NCF Nation: 2012-Holiday-bowl-preview

Holiday Bowl: California vs. Texas

December, 28, 2011
The Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl features two 7-5 teams that went in opposite directions at the end of the regular season, with Texas losing three of its final four games and California winning three of its final four.

WHO TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Yeah, I know, a real reach saying to watch the QBs. But this is more about players who have been inconsistent this year and are more likely to lose this game rather than win it. Cal seems to have an advantage with Zach Maynard, who played much better at the end of the season after a terrible midseason slump. For Texas, it's two guys who couldn't play well enough to eliminate the other: Case McCoy and David Ash. The Longhorns would rather just hand the ball off, so Cal's defense will need to force the Longhorns to need to throw. Texas might have the best defense the Bears have faced, and they are particularly tough against the pass. If Maynard's mechanics slip again and he's inaccurate, Texas will feast. But if Maynard hooks up with his brother, WR Keenan Allen, a few times for big plays, that could loosen things up for the Bears' running game.

WHAT TO WATCH: Cal LB Mychal Kendricks vs. the Longhorns' running offense. Kendricks is the Pac-12 defensive player of the year. He ranked fourth in the conference with eight tackles a game, including 13 for a loss. The Longhorns don't have a top-50 rusher -- the backfield had injury issues much of the year -- but they nonetheless ranked 19th in the nation in rushing with 210 yards per game. They ran the ball 554 times this year and passed just 334. So it's obvious what they want to do. If Kendricks makes a lot of plays -- instead of defensive backs -- that's a good thing for Cal and not for Texas.

WHY TO WATCH: Both teams want to create positive momentum going into 2012, and Texas fans particularly are on edge after two subpar years. Mack Brown could use some positive momentum. For Cal fans, however, this game also is about revenge. The Old Blues probably won't ever forgive Brown for his aggressive politicking in 2004 that helped the Longhorns leap the Bears in the BCS standings and grab a Rose Bowl berth away from a team that hadn't been to one since 1959.

PREDICTION: Texas 24, California 21. This sets up like a defensive struggle that will be determined by turnovers, special teams and field position. The guess here is the Longhorns will be able to run the ball better than Cal and that will prove to be the difference in the fourth quarter.

Holiday Bowl preview: Texas vs. California

December, 28, 2011
The Big 12's 1-0 in bowl games so far, and it's time for another 7-5 team to strap pads on and put the league's reputation on the line.

Texas takes on Cal out in San Diego in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET. Let's take a look at what to expect.

WHO TO WATCH: Texas LB Emmanuel Acho. The Longhorns' top talents are all on defense and Acho headlines the group. The senior leader closed the season on a tear, notching at least 12 tackles in four consecutive games before the loss to Baylor. Acho is everywhere on the field for the Longhorns, and led the team with 109 stops.

WHAT TO WATCH: Texas' quarterbacks. You never quite know who's going to be there. The quarterbacks have been shuffled in and out all year. Case McCoy and David Ash replaced Garrett Gilbert in the second game and neither has grabbed hold of the starting job since. McCoy doesn't quite have the big arm you'd like in a Big 12 quarterback, and Ash has been plagued by poor decision-making. McCoy hadn't thrown an interception all season, but in the finale against Baylor, he threw four. He had three touchdowns, too, but Texas lost convincingly and Baylor's Robert Griffin III won the Heisman at the Longhorns' expense. There's no telling who'll be under center for most of the Holiday Bowl. I'll guess Ash for now.

WHY TO WATCH: We haven't had a chance to see full-strength Texas in a long while. Jaxon Shipley is the team's top receiver, but he's been hampered by a knee injury and missed three games in the middle of the season before returning. He's finally back to 100 percent. Running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron have been slowed by injuries, too. They'll be back. Seven wins was about right for this team, but just about everyone will be back next year, and we'll get some idea of how many to expect in 2012 from the offense's performance in the finale.

PREDICTION: No. 24 Texas 20, California 17 -- The Longhorns suffocate another offense in this one, quieting Keenan Allen and Zach Maynard. Texas has seen better offenses and played well. They take care of business out in San Diego to notch a Holiday Bowl win. A healthy backfield of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron get back down to business and build toward a big sophomore year.