The Mountain West Conference has opened the bowl season by giving the Pac-10 a whipping.
The latest victim was California in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Utah spotted the Bears a 14-point lead, but nonetheless rolled to a 37-27 victory.
The night before BYU buried Oregon State 44-20.
The Pac-10, thought by many to be the nation's best conference -- top-to-bottom -- this season, certainly hasn't looked the part while starting the bowl season 0-2.
How the game was won: Utah was vastly superior at the quarterback position, with freshman Jordan Wynn outplaying Cal junior Kevin Riley. Wynn completed 26 of 36 passes for 338 yards with three touchdowns. He shook off an early pick-six interception to play a nearly flawless game. Riley completed 20 of 36 for 214 yards with two interceptions and a late touchdown pass when the result was no longer in question. He basically had one good drive -- he went 3 for 3 for 60 yards on a TD drive that closed the gap to 27-21 with 39 seconds left in the third -- and that was it. To be fair, the Bears receivers dropped a number of critical passes that might have helped Riley get in rhythm.
Turning point: Much like Oregon State the night before, Cal jumped ahead early and looked superior on both sides of the ball. And, much like the night before, the fast start couldn't have been more deceiving. After linebacker Eddie Young returned a Wynn interceptions for a TD, the Bears led 14-0. But Utah got a 61-yard return on the ensuing kickoff and then drove for a TD to answer. The Bears wouldn't show a pulse again until the scoring drive described above.
Stat of the game: Six consecutive Cal drives netted just 18 yards stretching from the second quarter to late in the third. The technical term for that is "bad."
Second guessing: More than a few Utah fans griped about Andy Ludwig's play-calling when he was the Utes offensive coordinator, so that faction probably is nodding their heads after the Bears anemic showing. Utah was better prepared and better coached during the game on both sides of the ball. Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory's pass defense -- so impressive in 2008 -- imploded this year, and he might want to consider trashing his rush-three, drop-eight scheme. Simply, it's not working.
What it means: Cal, once ranked sixth in the nation, finishes a supremely disappointing season at 8-5. The Bears -- coaches and players -- will need to look in the mirror during the offseason. The first question is Riley. Will he break through as a senior? Or might coach Jeff Tedford want to go in a different direction in 2010? Another thing for Tedford to think about: Does he have enough fire on his coaching staff? Tedford, Ludwig and Gregory are all low-key, cerebral coaches. The Bears seeming lack of fire this season -- other than the Stanford and Arizona games -- might be an issue that could be helped by a coach who doesn't mind an occasional sideline or locker room tirade.