The 24th-ranked Texas Longhorns (7-5) face the improved California Golden Bears (7-5) in the Holiday Bowl at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium on Wednesday night in a battle of rebuilding programs.
Typically a college football powerhouse, the Longhorns have struggled to a 12-12 record over the past two seasons, but are expecting another stellar recruiting class for 2012. Texas would like to go into next season on a positive note after starting the season with a 4-0 record, and having been ranked as high as No. 11, but then faltering to tough opponents, while dropping five of their last eight games.
Texas failed to beat a ranked opponent all season, but were competitive against third-ranked Oklahoma State and tenth-ranked Kansas State.
The kids have been resilient, said head coach Mack Brown. They've done a good job. We just need to finish with our eighth win.
Part of the optimism for next season is due to a young running game. The Longhorns are led by two freshman running backs, who will be healthy against Cal.
Malcolm Brown, considered among the best running backs in high school last year, will return to action after suffering a turf toe injury, though he has practiced with a brace on his right knee. Joe Bergeron was sidelined with a hamstring injury and has been out of action since Nov. 19, but is also expected to play. The freshman duo combined for 1,161 yards on 228 carries.
As for Cal, it's been an up-and-down-and-then-up-again season. The Golden Bears started off with a 3-0 record, but then lost four of their next five. Cal then won three of their next four games, and the loss was a three-point defeat to fourth-ranked Stanford.
A bowl-game victory would be a solid boost for a program that should feel optimistic about their offense next season due to two outstanding weapons.
The Bears are led by one of the best rushers in the Pac-12 in running back Isi Sofele. The junior finished fourth in the conference in rushing yards with 1,270 and also ran for nine touchdowns.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen has also been vital to Bears' success as the sophomore caught 89 passes for 1,261 yards. Between Sofele and Allen, the Bears' offense should give opposing defenses fits in 2012. Cal ended the regular season on a high note, and that bodes well for the future.
I'm really proud of the strong finish of our team, said head coach Jeff Tedford. It shows a lot of character to fight through some adversity earlier in the year to play well down the stretch. That's the mark of a quality football team, one that continues to improve and get better.
Both teams played the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl this season. Texas defeated the Bruins, 49-20, while the Golden Bears lost to UCLA, 31-14.
LINE: Texas is favored by four points.
PREDICTION: Which Cal team will show up? Wiill it be the one that had five turnovers against USC, or the one that intercepted Andrew Luck and held him to just 257 yards? The Bears' defense will have to contain the Longhorns' running game and not turn the ball over. Texas can't take chances with the passing game, and will need to put pressure on quarterback Zach Maynard on third down situations. The Longhorns are due to rebound from a poor showing late in the season, and should be on top of their game.
PREDICTED SCORE: Texas over Cal, 28-14.