Bowl Breakdown: New Mexico
After getting snubbed last year, Temple is back in postseason play
Bernard Pierce spearheads Owls ground game averaging 257 yards
Freshman QB Brett Smith has excelled for Wyoming, but D has not
Temple (8-4) vs. Wyoming (8-4)
Dec. 17, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: The first bowl of the postseason features two programs with something to prove. Last season, Al Golden's Temple squad finished 8-4 but was the only bowl-eligible team with more than six wins not to receive a postseason invitation. First-year Temple coach Steve Addazio helped the Owls avoid another snub in 2011 with a stingy defense and run-based offense that scored at least 34 points in seven of eight victories behind the nation's seventh-best rushing attack (257 yards per game). Meanwhile, Wyoming aims to brand the New Mexico Bowl as its own by seeking the program's second straight victory in the Albuquerque classic. The Cowboys survived Fresno State with a 35-28 double-overtime win in the 2009 New Mexico Bowl.
Keep an eye on: Wyoming could be in for a painful Pierce-ing. Temple junior running back Bernard Pierce led the Owls with 1,381 rushing yards and a single-season record 25 rushing touchdowns -- second in the country and five more than last season's entire team produced. The All-America selection set a school record and tied a MAC single-game record with five rushing touchdowns against Maryland in September. It's no secret that Temple's recipe for success rests heavily on its star back: The Owls are 19-2 over the last three seasons when Pierce carries the ball at least 18 times.
Did you know: While this will only be Temple's fourth bowl appearance, the team's coaches have a combined 78 bowl games among them, including Addazio's two national championships as an assistant under Urban Meyer at Florida.
Final analysis: Wyoming's offense centers on quarterback Brett Smith, a Freshman All-America who racked up 28 touchdowns (18 passing, 10 rushing) and led all FBS freshmen in total offense. But Temple has allowed the fewest offensive touchdowns of any team in the country not named LSU or Alabama. Meanwhile, Wyoming's porous run defense (115th nationally) ensures a big afternoon for Pierce and the Owls' electric ground game.
The pick: Temple 31, Wyoming 13