Texas (7-5) vs. Cal (7-5)Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: Cal's coming in hot, having won three of its last four to become bowl eligible. The lone loss in that stretch was a 31-28 defeat to Fiesta Bowl-bound Stanford, and Bears coach Jeff Tedford certainly seems encouraged by his squad's strong finish. "That's the mark of a quality football team," Tedford said, "one that continues to improve and get better." Don't tell that to Texas, which lost three of its last four, with the sole victory coming on a last-second field goal against archrival Texas A&M. The Longhorns, who failed to make a bowl last season, rose to No. 11 in the AP poll after starting 4-0, but their season unraveled from there. It ended with the ultimate indignity, as Baylor's Robert Griffin won the Heisman Trophy against Texas with a four-touchdown day.
Keep an eye on: Texas' running backs. Much of the Horns' early success was keyed by the emergence of a power running game behind freshmen Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron and resurgent senior Fozzy Whittaker, but injuries interrupted that progress. Whittaker tore his ACL against Missouri, Bergeron injured his hamstring in that same game and Brown was limited late by turf toe and a sore knee. Thanks to a 25-day period between the season finale and the Holiday Bowl, Brown and Bergeron are both healthy and ready to carry the load. That's great news for quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy, who split time for much of the season and will likely share snaps against Cal. Ash, a dual-threat quarterback, and McCoy, younger brother of Texas great Colt, both showed flashes in relief of injured starter Garrett Gilbert (who has since transferred), but struggled with consistency and ball protection and were particularly ineffective after the running back injuries began piling up. If Brown and Bergeron are able to run well against a Cal defense that ranks 37th nationally with 130 rush yards per game allowed, Ash and McCoy will benefit.
Did you know: Cal quarterback Zach Maynard and star receiver Keenan Allen are half-brothers. Allen, a former five-star recruit, made waves by signing with Cal instead of Alabama two years ago, and Maynard elected to transfer from Buffalo shortly thereafter. They were a predictably productive pair this season, with Allen catching 89 of Maynard's passes for 1,261 yards and six touchdowns. Allen's yardage accounted for 45 percent of Maynard's total, and while that's not exactly a ringing endorsement for the older sibling, Maynard did improve greatly during the season, throwing seven touchdowns and just one interception during Cal's winning November.
Final analysis: Texas needs Brown and the running game to keep pressure off Ash and McCoy. Cal needs Maynard to keep pressure off running back Isi Sofele, who totaled 1,266 yards and nine touchdowns this season and averaged 141.3 yards during his final four games. Though Maynard has weapons other than Allen in receiver Marvin Jones and tight end Anthony Miller, he'll be going against a Texas defense ranked 14th nationally and first in the Big 12. Finding Allen is one thing; finding Allen with defenders like Jackson Jeffcoat, Jordan Hicks and Alex Okafor in pursuit is quite another. Cal peaked in November, but Texas has yet to play to its full potential. It will start doing so in San Diego.
The pick: Texas 28, Cal 17
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