The Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl from San Diego, California kicks off with a great match-up between the Pac-12′s California Golden Bears (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) and the Big 12′s Texas Longhorns (7-5, 4-5 Big 12). Although both teams enter tonight’s contest with identical conference and overall records, the two teams are about as different as can be once on the field, which should no doubt make for an intriguing showdown for NCAA College Football fans, and online sports betting fanatics alike.
Texas returns to the College bowl scene after their first hiatus in 12 years, suffering through a tough 2010 season and looking to rebound from a rough closing stretch of the 2011 season that has seen the Longhorns drop 3 of their last 4 games (albeit all to quality opponents including then #13 Kansas State, #17 Baylor, and Missouri). The source of Texas’ woes has revolved all year around the passing game, with the combination of freshman David Ash and sophomore Case McCoy struggling to find consistency, and ranking a lowly 85th in the FBS with just 193.6 yards/game through the air. Luckily for Texas, they’ve had some help from a strong rushing game, which is generating a solid 210.4 yards/per game led by the freshman tandem of Malcolm Brown (159 carries, 707 yards, 5 TDs) and Joe Bergeron (69 carries, 454 yards, 5 TDs), but finding a balance with a young group of offensive leaders has been tough, with struggles on the offensive line and inconsistencies in the passing game hurting Texas in games against well-balanced opponents. Luckily for the Longhorns in this match-up, their defense has been playing quite well down the stretch, ranking as the best in the Big 12 and 14th in the nation, allowing 315.3 yards/game. They’ll certainly need their stout rush defense (allowing just 103.7 yards per contest) to step up against Cal’s shifty Isi Sofele, who has rushed for 130+ yards in 3 of his last four starts, but will have to also find a way to limit Cal quarterback Zach Maynard from picking them apart downfield. While Texas has a pair of great young cornerbacks and a solid defensive line in the face of a well-rounded Cal offensive attack, finding a way to keep the Texas offense moving the football in order to take pressure off their defense will be one of the most important factors for the ‘Horns in tonight’s clash.
California on the other hand comes into this contest with plenty of bones to pick, first as they still hold a grudge from being bumped out of the 2004 Rose Bowl due to the lobbying of Texas coach Mack Brown to get the ‘Horns a better ranking (which consequently held the Bears out of the Rose Bowl, which they haven’t been to since 1959), and secondly because Texas has owned Cal historically, winning 4 match-ups all-time dating back to 1970. Though Cal isn’t a team that overwhelms opponents, they utilize a well-balanced offensive attack led by QB Zach Maynard (2802 yards, 17 TDs) and his top receiving target Keenan Allen (89 catches, 1261 yards, 6 TDs) and get good production on the ground via the aforementioned Isi Sofele (232 carries, 1270 yards, 9 TDs). While Cal is slightly hedged slightly towards the run as the basis for their offense (448 rushing plays to 407 passing plays this season), the Bears should look to come out firing downfield, first to try and spread the Texas D as thin as possible, and second to try to open up the running game for Sofele in the face of a very good Texas defensive front seven. One of Cal’s keys to victory tonight lies with how well Zach Maynard can get to his leading receiver Keenan Allen, as its highly likely that the running game is going to find tough going early on at least. If Cal can find ways to pick at Texas’ quality secondary and get Allen lots of catches tonight, the Bears could have a leg up in the face of a shutdown defense that is used to facing high-powered offenses. However, if Cal struggles to find consistency in the passing game (something that has hurt the Bears, as Maynard is throwing at just a 57 percent completion rate), they could find themselves being aggravated by trying to force the ball on the ground against Texas, and in that scenario the Longhorns will have a clear upper hand towards tonight’s bottom line.
The bottom line for both teams in this game however will depend on how good the rushing performances are, as each team has relied on a strong ground attack to pull them through games. While Texas has had struggles this year due to injury at the running back position to both Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown, we can expect a healthy backfield in this game to help shoulder the offensive load against a Cal defense that does find itself susceptible to a good run-based offense. Although Cal itself does have a very good QB-receiver duo in Maynard and Allen, that is about as far as the Bears passing game goes depth-wise, with just one other player pulling in more than 25 catches this year (Marvin Jones, 54 catches, 758 yards, 3 TDs). That leaves them leaning on the running game if Texas is able to properly limit Allen from catching balls downfield (a task that the ‘Horns well respected CBs Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs will be tasked with), and that will put a lot of pressure on Isi Sofele to come up big against a quick Texas D line and a quality crew of linebackers. If Sofele can generate over 100 yards rushing and keep the Cal offense driving, Texas will inevitably wear down late in the game, and become more open to passing attacks downfield. On the flipside however, if Texas can get their quarterbacks (we don’t really know yet who will see the most play, Ash or McCoy) to hang in there without making too many mistakes, and lean on their talented young rushers to generate first downs, the Longhorns’ very good defense should have enough juice in the tank to keep Cal at bay for the win.
Betting Lines for California vs. Texas at Intertops Sportsbook
With the two teams coming into this match-up headed in very different directions, it’s a tough pick to call who will be the eventual winner in this year’s Holiday Bowl, but you can at least do some research on our website to find the best betting lines for tonight’s contest between Texas and California across a number of the best online sportsbooks reviewed right here. We’re finding the best odds at Intertops Sportsbook today, with Texas favored to win on the money line at -175 odds while Cal underdog pickers get a good option at +155 odds on the money line today. With 3.5 points on the spread given to Cal (-110 odds) this game is being pushed by bookmakers as being relatively well-balanced, and with Texas’ vaunted defense slowing the scoring down, the over/under gets set at 48 points, again with -110 odds going in either direction. Again expecting a tight first half of scoring to give way to more production in the second half, we’re pushing as well for a good looking wager on first half points going under the 24 points allotted, (-105 odds), but with both teams battling it out down the home stretch, we expect to see the total points at 48 just go over slightly with the winner going for about 25-28 points, and the loser very close on the heels.
Our Pick to Win:
I’ve been struggling with this call all week long, flip-flopping back and forth between Cal and Texas, quite simply because I don’t know which Texas team is going to show up tonight. While Cal has the better all around offense, they aren’t of the caliber that beat up badly on Texas this year (Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State to name a few), and as such Texas should frustrate the Cal offense into making a few bad decisions, and keep them under 30 points scoring this evening. For Texas, it all hinges on whether their quarterbacks can hold it together for 4 quarters, and keep the ball moving enough with their running backs to ease pressure on their defense. While I don’t like wagering on defense in bowl games, as College games can quickly turn on good young defenses that get frustrated by good offenses, I don’t think Cal is quite up to the caliber of play necessary to push the Texas defense into a collapse. Likewise, a healthy and speedy Texas offense could end up doing a lot more damage against a Cal defense that allowed 38 points to Arizona State in the last week of play, and can get burned badly against the run. Consider also Cal’s form overall this year, which while good down the stretch has seen them slip to all opponents carrying a record of better than .500. Texas has played a much, much tougher schedule with a much worse offense, and still has come out the same as Cal record-wise at the end of the season. Looking for Texas to show better form in a national game tonight against Cal, I’m taking Texas to win 28-24 in a close race to the finish that sees the Golden Bears fall just short to a good Texas defensive stand.