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2011 Holiday Bowl Preview

Cal Golden Bears vs Texas Longhorns

The Holiday Bowl is usually a raucous, rollicking, high-scoring shootout, an entertainment extravaganza in the city of Sea World and perfectly cozy December nights. This year, one of the best and most reliably intriguing bowl games isn’t likely to offer a scoring festival. Instead, the drama is going to emerge from the teams and coaches that will meet at Qualcomm Stadium.

Casual college football fans might not remember this, but the diehards will: In the 2004 season, the California Golden Bears and the Texas Longhorns were locked in a battle for an at-large BCS bowl invite, specifically a ticket to the 2005 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The two teams engaged in a neck-and-neck race for the Granddaddy became immersed in a political controversy that will be brought up at 2011 Holiday Bowl functions.

The drama was intensified in the 2004 season when California’s September game at Southern Mississippi was postponed due to severe weather events near the Gulf Coast. That road trip was pushed back to the first weekend of December, the last day of the regular season. California had already finished its Pac-10 schedule with its only blemish being a close loss to No. 1 USC in Los Angeles. The Golden Bears likely would have thrived against Southern Miss in September, but the long cross-country trip for an end-of-year game was another matter altogether. California – unsurprisingly, it should be said – was rusty and sluggish against Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles stayed in the thick of the fight for more than three quarters, creating more than a little drama in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Cal was tough enough to dig out a 26-16 win, but with few games being played that weekend, a lot of coaches poll voters saw the Bears play far below their best. During the week leading up to the Cal-Southern Miss game, Texas head coach Mack Brown lobbied at great length for the invitation to the Rose Bowl. Brown had not yet made a BCS bowl at that point in time, and his Longhorns were hungry for their first trip to the big stage. When Cal failed to blow out Southern Miss, Brown’s lobbying had its desired effect. Texas passed Cal in the BCS standings the following day, and the Longhorns were selected to face Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl. Vince Young wound up leading Texas on a stirring last-minute field goal drive to pull out a 37-35 win over the Wolverines, and based on the confidence the Longhorns gained from that breakthrough, they were able to win the 2006 Rose Bowl one year later for the national championship.

The Cal-Texas debate of 2004 looms large in the past decade of college football history. Cal coach Jeff Tedford didn’t do any lobbying at all that season, so the college football community is wondering how he and his Golden Bears will treat Texas in this contest. Neither team’s quarterback situation – Zach Maynard for Cal and Case McCoy for Texas – is very good, but the deliciousness of this duel will be supplied by the coaches.

It’s a different sort of Holiday Bowl. Just realize that different is not bad. What is bad? The bad blood that these two fan bases might carry to San Diego.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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