With the Holiday Bowl showdown between Jeff Tedford's California Golden Bears and Mack Brown's Texas Longhorns just around the corner, many of the storylines and factors have been beaten to death.
You have Cal's revenge for 2004 on one hand and Mack Brown's looming retirement and search for a return to national prominence on the other. Both might factor into the players' drive to succeed.
You have the gelling offense of the Cal Bears colliding with the stalwart rush defense and total defense of the Texas Longhorns.
You have a neutral field in California when neither team plays well on the road and you have injuries and inexperience galore marring the regular seasons and sidelining various players for these two teams' final game of 2011.
But while each team is reliant on just that—the team—to win, certain key positions will help determine the likelihood of such an outcome. How do each team's players match up at those positions?
California: Zach Maynard
Junior, 6'2", 190 lbs. Transferred from Buffalo to play with his half-brother, Cal's star wide receiver Keenan Allen.
First half of the season was spent breaking him in, with initial results mixed. Only in the last four games has Maynard really come together with completion rates of 58.8, 68.4, 69, 73.1 percent—in that order, and well above his completion rate for the season.
Maynard has thrown for 2,802 yards, 17 touchdowns, 57 percent completion rate and 11 interceptions. Also capable of running the ball, where he has 147 yards and four touchdowns.
Texas: Case McCoy?
Sophomore, 6'2", 200 lbs. Case McCoy has a question mark next to his name because Mack Brown has been playing tag with him and the other Texas freshman QB, David Ash, since starter Gilbert Garrett got pulled in the second game of the season and then injured himself before the end of September to end his season prematurely.
Both backup freshman have started; McCoy has the better stats and leveler head, but Ash has the better arm. McCoy will likely get the nod. His four-interception performance in the last game of the season against Baylor is all that makes this questionable.
McCoy has thrown for 1,034 yards, seven touchdowns, 61.1 percent completion rate and four interceptions.
Maynard has to be the best quarterback in the game. His stats and abilities have been on the upswing, so that is a plus. He'll be the one charged with spreading the Texas defense with passing so as to open up the Cal run game.
California: Isi Sofele
Junior, 5'8", 190 lbs.
The Cal running game (and overall game in general) did not take off until November, and most of it was driven by Isi Sofele. Of Cal's 2,006 rushing yards, Sofele makes up over half of them. He was at his best in the final four games of the season, averaging 141.3 yards a game.
Bandied about as one of the Pac-12's top running backs (in a conference stacked with top running backs), Sofele is quick, capable of sliding through lines and into open lanes. Because he is undersized, Cal does not always turn to him in the red zone.
He has 1,270 yards, 5.5 yards per carry nine touchdowns.
Texas: Malcolm Brown
Freshman, 6'0", 215 lbs. Before getting derailed by knee injuries in the final third of the season, Brown was set to become Texas's go-to 1,000-yard rusher.
Brown is quick but also capable of running through blocks. His talent is immense, but lack of experience and a generally anemic Texas offense have stumped him a few times. His worst performance where he played significant time came against Oklahoma, where he averaged 54 yards on 17 carries. California has a better rush defense than Oklahoma, so this could be problematic.
On top of that, the Holiday Bowl will be his first game back since playing against Texas A&M at the end of November, where his injuries held back his performance (and he did not return the next week to play Baylor).
Brown amassed 707 yards, 4.4 yards per carry and five touchdowns in the rush-heavy Texas offense.
Statistically, Sofele is the obvious favorite in the running back matchup. He has more experience and does not suffer from nagging injuries. He's coming off of a strong end to his season, with Brown being the exact opposite in all of these qualities.
However, Sofele will have to deal with the 11th-ranked rush defense of Texas. I can't see him handling that without a lot of help from the passing game.
California: Keenan Allen
Sophomore, 6'3", 205 lbs.
Keenan Allen was a five-star recruit headed to Alabama before changing his mind a year ago. A year later, he brought over his half-brother, Zach Maynard, from Buffalo to join him at Cal.
Allen was good enough to capitalize off of the Maynard's early-season inconsistencies and was the main reason the Bears managed to break even in their first eight games. He's strong, fast and has very good hands, capable of turning a potentially terrible throw into a big gain. As Cal developed their running game, Allen saw fewer touches in November.
He caught for 1,261 yards and six touchdowns.
Texas: Jaxon Shipley
Freshman, 6'1", 183 lbs.
While not technically the leading receiver for Texas (Mike Davis has 609 yards to Shipley's 593), the freshman Shipley displayed amazing talent, leading the team in caught touchdowns despite missing three games in the final third of the season.
Shipley bounced back in the final game against Baylor for 121 yards. While injuries have played their part on his numbers, he looks to be on track for a Holiday Bowl performance.
He caught for 593 yards and three touchdowns.
Allen and Shipley are both wide receivers on teams that rely on their rushing for wins. That explains their lower numbers. And if Shipley hadn't been injured, he might have put up just as good of numbers as Allen.
However, Texas has a slightly worse secondary than California. And since being a dominant wide receiver is also pretty dependent on the quarterback, you have to like Maynard-Allen's chances better than McCoy-Shipley's. At least for this year. That said, I also have a bias towards health/experience over prone-to-injury/youth.
California: Mychal Kendricks
Senior, 6'1", 240 lbs.
Kendricks is the 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and leader of the Bears' 26th-ranked defense. Under Kendricks's leadership, Cal held opponents to 339 yards per game and averaged 2.67 sacks per game (seventh in the nation).
Against a Texas squad that likes to rush, Kendricks will have to play stopper. His team's rush defense is 36th in the nation, allowing only 130 rushing yards per game.
He registered 96 tackles (an even eight per game), 13 for loss and three sacks for 30 yards.
Texas: Emmanuel Acho
Senior, 6'2", 245 lbs.
Acho, a Lott IMPACT Trophy finalist and 2011 first team All Big-12 selection, is the heart of Texas' 15th-ranked total defense (allowing 315 yards per game) and 11th-ranked rush defense (holding opponents to 103 yards on the ground).
Acho has 102 tackles, 18 for loss and three sacks.
Outside of sacks, Acho's (and his defensive linemen's) stats just beat Kendricks and his line. Now, Kendricks has more solo tackles, barely, but Texas' front seven will be a lot harder to bust through than Cal's front seven.
Of course, the Texas secondary is more suspect, but with both teams invested heavily in their rush attack, the front line is the most important.
At the same time, while Texas has the stronger front line, it will have to meet Cal's stronger offense. Kendricks' slightly weaker line will have to contain the less-explosive Texas offense.
California: Giorgio Tavecchio
Senior, 5'10", 178 lbs.
Tavecchio is a solid kicker. Nothing flashy, which is fine in a kicker, because all you want is consistency.
This season he has an 85.4 percent completion rate for PAT, scoring 35 extra points out of 41. He has an 86.4 percent completion rate for FGs, making 19 out of 22. In sum, he has 92 points for the season. His longest field goal was 54 yards.
Texas: Justin Tucker
Another solid kicker. Or solid-er, considering Tucker elevated Texas over a tough Texas A&M (rush) defense with a last-second field goal.
Tucker has a 100 percent completion rate on PAT, making 41 out of 41. He has an 85 percent FG completion rate, making 17 out of 20. In sum, he has 92 points for the season. His longest field goal was 52 yards.
Nobody likes to talk about the kickers. In general, they only receive praise if they win a game with a field goal and other than that, censure is pretty much all they receive if they miss once or twice.
With a game whose spread is that of a field goal, these guys may become very important for each team in the Holiday Bowl.
And though these guys are very similar (92 points apiece? Check. 50-plus range? Check.) I have to give Tucker the edge. His 100 percent PAT rate is, well, perfect, and he's demonstrated he can handle the pressure of a rivalry game to win it all.
OK, it's not a real field position, but this matchup is incredibly relevant. Each coach is respected and possesses a winning record in bowl games. And then there is the oft-mentioned history between these coaches and their two teams.
California: Jeff Tedford
As head oach, Tedford is 79-47 overall and 5-2 in bowl games.
Before coaching at Cal, Tedford was the offensive coordinator for the University of Oregon. Under his leadership, the Ducks (and their offense) finished progressively better each year (to an 11-1 mark in 2001). Though this might hint at a preference for an offense-based team, since 2007, Tedford has spent most of his time with defense and special teams.
He led the 2006 co-champions of the Pac-10 and was the Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 2002 and 2004.
Texas: Mack Brown
As head coach, Brown is 226-110-1 overall and 11-7 in bowl games.
Before coaching at Texas, Brown served in myriad coaching roles back to 1973, when he worked at Florida State as a wide receiver coach. Since then he has been with nine other teams and was head coach for three of those (Appalachian State one year, Tulane two years and North Carolina nine years) before taking up the job at Texas in 1997.
He won one national championship in 2005, two Big 12 championships (2005, 2009) and was the Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2005 and 2009.
It would be silly to argue with those track records. While Brown may be more politician than coach (as some critics say), willing to delegate responsibilities and duties, it must be noted that he does such delegation with extreme skill, picking his assistant coaches wisely.
This season, Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has worked magic to keep Texas afloat. Co-offensive coordinator and QB coach Bryan Harsin is not looking like that great of a pick, but he's also dealing with more problems.
At the same time, while Brown has had a lot of talent to work with, Tedford also seems to pull in a great deal of talent every year, only to finish with a middling record. You can only blame inconsistent quarterback play for so long before you start looking at the head coach.