Thursday, Dec. 23, 2004 | 9:27 a.m.
At first glance, the football programs at UCLA and Wyoming wouldn't seem to have very much in common.
UCLA, from the prestigious Pacific-10 Conference, plays its home games at the Rose Bowl. Wyoming, from the young Mountain West, hasn't even played in a bowl game since 1993.
Westwood, just a short drive from Beverly Hills and the Pacific Ocean, vs. Laramie, just a short drive from, uh ... Cheyenne?
Rodeo Drive clientele vs. National Finals Rodeo clientele.
But to hear Bruins head coach Karl Dorrell tell it, the two schools which meet in tonight's 13th annual Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium really are very similiar in many ways.
"This game ... is (between) two programs that are hungry to prove themselves, to get themselves in position to have some national recognition," Dorrell said at Wednesday's Las Vegas Bowl news conference.
Both teams were picked to finish eighth in their respective conferences in preseason polls. Both teams are guided by second-year head coaches. And both finished 6-5 overall with young squads that on paper should be even better next year.
UCLA, however, is a hefty 12 1/2-point favorite to continue the Pac-10's recent domination of the bowl that began with the Bruins' 27-13 win against New Mexico in 2002. Oregon State embarrassed the Lobos, 55-14, last year.
Wyoming coach Joe Glenn, whose team upset defending Cotton Bowl champion Ole Miss, 37-32, earlier this year, says his squad relishes the underdog role.
"Goliath was a heavy favorite and he got beat," Glenn said with a smile.
Dorrell just shrugged off all the David vs. Goliath talk.
"This is going to be a tremendous test for UCLA," he said. "We have to use this game as something that is going to jumpstart something special for us just like it would for them. That's why it's such a great matchup."
UCLA seems to hold one glaring advantage between the two teams.
The Bruins, led by the one-two punch of sophomore speedster Maurice Drew and powerful senior Manuel White (6-2, 239), ranked second in the Pac-10 in rushing with an average of 190.3 yards per game. Meanwhile, Wyoming ranks just 84th in the nation in run defense, allowing 184 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry.
"That would be one of the big keys to the game," Glenn said. "Their line is huge. ... We've got to make them throw the ball some. They can't just line up and tee off and truck us."
Wyoming's job won't be made any easier by the fact that Drew, who rushed for 322 yards and five touchdowns in a 37-31 victory at Washington this season, is finally healthy again after being hampered the last three games of the season with a sprained right ankle.
"He's 100 percent and ready to go," Dorrell said. "He's practiced all week and is looking like the Maurice of old. So that's a great sign for us."
But UCLA also has a potent passing game, led by 6-foot-7 junior tight end Marcedes Lewis (7 TDs) and 2002 Las Vegas Bowl MVP Craig Bragg, who has caught 186 passes and 17 touchdowns in his career.
"We'll have our fingers in a lot of holes in the dam," Glenn said. "They're a good football team."
In fact, Glenn has made no secret of the fact he believes his offense and special teams will both have to have big nights for the Cowboys to pull off the upset.
"If we're going to win, we're going to have to be special on special teams," Glenn said. "And we're going to have to score ourselves. We're going to have to get in the 30's to win and hang in there on defense."