Sunday, December 4, 2011
Gildan New Mexico Bowl
By Kevin Gemmell
Temple Owls (8-4) vs. Wyoming Cowboys (8-4)
Dec. 17, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Temple take: The Owls are back in a bowl under first-year coach Steve Addazio. They were bowl eligible last year but were not picked as an at-large selection. Running back Bernard Pierce has been incredible yet again. He earned All-MAC first-team honors, rushing for 1,381 yards and 25 touchdowns -- including a stellar 5.6 yards per carry.
They also have an outstanding backup, Matt Brown, who was a third-team conference selection for contributing 867 yards and five scores. Together they have teamed up to lead the nation's No. 7 rushing offense with 256.6 yards on the ground per game. Temple has had some quarterback issues, however, rotating through Chris Coyer, Mike Gerardi and Chester Stewart. Coyer is more of a fit for what Addazio likes to run with the spread, but he got hurt in the finale against Kent State, so Stewart and Gerardi are once again in the mix for the bowl game. Gerardi actually came into the year as the starter, but until the Kent State finale, hadn't played since Week 3.
Linebacker Stephen Johnson paces a stingy Owls' defense with 62 stops on the year. They allow just 13.8 points per game -- third nationally in scoring defense -- while allowing 122.5 rushing yards per game.
Wyoming take: Quite the surprise season from the Cowboys from Laramie. When last year's quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels -- the 2009 conference freshman of the year -- announced he was transferring, many thought Wyoming would sink. But freshman quarterback Brett Smith has been fantastic in his first season, rallying Wyoming to a eight wins -- including signature road wins at San Diego State and at Air Force. Ironically, Smith likely wins the Mountain West's freshman of the year award once held by his predecessor.
Wyoming lost top wide receiver Chris McNeill, who suffered a season-ending arm injury last month against Air Force, but Mazi Ogbonna has filled the void as best he can, catching 39 balls and three touchdowns on the year.
Despite good defensive numbers from Luke Ruff, Brian Hendricks and Gabe Knapton, the Cowboys give up a lot of yards -- 432.25 per game. They rank 115th nationally in rush defense, yielding 230.8 yards per game on the ground.
Turnovers are the name of the game for the Cowboys, who rank fourth nationally in turnover margin with 31 takeaways on the season -- recovering 18 fumbles and 13 interceptions.