Record: 7-5, 4-5 Pac-12
California did something it hasn't done the previous two years: Finish strong. The Bears, who lost three of their final five in 2009 and their last three in 2010, won three of four to earn a berth in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl opposite Texas.
Things look pretty bad for Cal, coach Jeff Tedford and quarterback Zach Maynard on Oct. 29 after a 31-14 loss to UCLA. It was their fourth loss in five games, and the season appeared close to swirling down the toilet, which would have only increased fan frustration with Tedford.
But Cal, leaning on its running game and stout defense, rebounded to pound Washington State and Oregon State, allowing just 13 points in the two victories. And Maynard rediscovered his range. The only loss down the stretch was a tight 31-28 battle with Stanford. Cal concluded its season with a strong 47-38 win at Arizona State, which was particularly satisfying based on how poorly the Bears have played on the road the past few seasons.
Offensive MVP: First-team All-Pac-12 receiver Keenan Allen, a sophomore, caught 89 passes for 1,261 yards, averaging 105.1 yards receiving per game and 14.2 yards per reception.
Defensive MVP: Pac-12 defensive player of the year Mychal Kendricks led the tough Bears defense with 96 tackles, including 13 for losses. The senior linebacker also had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Turning point: Rock bottom was the loss to UCLA, when Maynard threw four interceptions. But Maynard and the Bears righted themselves over the final four games. The Bears won three of four and Maynard threw just one interception -- vs. five touchdown passes.
What's next: Beating Texas would provide a cathartic cap to the season, seeing the the Old Blues still resent Longhorns coach Mack Brown for his aggressive lobbying for his team to eclipse Cal in 2004 and go to the Rose Bowl. As for the future, Cal might be sneaky good in 2012, perhaps even the top contender in the North Division behind Oregon. There's solid talent on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense. If Maynard continues to improve, the Bears could be a threat to win nine or 10 games next fall.