The roller coaster ride ends in the Holiday Bowl.
Texas, which finished 5-7 last season, takes a 7-5 record into the game with California Wednesday in Qualcomm Stadium. The Longhorns started the season 4-0, lost two, won two and then lost three of their last four. A victory over the Golden Bears (7-5) would provide enthusiasm and momentum going into next season.
"The kids have been resilient," UT coach Mack Brown said. "They've done a good job. We just need to finish with our eighth win."
To do that, they'll have to beat a team with unique incentive.
In 2004, Brown lobbied voters in the media and coaches poll to move the Longhorns past Cal in the final rankings. They did and the edge allowed Texas to go to the Rose Bowl over the Golden Bears. UT beat Michigan in that game, providing a spring board for its 2005 national championship season.
Elephants never forget and apparently neither do Golden Bears.
Former Cal and current Green Bay quarterback Aaron "Discount Double Check" Rodgers said recently he's still upset about the snub. Rodgers was the Golden Bears' quarterback that season.
"It was very unfortunate," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "It's one of the toughest things I've ever had to do in my coaching career was announce to our team that we weren't going to the Rose Bowl.
"It stunned our football team. It stunned our program and our fans."
Cal hopes to return the stun in the bowl game. The Golden Bears are solid on defense and will try to stuff a Texas offense that has struggled over the second half of the season.
Sophomore quarterback Case McCoy led Texas to the game-winning field goal to defeat rival Texas A&M and then followed that up by throwing for 356 yards and three touchdowns in the season finale against Baylor. However, he also threw three interceptions – the first picks of his career – and lost two fumbles.
That performance, apparently, re-opened the quarterback competition. Freshman David Ash and McCoy shared snaps during most of the season, with Ash starting five games. Brown has indicated that Texas will return to the dual quarterback plan against Cal.
Texas vs. California
Need to know: 7 p.m. Dec. 28, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif., ESPN.
Team records: Texas 7-5, California 7-5.
The Longhorns hope that their running games returns to mid-season form. Freshmen Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergerone were sidelined by injuries during the second half of the season and the offense struggled. Coach Mack Brown has hinted that Texas will return to the two-quarterback system for the bowl game. Freshman David Ash could get the start with sophomore Colt McCoy sharing playing time. UT's defense is ranked 14th nationally but will be without safety Christian Scott (broken wrist). Senior safety Blake Gideon will play despite a broken hand.
Quarterback Zach Maynard has been solid – 234 yards passing per game, 17 touchdowns – the offense is at its best when running back Isi Sofele is productive. The junior has gained 1,270 yards rushing with nine touchdowns while averaging an outstanding 5.5 yards per carry. Cal is 26th nationally in defense allowing just 339 yards per game. Cal's defense is effective getting into the opponent's backfield. Inside linebackers Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt and along with defensive end Trevor Guyton are the top players.
Texas, which will be playing in the Holiday Bowl for the fifth time, is 4-0 all-time against Cal with the last meeting coming in 1970. … The Golden Bears lead the Pac-12 and rank fifth nationally with an average of 7.67 tackles for loss per game. … By comparison, Texas is tied for 23rd nationally with an average of 6.92 tackles behind the line. … The Longhorns rank 90th nationally and seventh in the Big 12 in turnover margin. … Texas is 8-4 in bowl games under Mack Brown. … The Golden Bears went 4-5 in the Pac-12 North Division, losing to Washington, Oregon, USC, UCLA and Stanford. Cal lost four of five games in the middle of the season but recovered to win three of its last four