Breaking down the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl between California (8-4) and No. 23 Utah (9-3).
WHO TO WATCH: Cal quarterback Kevin Riley. Riley stood on the sidelines last year and watched Nate Longshore play terribly in the Bears' Emerald Bowl win over Miami. He was on the bench because of inconsistency, and that's still his biggest problem. Cal averaged 29 points per game this year but only 10 points per game in its four losses. Not all of that, of course, falls on Riley -- heck, the Bears lost those four by an average of nearly 29 points; it wasn't just one guy. But it's hard to imagine that if Riley comes out sharp, the Bears' chances won't be greatly enhanced.
WHAT TO WATCH: The consensus thinking entering the season was that Cal owned one of the nation's best secondaries. The crew didn't live up to the hype, ranking seventh in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency defense, with opponents completing 63 percent of their throws. Utah, however, isn't a great passing team. It decided to make a quarterback switch eight games into the season to true freshman Jordan Wynn, who's done some good things but has completed only 50 percent of his passes over the last three games. The preferred plan is for cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson to see a lot of action opposite the Utes' best receiver, David Reed, but Thompson is nursing a sprained ankle and is questionable. It's unlikely the Utes will be able to run all over the Bears' solid rushing defense. They will have to throw, and that's a battle the Bears need to win.
WHY TO WATCH: First off, aren't you curious which Cal team shows up? You might get the one that was once ranked sixth in the country and whipped Arizona and Stanford. Or you might get the one that lost by 32 points at Washington. Second, it's a good matchup. The winner will end up nationally ranked and will feel fairly good about its season. The loser will not.
PREDICTION: California, 28-24. As we've said before: Golden Bears, why can't we quit you? The simple fact is Cal has better players. If they show up with a sound plan and play hard, they should win. The Bears have shown some resilience this year when folks are counting them out, winning five of six after getting bludgeoned on consecutive weekends by Oregon and USC. The humbling debacle at Washington should serve as motivation. Bears, do you really want to go out as losers in 2009?