Cal looking forward to Las Vegas Bowl
The way his team performed down the stretch, Jeff Tedford had no room to be picky about California's postseason destination.
"We feel fortunate to still be playing, to be able to practice, to continue to get better," Tedford said Sunday, after the Golden Bears accepted an invitation to the Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl and a date with Brigham Young.
"This gives our seniors a chance to play another game," the coach said. "I feel we're on the right track, going to a third straight bowl. We came into this season as the youngest team in the conference. We're on the way as a program with consistency. I'm proud of our consistency."
Cal and BYU, of the Mountain West Conference, will play Dec. 22 in Las Vegas. After a 5-0 start, the Bears lost four of their final six games -- beating only Washington State and Stanford in that stretch. They fell out of the rankings after starting the season at No. 19.
Still, this inexperienced Cal bunch finished 7-4 to reach a third straight bowl game during Tedford's four-year tenure and ended on a high note with a commanding 27-3 win over archrival Stanford in the 108th Big Game on Nov. 19.
Tedford considers the positive thing about this year's postseason preparation the fact his players don't have to face the constant questioning about whether the Bears received a raw deal by not being picked for a Bowl Championship Series game. Cal was overlooked for a BCS bid in 2004 despite a 10-1 regular-season record that featured a respectable 23-17 loss to Southern California as the lone blemish, and the Trojans went on to its second straight national title.
The Bears wound up losing 45-31 to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl after a thrilling 52-49 Insight Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in 2003 for the school's first bowl win in 10 years.
"We're not going to prepare any differently," Tedford said. "It wasn't that we hadn't prepared well last time. There was so much negativity about the BCS last year that every day we got asked the same question about whether we had gotten over the BCS thing.
"'Do you feel slighted that you're in the Holiday Bowl?' That never went away. Our players don't have that kind of attention going into this bowl game."
They're happy about that, too, and want to forget their frustrating finish to last season in the Holiday Bowl.
"We were a little disappointed last year because we expected to go to a BCS bowl," linebacker Ryan Foltz said. "That doesn't explain why we didn't play so well. We just picked the wrong time to play a mediocre game."
BYU, which finished 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the Mountain West Conference, accepted its invitation on Nov. 22. Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall will use this game as a measuring stick for his program against one of the Pac-10's top teams.
"They play in a tough conference and have a great football tradition," Mendenhall said. "This will serve as an appropriate way to measure our program in relation to the goals that have been established."
Cal and BYU have played only twice previously, with the Cougars winning both meetings -- 38-28 in 1999 and 44-16 in 2001 during the Bears' 1-10 season in coach Tom Holmoe's final year.
Now, strangely enough, Holmoe is the athletic director at BYU.
"I look at this matchup as the opportunity for the Cougars to compete against a very fine Golden Bear team," Holmoe said. "During the bowl festivities, I will enjoy catching up with my Cal friends, including the players, coaches, staff, boosters, alums and the Cal band."
Cal senior center Marvin Philip has some connections of his own on the other team -- three cousins. Philip is a Mormon and spent two years on a mission before returning to Berkeley in the spring of 2003.
"I've always wanted to play against BYU," he said. "They're a very good team."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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