Texas isn't on California's nice list.
Cal hasn't forgotten its painful Bowl Championship Series snub in 2004, which saw Texas accept a Rose Bowl bid after the Golden Bears slid from fourth to fifth in the final BCS standings. Both teams were 10-1, but it was UT who leapfrogged Cal to play Michigan in the Rose Bowl, an unexpected blow that Cal head coach Jeff Tedford labeled, "devastating."
The Bears, though, have a chance to exorcise their demons against today's Longhorns in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl Wednesday night, seven years after the '04 nightmare. Each team enters the game at 7-5. Texas stumbled to a 1-3 mark to end the regular season, while Cal has won three of its last four.
A lot has changed for each program following Cal's snub, particularly at the quarterback position. Aaron Rodgers, the 2011 AP Male Athlete of the Year, is long gone, as is former Longhorn great Vince Young. Bears quarterback Zach Maynard has shown improvement this season, though, and is largely responsible for Cal's surge. Texas, however, has struggled to find consistency between sophomore Case McCoy and freshman David Ash, with neither emerging as a legitimate starter.
"We'll probably play both again," UT head coach Mack Brown said. "We've just got to get settled there. But right now we're in a position where we're going to need both of them."
Texas benefitted from a bruising running game early in the season and jumped out to a 6-2 record. But injuries to leading rushers: Malcolm Brown (turf toe/knee), Joe Bergeron (hamstring) and Fozzy Whittaker (knee) stunted UT's offensive production, and the losses piled up. The Longhorns expect Brown and Bergeron to play together for the first time since Nov. 19 against Kansas State. After back-to-back 400-plus yard rushing games in early November, Texas ran for more than 200 yards just once in its final four games of the regular season, a 201-yard effort against Baylor on December 3.
"That is where we need to get back with our philosophy on offense," Texas play-caller Bryan Harsin said. "We want to be able to run the football. We have all of our guys healthy. That is an important thing for what we are doing."
Defensively, Texas will have to limit Maynard's production through the air and on the ground. The junior made strides in the season's final months, guiding the Bears to their first postseason appearance since the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl. Maynard averages 233.8 passing yards per game and has 21 total touchdowns (17 passing, 4 rushing). The Longhorns failed to contain Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in the season-finale; they'll need a better performance today for UT to pick up its eighth win.
"The best way to stop the quarterback is to stop the run, take away his best friend, and then you can do some different things with him," UT defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "But that's a challenge. He has really improved as a football player, and that’s why they have improved in the second half of the season."
Still, the Longhorns have faced plenty of dynamic offenses this year, playing in the pass-happy Big 12. UT led the conference in total defense and was No. 1 against the pass.
"They're really, really good," Tedford said. "They're No. 1 or No. 2 in almost every defensive category [in the Big 12] and then, I saw the All-Big-12 Team and they had nine guys on it--eight of them were on defense."
If the Longhorns can run the ball and force turnovers, it could be another disappointment for Cal.
Texas' senior class will play in their third bowl game in four years, with 2010 being the lone exception. It will be the last game for familiar faces like safety Blake Gideon, linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, and linemen Kheeston Randall and David Snow.
"I have been able to do a lot of cool things," said Snow, a left guard. "I got to go to the Fiesta Bowl and the Rose Bowl. I have been through the ups and downs and the rebuilding, and it’s really great to be a part of something. This team is going to keep on going. It is just in the re-building years, but once they get clicking it is going to be awesome to see. I can’t wait to say that I actually had a part in that."