Holiday Bowl Preview: Texas Longhorns vs. California Golden Bears
One of the premier bowl games prior to New Year’s Day, the 2011 edition of the Holiday Bowl features two 7-5 teams: the Texas Longhorns from the Big 12 Conference versus the California Golden Bears of the Pac-12 Conference.
The game will be played on Dec. 28 at 8 p.m. ET in San Diego, California at Snapdragon Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Note: Rankings referenced are from my national top 25 rankings.
Record: 7-5 (4-5 Big 12)
Biggest win: at Texas A&M, 27-25, Nov. 24
Worst loss: at Missouri, 5-17, Nov. 12
While the Texas Longhorns at least had a winning record this year, it was another disappointing season for one of the nation’s premier college football programs. The Longhorns lost to half of the teams within the Big 12 Conference.
In their defense, the Longhorns did play in the same conference as four teams ranked within the top 20, all of which they lost to this season. Overall, nine of the 12 games that the Longhorns played came against bowl-eligible teams, so while the Longhorns did not an impressive season in terms of wins and losses, they had a very challenging schedule.
With sophomore Case McCoy and freshman David Ash rotating at quarterback this season, it has been a tumultuous year for the Longhorns’ passing offense, which ranks 85th nationally. The rushing offense, which ranks 19th nationally, is their main offensive source of production.
California Golden Bears
Record: 7-5 (4-5 Pac-12)
Biggest win: vs Utah, 34-10, Oct. 22
Worst loss: at UCLA, 14-31, Oct. 29
Like the Longhorns, the Golden Bears lost to half of the teams in their conference. The Golden Bears also played a very challenging schedule, which included three of the top seven teams in the nation.
The Golden Bears have a balanced offense that ranks 37th nationally in yards gained per game. The Golden Bears rank 26th nationally in yards allowed per game.
Players to Watch
California RB Isi Sofele, Junior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 7
California’s offense has a balanced attack of rushing and passing, and, in fact, their best offensive prospect is sophomore wide receiver Keenan Allen, a potential future first-round draft selection. That said, when the Golden Bears need big offensive production, the player they will be counting upon is junior running back Isi Sofele.
Taking over as the feature back this season for the departed Shane Vereen, Sofele had a breakout junior season in which he ran for 1,270 yards and nine touchdowns. At just 5’8’’, Sofele is a small running back, but he has a great burst and great speed.
Sofele is a reliable source of production for the California offense and a player who should make impact for them in the Holiday Bowl.
Texas LB Emmanuel Acho, Senior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 3
The Texas Longhorns have a plethora of playmakers at all three levels of their defense, which is why they rank 15th nationally. These playmakers include sophomore standouts in defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and cornerback Carrington Byndom. That said, the leader and most consistent playmaker of the Longhorns defense is senior middle linebacker Emmanuel Acho.
Last year, Emmanuel’s brother Sam, a defensive end for the Longhorns, won the Campbell Trophy for his academic achievements combined with his standout play on the football field, and he was a fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft. His younger brother could be selected even higher in 2012 after a great season.
Emmanuel is instinctive, a great tackler and has a nose for making plays. Acho leads the Longhorns with 109 total tackles this season, with 13.5 tackles for loss. Acho’s strength comes as a run-stopper, but he plays well in pass coverage as well.
Of all the Longhorns’ defensive playmakers, watch for Acho to have a big performance as he plays in burnt orange for the final time.
California ILB Mychal Kendricks, Senior
NFL Draft Grade: Round 6-7
Acho is not the only middle linebacker in this game who will hear his name called in the 2012 NFL draft. California’s Mychal Kendricks is also a very productive inside linebacker who should get the same honor.
Kendricks is undersized for a middle linebacker at only 5’10’’, which will hurt him in the draft process, but he plays much bigger. Kendricks leads the Golden Bears with 95 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss, and he also has two interceptions this season.
Like Acho, Kendricks is instinctive and rarely misses tackles. Look for him to make his fair share of tackles in the Holiday Bowl and make his impact felt upon this game.
Comparing the Two Teams
Common opponent: UCLA
Texas: Road win, 49-20, Sept. 17
California: Road loss, 14-31, Oct. 29
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams: Texas 4, California 2
Texas’s rushing offense: 19th in nation, 210.4 yards per game
California’s rushing defense: 37th in nation, 130.3 yards allowed per game
California’s total offense: 37th in nation, 418.7 yards per game
Texas’s total defense: 15th in nation, 315.3 yards allowed per game
Neither of these teams had impressive seasons by school standards, but while the Golden Bears have not performed up to expectations, the Texas Longhorns have not even come close to expectations.
The pressure is on the Longhorns, especially head coach Mack Brown, to get things turned around in Austin, and the team can take a step in the right direction toward next season with a win in the Holiday Bowl.
The Golden Bears have the better of the two offenses, with a stable quarterback situation in junior Zach Maynard, and the better offensive playmakers in running back Isi Sofele and wide receiver Keenan Allen. That said, the Longhorns have many explosive defensive playmakers to complement their offense and make big plays to turn the course of the game.
Also, the Longhorns are not as bad as their record may portray. While 7-5 is never an impressive record for a power program, their losses all come against high-quality opponents, and the Longhorns had one of the nation’s toughest schedules this season.
The Longhorns certainly would rather be playing somewhere other than the Holiday Bowl, but I think they will be motivated to make a statement and cool down the seat that is heating up underneath Mack Brown, with a victory.
Final Score Prediction: Texas 34, California 24
Thanks for reading!
For more coverage throughout the college football bowl season, follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope.