This year's Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl features two storied programs as the California Golden Bears of the Pac 12 and the Texas Longhorns of the Big 12 will square off at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
Jeff Tedford is the winningest coach in Cal football history and led his squad to a 7-5 overall record in 2011. The Golden Bears had big wins over Utah and Arizona State and took Stanford to the wire in a 31-28 battle. California won three of its last to finish 4-5 in the new look Pac 12 Conference.
Tedford is 1-1 in Holiday Bowls with the Golden Bears, who are 10-9-1 all-time in postseason play. California's last bowl game appearance came in the 2009 Poinsetta Bowl, a 37-27 loss to Utah, snapping a four-game bowl win streak for the Golden Bears.
Texas had a good season by most standards, but it was a letdown due to the high expectations Mack Brown has established since taking over in Austin in 1998. Texas is happy to be playing a postseason game after last year snapped an 18-year streak of being invited to the bowl season. During his tenure, the Longhorns set a record with nine straight seasons of 10 wins or more, including winning the 2005 BCS National Championship.
This marks the fifth all-time meeting between these two teams on the gridiron. Texas has won all four previous matchups, with the last one coming way back in 1970.
This will not be the first Holiday Bowl appearance for Brown and Texas, as his team played in the postseason matchup in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2007. Brown is 2-2 in Holiday Bowls. Texas is 25-22-2 in bowl games overall, with its last one being a 37-21 loss to Alabama for the 2010 BCS Championship.
California's late season burst can be attributed to the development of its offensive stars Zach Maynard and Isi Sofele. Tedford commented on Maynard's progression
"He is a first-year player in our program. I really felt like if you look at the last half of the season and took the UCLA game out of it he completed close to 69 percent of his passes with 159 passing efficiency. He played really, really well and didn't turn the football over. I think it was key for him the manage the game and we got our run game going which really helped us finish the year strong".
Maynard threw for 763 yards and five touchdowns with just one interception in his last four games. He did throw three or more interceptions in two games this season, but seems to have grasped the offense better with experience. Maynard's top target this year was his brother Keenan Allen. The sophomore wideout finished the regular season with 1,261 yards and six receiving touchdowns. Allen's 7.4 catches per game ties for 12th in the nation. The duo will have his its work cut out as it faces the Big 12's top passing defense.
Sofele is the key component of Cal's attack. The junior tailback rushed for 1,270 yards and nine touchdowns on 232 carries in the regular season. Sofele is a workhorse as he has carried the ball over 20 times in each of his last four games. California's balanced attack gives it the 37th best offense in the nation with an average of 418.7 total yards of offense per game.
Despite playing in the Pac 12 with the likes of Oregon and Stanford, the Golden Bears are ranked 26th in the nation in total defense (339.4 yards allowed per game). Tedford's defense is very aggressive and ranks 17th in sacks (2.67 per game) and fifth in tackles for loss (7.67 per game). Cal's defense is led by the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks, all-conference second-team selection Trevor Guyton, and team captain D.J. Holt.
The Longhorns' offense is decent with averages of 404.0 yards of total offense per game and 28.7 ppg. The offense's key players are all very young, however. Case McCoy, younger brother of Texas alum Colt McCoy, emerged as the team's starting quarterback late in the year. McCoy set career highs in all of the following categories in the regular season finale against Baylor as he completed 24-of-39 pass attempts for 356 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. David Ash could see some time under center as both young quarterbacks continue to develop.
The Longhorn's top rusher Malcolm Brown missed the team's last game. The freshman star gained 707 yards on the ground despite missing three games. Joe Bergeron, also a freshman, reeled off back to back 100-yard performances in the middle of the year, but missed the last two games with injury. Although banged up, Brown and Bergeron have been practicing and are expected to split the carries against the Golden Bears' stifling rush defense.
Mike Davis is the team's top receiving option as he racked up 609 yards on 45 catches so far in his sophomore season. Freshman wideout Jaxon Shipley submitted his second 100-plus yard receiving performance of the year against Baylor with 121 yards on four catches.
The Longhorn defenders experienced a learning curve under first-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Cornerback Carrington Byndom spoke about the team's progression during the course of the year
"I think we have come a long way. Definitely in the beginning of spring, it was a little difficult with trying to learn a new system. He put in his time with it during our 13 or 15 practices in the spring, and then in our two-a- days we had to learn and pick up the system. As the season went on, I think everyone started to buy in and started to see the concepts of the defense."
Diaz did a tremendous job as his defense is tops in the Big 12 with 315.3 yards of total offense allowed per game (15th nationally) and ranks first against the run and the pass. The aggressive gameplan has resulted in three players with double-figure stops for losses - end Jackson Jeffcoat (14), linebacker Emmanuel Acho (13.5), and end Alex Okafor (12.5). Acho leads the team with 102 total tackles and was named to the 2011 All-Big 12 First-Team.