Cal Football: Bears' Most Significant Bowl Games: No. 7 -- The Unwanted Bowl

Cal running back J.J. Arrington rushed for more than 2,000 yards in 2004Photo courtesy of Cal Athletics

Jake Curtis

As Cal prepares for its Dec. 26 Cheez-It Bowl game against TCU, we continue our rankings of the Bears’ most significant bowl games.

Here we present No. 7 on our list

---7. Dec. 31, 2004 Holiday Bowl – Texas Tech 45, Cal 31

The simple fact is that Cal’s players and coaches and, most of all, its fans did not want to be a part of the Holiday Bowl, and it showed in the team’s performance.

The talk in Berkeley leading up to the game was not about the Red Raiders’ wide-open passing offense under head coach Mike Leach and receivers coach Sonny Dykes.

The discussion revolved around how Cal got screwed out of what would have been its first Rose Bowl berth 46 years.

Two things you need know about that Rose Bowl situation.

First, many Cal fans at the time indicated they would rather see the Bears in the Rose Bowl than the national championship game, a rather odd perspective but an indication of what the Rose Bowl meant to die-had Bear Backers.

Second, the Rose Bowl berth that year was based on the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) rules, which were complex, confusing and, to Cal fans, nonsensical, since computers had a say.

We’ll try to lay it out.

USC was the Pac-10 champion, but was ranked No. 1, so it was going to the national championship game, which was the Orange Bowl that season, and went on to crush No. 2 Oklahoma 55-19 in that game.

The BCS rules also guaranteed a spot in one of the four major bowls to any team that finished in the top four of the final BCS standings.

Cal’s only defeat during the regular season was a 23-17 road loss to USC as the Bears failed to score despite having a first-and goal at the USC 9-yard line with 1:47 left, ruining an otherwise outstanding game by Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

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Aaron Rodgers (8) had a great game in a loss to USC, but was not as effective in the Holiday Bowl.Photo courtey of Cal Athletics

​The Bears climbed back to the No. 4 spot in both the Associated Press and coaches poll as well as the BCS standings on Nov. 1, and stayed there after crushing Stanford in its final scheduled game.

Texas finished its season a few days later, and Cal remained No. 4. But that is when Texas coach Mack Brown launched into a public appeal for his team based on what he considered a better overall season for the 10-1 Longhorns.

Cal coach Jeff Tedford refused to do the same politicking for the Bears.

The problem for Cal is that it had to reschedule a game against Southern Mississippi that had been postponed from early in the season because of Hurricane Ivan. The game was rescheduled for Dec. 4 in Hattiesburg, Miss

Cal won the game 26-16, but was not particularly impressive. The Bears had a chance to score again in the closing moments, but Tedford opted to have Rodgers take a knee with about a minute left with the ball at the Southern Miss 22-yard line. It was the polite thing to do, but perhaps not in Cal’s postseason interests.

Mack continued his soapbox speeches; Tedford did not.

When the final rankings came out, they did not look much different from the previous week.

Cal was still No. 4 in both the AP and coaches polls and sixth in the computers. Texas was again sixth in the AP poll, fifth in the coaches poll and fourth in the computer average.

So why was Texas suddenly fourth in the final BCS standings and Cal fifth since each of the three rankings (AP, coaches, computers) accounted for one-third of the BCS ranking?

Well, the calculations for the BCS standings not only included the numerical ranking that a team occupied in the AP and coaches polls but also how many votes a team received in a given poll.

Texas did not pick up enough extra votes in the final polls to jump past Cal in those rankings, but enough voters changed their votes to push the Longhorns past the Bears in the BCS standings.

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Even after he joined the Packers, Aaron Rodgers was still upset with Mack Brown.Photo by Benny Sieu - USA TODAY Sports

​For example, in the next-to-last week, Cal received 1,314 votes in the coaches poll while Texas got 1,266. In the final coaches poll, Cal received 1,286 votes to Texas’ 1,281, not enough to push Texas ahead of Cal in the rankings but enough to make a difference in the BCS standings.

In turned out that three AP voters in Texas had flipped their votes in favor of Texas, which also made a difference as the final BCS standings total for Texas was .8476 to Cal’s .8347.

The resulting controversy involving Cal-Texas as well as undefeated Auburn being left out of the national championship game led to the Charlotte Observer giving up its AP poll vote. That, in turn, caused AP to remove its poll for use in the BCS standings.

The Observer’s Mike Persinger, in the column explaining his decision to give up his paper’s vote, noted, according to a Sports Illustrated story, “Mack Brown went guns blazing at trying to sway voters. That fired up their fan base. Texas fans started emailing a bunch of AP voters. It ranged from a reasoned argument why Texas should be ranked higher to pretty vile stuff.”

Anyway, Cal finished No. 5 in the final BCS standings and Texas, at No. 4, went to the Rose Bowl and beat Michigan 38-37.

“It was very unfortunate,” Tedford told the Dallas Morning News in 2011, recalling the 2004 situation. “It’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do in my coaching career was announce to our team that we weren’t going to the Rose Bowl. It stunned our football team. It stunned our program and our fans.”

Cal went to the Holiday Bowl against 23rd-ranked Texas Tech and laid an egg, which often happens to a team that is disappointed with its bowl situation.

J.J. Arrington, who finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting that year, rushed for 173 yards against Texas Tech to surpass 2,000 for the season.

Rodgers, ninth in the Heisman voting and playing his final game for Cal, had a pedestrian game, going 24-for-42 for 246 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

He was outplayed by Texas Tech quarterback Sonny Cumbie, who attempted 60 passes for 520 yards and three scores.

Cal was ranked No. 9 in both final polls, and Rodgers announced he would give up his senior season to enter the 2005 NFL Draft.

Cal fans still have not forgiven Mack Brown, who is now the head coach at North Carolina.

Rodgers was critical of Brown’s politicking back in 2004, and when asked about it seven years later in 2011, the year he won his first NFL MVP award Rodgers told the San Jose Mercury-News, via the Dallas Morning News, “Yes, I’m still upset about it.”

Here is a video of Aaron Rodgers’ final college game – the 2004 Holiday Bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 8 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 9 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 10 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 11 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the No. 12 Cal bowl

Click here for a story on the bowls ranked 13 through 22

Comments (8)
No. 1-6

MacArthur was also injured and couldn't play. That didn't help matters.

707 Bear
707 Bear

2004 was quite a ride. Where have the 14 years gone.

Average attendance at Memorial was 63,000. South end zone was absolutely packed. It was general admission in the end zones back then.

With every game on TV, hard to imagine we'll see crowds like that again.

Went to San Diego. Got food poisoning and missed game. Wife in traffic accident on way to game in taxi. Then the game started.

Jake Curtis
Jake Curtis


Time has a strange influence on what we think we saw and remember. But, yes, an inability to rush Cumbie affected Cal's inability to stop the pass. He was sacked just once and had 60 pass attempts.


I went back to see it on youtube. It wasn't there. Apparently my memory is faulty.


Second, mid way through the first half, we were dominating and in the lead through our run game. Arrington runs for 5 and then for 4. On third and one from mid field, Tedford has Rodgers throw a bomb to the end zone, and when its incomplete, he punts. Tech had all the momentum from then on.


Two things that stand out to me in that game. We lost because we could not get to their QB who then picked us apart with quick release short passes.

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