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Utah vs. Cal
While itís not quite the Sugar Bowl, you wonít find a single player on the
Utah Utes team that isnít happy to be playing against the California Golden
Bears in the Poinsettia Bowl. The Utes have compiled a strong record of 9-3 this
year, with losses coming against Oregon, TCU, and BYU. All three of those teams
are very solid, and two will be playing in BCS Bowls this year. Utah is a team
that must be respected.
The Bears entered 2009 with high hopes, but ended the year with a lackluster record of 8-4. They looked to be recovering after beating Arizona and Stanford near the end of the year, but they were routed by Washington to end the season. This promises to be an exciting game.
The Golden Bears started the year with high hopes in the top 25. That all came to a screeching halt when they were routed by Oregon 40-3, and then blew out the following week against USC 30-3. Putting up a combined 6 points in two weeks doesnít exactly inspire confidence.
They rebounded to win 3 straight, but then lost 31-14 to Oregon State. Following that loss they won 2 games against top 25 teams before getting crushed by Washington as I previously noted. Defense will be key for California in this game. If they can prevent Utah from putting up big numbers then they will have a shot to win this game. If not, then things could get ugly.
Cal will need big games from the players they have relied on the most this year. Those players are QB Kevin Riley and RB Shane Vereen. Riley has passed for 2636 yards and 17 TDs. His QB rating of 131.36 is stellar, and the Golden Bears need for him to minimize mistakes. Shane Vereen has done very well since taking over for NFL bound and injured RB Jahvid Best. The sophomore has picked up 10 TDs this year and 830 yards while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. The defense also needs to come up big. They have played well in games that California won, but gave up big points in their losses.
Utah has had a successful year. They finished 9-3 but lack a marquee win. Close games against Oregon State and BYU leap off the page, but a loss is a loss regardless of how close. They have a tradition of winning games in recent history and they have showed up on the big stage in the past. I canít fault them for not having won a game against a top opponent. This team is strong on both sides of the ball. They have proved that by putting up 30+ points in 5 games this year. The defense held opponents to 17 or less points a whopping 8 times this year. A high scoring offense combined with lockdown defense is a deadly combination. They will have to focus on stopping Vereen and Riley for this game. If they can shut down the Cal running game they will be on a way to a win in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Key players for the Utah Utes include QB Terrance Cain, RB Eddie Wide, and WR David Reed. All three will be pivotal to a win in this game. Cain has passed for 1624 yards and 11 TDs this year. He is something of a game manager. Eddie Wide has compiled 1032 yards and 12 TDs while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. David Reed is the best receiver on the team. He has caught 75 passes this year for 1085 yards and 5 TDs.
Neither team can be thrilled with this bowl game. Cal was touted as a National title contender coming into the year while Utah was in off an undefeated year and a legitimate claim to a piece of last years title. At least Utah gets to leave their home state and head to a warm weather location as a reward for a job well done!
We have to side with the Utes here. They have been the more consistent team. Cal has played a slightly more difficult schedule, but they weren't able to do anything against that schedule. Big losses to Oregon, USC, Oregon State and even Washington are what stands out with this Cal team. Utah only has one game on it's dance card where they weren't competitive and that was against undefeated TCU.
There is a motivational edge here as well, favoring Utah. It's the same edge the showed it's face last night when BYU trounced Oregon State. The PAC-10 is no doubt the more high profile conference. Win the PAC 10 and go to the Rose Bowl and play on New Years Day with the football world watching. Or, better yet, go to the BCS title game. Go 10-2 in the MWC like BYU did and play in a garbage Bowl before Christmas that no one watches. Or, go undefeated, as Utah did a year ago, and knock off SEC giant Alabama, but still get swept under the rug when it comes to the National Title.
It's all about respect, or lack of it. These kids from the MWC will always want to prove they can play with the high profile PAC 10 kids. Keep beating PAC 10 and other high profile conferences in Bowl games and they won't be able to ignore the MWC in the future. UTAH +3
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