HOLIDAY BOWL PREDICTIONLet us first say that this is the most important bowl game for the University of California since the 1951 Rose Bowl. That says something about the Holiday Bowl, and even more about Cal football history between Pappy and St. Jeff.
Our Golden Bears sputtered to the finish line with uninspired performances against Arizona, USC and Stanford. Nate Longshore has seemingly regressed since the UCLA game. Our run blocking has vanished, forcing #10 to do too much on his own. Our opponent, Texas A&M, is playing as well as any team in the Big XII right now and would acquit themselves well in several of the BCS games.
And like it or not, Cal has developed a (largely undeserved) reputation as a candy bar program - one whose hardened exterior gives way under pressure to reveal a soft, nougaty center. Now reputations don't mean much when they're referenced by national know-nothings like the ESPN bunch, or the Fox bunch, or pretty much anyone who is compensated for reading cue cards into a teleprompter. They can matter quite a bit, however, when they permeate the cerebral cortexes of impressionable seventeen-year olds in the process of choosing a university.
California can take a giant step toward rewriting the conventional wisdom about its football team by standing up to the yard-chewing three-headed option attack of Texas A&M.
This is precisely the type of game that the Bears are supposed to lose. The matchups don't favor Cal. The Bears have done just fine against schools that bang away inside, but the Aggies are a ball-faking misdirection team that encourages over-pursuit and burns defenses who lack discipline. On defense, the Ags are reasonably stout against the run, and Cal had a hard time pushing Stanford off the football in early December.
There are exactly three matchups that absolutely work in Cal's favor: our receivers on their secondary, their punt cover team against DeSean Jackson, and their field goal kicker v. gravity. Is that enough to get a win Thursday night? Maybe. It depends on a few things:
- Will Longshore display a mature pocket presence, going through his progressions and waiting for receivers to find soft spots in the zone?
- Will Cal's offensive line have a (typically) good game in pass protect, with zero sacks and few pressures?
- Can the line establish some sort of threat on the ground, to force both linebackers and the Whip backer to cheat toward the line of scrimmage on 1st and 2nd down?
- Will Cal go vertical whenever the opportunity presents itself?