its fourth season under Golden, Temple is 9-3 after going 10-26 the previous three years. This past fall, the Owls registered the program's first winning season since 1990 and achieved a win total surpassed in school history only by the 10-2 record the 1979 squad turned in after winning the Garden State Bowl.
That was also the last time Temple appeared in the postseason.
UCLA, in its second season under coach Rick Neuheisel, is 6-6 and is in a bowl game for the 11th time in 13 years. A year ago, the Bruins were 4-8.
"These are two teams that were very anxious to get into a bowl like this," said Neuheisel, who was the offensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens before returning to the school he quarterbacked to a Rose Bowl victory in 1984. "It's key to moving toward where we want to go."
For Temple, which features freshman all-American running back Bernard Pierce, the question is whether the Owls will be able to mount a viable ground game against a UCLA defense led by all-American defensive tackle Brian Price. Golden has likened the Bruins' 6-foot-2, 300-pound junior to Penn State's Jared Odrick, who was both defensive player of the year and lineman of the year in the Big Ten this season.
Price is part of a unit that also includes defensive ends Datone Jones (6-4, 267) and Korey Bosworth (6-1, 242) and defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski (6-2, 296).
"He does some amazing things on film," said Temple center John Palumbo, who is 6-5 and 305 pounds, regarding Price.
"He's probably the best in the nation, and we have to come with our A game," said 6-4, 318-pound Colin Madison, an all-MAC performer at guard.
Palumbo, Madison, and their linemates, guard Steve Caputo (6-5, 315) and tackles Darius Morris (6-4, 321) and Devin Tyler (6-7, 308), received the team's most valuable player award at the Temple football banquet at the end of the regular season.
Morris was also a first-team all-conference selection. Tyler was second team, and Palumbo was picked for the third team.
Their value was never more evident than when Pierce missed the Owls' last two games of the regular season due to a shoulder injury. Matt Brown, a 5-5, 167-pound speedster, stepped into Pierce's spot and rushed for a combined 328 yards on 43 carries with three touchdowns in the two outings.
Pierce, the MAC freshman of the year, still led the league in rushing while setting Temple freshman records with 1,308 yards and 15 touchdowns.
UCLA is giving up 144 yards a game on the ground, and Temple is allowing 108.
"They run the ball, and they do everything they can to stop the run," said Neuheisel, whose team lost to six bowl teams this fall. "They've been efficient in both departments. Usually, that is indicative of victory."
Notes. UCLA starts redshirt freshman Kevin Prince at quarterback. In 10 games, he is 157 for 277 passing for 1,829 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions. . . . UCLA redshirt freshman running back Johnathan Franklin leads the squad with 560 yards on the ground. . . . The Bruins have a notable weapon in kicker Kai Forbath, who is 26 for 29 on field goals this season.