35 Bowls in 24 Days: Holiday Bowl

The Dec. 28 night game will be the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, the second bowl game of the year in San Diego, California. This should be a better game than the blowout we saw TCU deal Louisiana Tech last week. Let’s see if these two big-time programs will still give us a thrilling game despite taking a few steps back from past dominance.

More: See the other bowl games

California Golden Bears (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) vs. No. 24 Texas Longhorns (7-5, 4-5 Big 12), Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011, 8:00 p.m. [ESPN]

Texas is going to be back at some point in the next few years. They have young quarterbacks in freshman David Ash and sophomore Case McCoy (Colt’s little brother). They also have the 14th-ranked defense, allowing 315.3 yards per game (best in the Big 12). Despite a very ugly season by their own standards, they have some bright spots to build on for next season.

The Longhorns always seem well-prepared for bowl games and they’ve gone 7-2 in their last nine postseason appearances. That’s not bad, but it may be a bad sign that I’m relying on their past successes as a reason for why I think they’ll emerge victorious in this game.

I won’t beat around the bush — this seems like Cal’s game to lose. The Golden Bears are playing great football, winning three of their last four with their only loss down the stretch coming in The Game. They lost to No. 9 Stanford by three points, which is a lot closer than most teams came to beating the Cardinal in 2011.

Two Cal players are going to power the offense against that stellar Texas defense: quarterback Zach Maynard and running back Isi Sofele.

First, there’s Maynard, a junior. His 2,802 passing yards and 17 touchdowns powered the Golden Bears during their late-season turnaround where they averaged 32 points per game in the last four contests. He was 20 for 29 with 280 passing yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Stanford and then completed a season-best 73.1 percent of his passes in the season-finale, a 47-38 victory at Arizona State.

Sofele is also a junior, and is also capable of taking over and carrying Cal to victory. He ran for 190 yards on 23 carries (a ridiculous average of 8.3 yards per rush) and scored once in a 23-6 victory over Oregon State. With 1,270 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, Sofele is definitely one of the best running backs Cal has had in the last few years.

At 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, Sofele is tiny but packs a punch — his father was a rugby player who represented Tonga in the Rugby World Cup. If the Golden Bears are going to upset four-point favorite Texas, they’ll need to have an answer when the Longhorns’ defense hits them in the mouth.

My prediction: California 31, Texas 27

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