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.