The next game bowl game involving a Pac-12 team should really be called the Underachiever Bowl, but alas, it is properly known as the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. The University of California at Berkley Golden Bears and the University of Texas Longhorns will meet in San Diego for this game, in what is sure to be entertaining for a variety of reasons.
First, we have two teams that have been all kinds of mediocre this season for no explicable reason. Maybe even more inexplicable than that is the fact that at one point in this season, Texas was ranked as high as No. 11. For what? Well, the jury is still out on that one. The Longhorns did start the season 4-0—recording wins against even lesser programs—but they got beat down by Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and dropped three of their last four games. Cal also lost five games this season, though one could argue that Cal lost to teams that it should’ve (Oregon, USC, Stanford and Washington). But, the Bears did drop a game to UCLA, and that’s just unacceptable. Where Texas almost got swept in its final four games, Cal actually won three of its four, finishing the season on a much higher note than the Longhorns.
Obviously both Cal coach Jeff Tedford and Texas coach Mack Brown are eager to record a win in this bowl game. One might even venture to say that Mack Brown REALLY needs it after the absolutely terrible season the Longhorns had last year, and the subpar one this year. If there’s one thing we having learned from pop culture about Texas, it’s that they only like their football coaches when they are winning.
Aside from both teams coming into this game with 7-5 records, we also have the fact that Cal has a pretty stable, efficient quarterback in Zach Maynard, while Texas hasn’t been as fortunate this season. The quarterback drama for the Longhorns has been well-documented this season, and that has been one of the biggest issues plaguing this team. Garrett Gilbert—who led Texas in the 2009 National Championship after Colt McCoy got injured—left the Longhorns this season after two awful performances. Since then, David Ash and Colt McCoy’s younger brother, Case McCoy have both dabbled in starting, but neither have been particularly impressive. McCoy started the last two games and passed for 356 yards, but he also threw four picks and recorded five total turnovers. Because of his less than stellar performance, Ash very well could get the start in the Holiday Bowl. Either way, these two will find themselves tasked to command the troops and stay one step ahead of Cal’s defense.
Defensively, Texas has been stronger on this front, ranking 14th in the nation and first in the Big-12, giving up 315.3 yards per game. They defend the run the best, ranking 11th in the nation in that regard and giving up less than 104 yards per game. But in typical Big-12 fashion, the Longhorns couldn’t defend the pass if their lives depended on it, and Cal will try to capitalize on that weakness. Maynard and his half-brother Keenan Allen will want to put up big numbers through the air if they plan on beating Texas.
Statistically, these teams are very similar: Cal has scored on average 29.8 points to Texas’ 28.7, and the Golden Bears has given up 24.4 points on average to the Longhorns’ 23.3. Cal is averaging a little over 418 yards of total offense, and Texas has been racking up about 404 yards itself. Based on that, this could be a well-fought, competitive game.
Texas has won seven of its last nine postseason appearances, and is 2-2 all-time in Holiday Bowl appearances. This will be the 5th time in school history that the Longhorns have played in this bowl. The Bears are 5-2 in bowl games under coach Tedford, but they have never beaten the Longhorns in four times these two schools have met in history.
Ultimately, the deciding factor will be the amount of preparation that each team gets, and how the players react to it. Texas is a very talented, very young team that we haven’t seen the best of yet. The defense is absolutely loaded with talent, and the three weeks or so that they’ve had to prepare for this Bears’ offense (one much less complicated than any they’ve faced in the Big 12 this year) is going to prove to the deciding factor. The talent gap is undeniable, and the Golden Bears should be able to keep it close, but a more mature Case McCoy or David Ash should be able to manage a game that doesn’t look to reflect a Big 12 shootout. Texas will roll this one in a game that is sure to take Mack Brown off of the proverbial hotseat, 34-20.
The Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl takes place on Dec. 28th, with kickoff scheduled for 5 p.m. Pacific Time. You don’t want to miss this one.