UCLA’s bowl future is now in the hands of Navy.
The Bruins will get to play Temple in the EagleBank Bowl in Washington’s RFK Stadium on Dec. 29, but only if Army (5-6) loses to Navy (8-4) on Saturday. Army automatically fills the EagleBank Bowl slot with a victory.
“We’re for all the men and women in the armed forces, but for three hours Saturday it’s going to be ‘Anchors Aweigh,’ ” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said.
UCLA officials received interest from other bowls, as Neuheisel said, “I know there were lots of conversations and I was also told that UCLA was a desired team.”
Humanitarian Bowl officials showed particular interest, and the Bruins might have gone there if Army lost, but the bowl payoff “wasn’t right,” said a UCLA official not authorized to speak about the situation.
UCLA officials turned down a Humanitarian Bowl invitation in 2001 after bowl officials asked for a $300,000 sponsorship from the university, a former UCLA administrator said.
The Bruins (6-6) could not even be considered for an at-large bowl invitation until teams with winning records received bowl invitations. When Hawaii lost to Wisconsin on Saturday, it opened the door for UCLA to take Army’s spot, if the Black Knights lose Saturday.
UCLA is the only 6-6 team to get an at-large spot. The Bruins probably would have stayed home if Notre Dame’s players hadn’t voted to decline a bowl invitation.
Getting the Bruins lined up for a chance at the EagleBank Bowl “took a lot of horse trading to create different scenarios with many bowls,” Neuheisel said.
The Sun Belt Conference and Mid-American Conference swapped bowl games to keep two MAC teams from facing each other in a game. The shuffling left the Bruins as an attractive possibility to ESPN, which will televise the game.
A bowl game would allow Neuheisel to rightfully claim that the Bruins fulfilled his bottom-line requirement for a successful season, a bowl game. Being bowl-eligible was enough, he has said in recent weeks, but actually getting to a postseason game is “an easier thing to sell,” Neuheisel said. “You don’t have to go into the next few sentences,” to explain.
The Bruins probably will get another 14 days of practice. Neuheisel said the Bruins will resume practice Friday, as “rules allow you to practice while you’re under consideration,” he said.
A matchup with Temple would have the Bruins facing one of the finalists for the UCLA job. Al Golden was among the five candidates interviewed before Neuheisel was hired. Golden has taken Temple to respectability, as the Owls are 9-3 this season and finished second to Ohio in the MAC’s East Division.
Whether quarterback Kevin Prince will be healthy enough to play in the bowl game remains to be seen. Prince suffered a minor shoulder separation against USC and has not been able to throw since. The injury was expected to take three weeks to heal.