Unsettled QB picture can’t ruffle UCLA or Temple

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Temple and UCLA arrived in the District with dueling storylines of fast-improving programs eager to play in Tuesday’s EagleBank Bowl at RFK Stadium.

Both also have curious - if not necessarily uncertain - quarterback situations heading into their postseason game.

UCLA has an entrenched starter in Kevin Prince, but a right shoulder injury knocked him from a regular season-ending loss to Southern California. Temple used two starting quarterbacks during the season, with sophomore Chester Stewart starting the past four games.

The Bruins (6-6) seem to have the most obvious answer, considering the influence Prince had on the program’s improvement this season. Coach Rick Neuheisel said the redshirt freshman was doing fine, and Saturday’s practice was Prince’s first test since UCLA arrived in town.

Prince threw for 1,829 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions this season - not heady numbers, but a significant improvement over the foibles the Bruins endured a season ago. Senior Kevin Craft, who started last season for the Bruins and earned the nod in two games Prince missed because of injury this season, would likely play if Prince is unable to go.

“You can’t be a good football team without a good quarterback,” Neuheisel said. “I don’t care what you do. You have to have that. Mainly you have to have consistent play. We’re getting there. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. I think that’s understandable when you’re playing with freshmen.”

The full responsibility of UCLA’s turnaround doesn’t rest solely on Prince. The Bruins rank 39th nationally in total defense and feature kicker Kai Forbath, who won the Lou Groza Award.

Prince, though, was efficient during a three-game November winning streak that ensured bowl eligibility. Meanwhile, the rest of the Bruins’ offense continued to improve as well.

“Everyone kind of points to the quarterback and says that was a big problem last year,” tight end Logan Paulsen said. “I think last year it was more of a team problem. The quarterback play was a microcosm of everything that was going on with the team. This year we have a better team - better offensive line, better receivers, just better skill players all around. All those guys are the same players, but they’re more experienced in the system.”

The situation isn’t entirely lucid for the Owls (9-3), either. Junior Vaughn Charlton (1,231 yards, nine touchdowns, nine interceptions) started the first eight games, including the first six victories in a nine-game winning streak. When November started, coach Al Golden opted to go with Stewart (514 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions).

Golden said Saturday he was unsure which of the two would start, calling it “neck-and-neck” just three days before Temple’s first bowl game in 30 years.

That doesn’t mean it’s a problem for the Owls, whose offensive strength will likely be tailback Bernard Pierce and an imposing line regardless of who starts at quarterback.

“We don’t view it as a quarterback controversy, as the media would like to portray it,” Golden said. “We view it like any other position, and that’s competition. If it’s not going the way we need it to go, we feel like we need to make changes.”

Clearly, that happened in the middle of the season, and the Owls rattled off three more victories before stumbling at Ohio in their regular-season finale.

And even if Temple doesn’t know who will start as it tries to secure just the second 10-win season in school history, it knows precisely what it needs.

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