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2006 Holiday Bowl - Cal vs. Texas A&M
Posted Dec 14, 2006

The Pac 10 has been the big flop of the bowl season so far going 0-3. Desmond Bishop and Cal must finally show that they can beat a good team in tonight's 2006 Pacific Life Holiday Bowl against Texas A&M.

Texas A&M (9-3) vs. California (9-3)

Dec. 28, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

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Pacific Life Holiday Bowl Player Profile: California CB Daymeion Hughes, team bowl history and more

Call this the Prove It Bowl.

Texas A&M's 9-3 season barely drew more than a national yawn, even with the impressive 12-7 win over Texas. Maybe if UCLA hadn't beaten USC the Aggie win in Austin would've gotten more attention, but a win over California, and the program's first ten win season since 1998, might finally get everyone off head coach Dennis Franchione's back.

Cal has cranked out plenty of wins in the Jeff Tedford era, and has made a whole bunch of national noise with its speed and athleticism, but the biggest win since the upset over USC in 2003 was over an average Virginia Tech team in the 2003 Insight Bowl. Since then, three games against USC, the 2004 Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech, and the season opener this year against Tennessee, were all big chances for Cal to finally prove that it belongs among the better programs in America, but it hasn't been able to come through with a defining win.

National Rankings
California Texas A&M
Total Offense
 14th  411 ypg 19th  401.42 ypg
Total Defense
90th  367.67 ypg 37th  309.83 ypg
Scoring Offense
14th  31.83 ppg 27th  29.33 ppg
Scoring Defense
43rd  20.08 ppg 32nd  18.50 ppg
Run Offense
39th  156.25 ypg 7th  210.50 ypg
Run Defense
45th  122.25 ypg 46th  123 ypg
Pass Offense
16th  254.75 ypg 68th  190.92 ypg
Pass Defense
108th  245.42 ypg  41st  186.83  ypg
Turnover Margin
27th  0.50  15th  0.75
at Tenn. L 35-18
Minnesota W 42-17
Portland St W 42-16
Arizona St W 49-21
at Oreg. St W 41-13
Oregon W 45-24
at Wash St W 21-3
Wash. W 31-24 OT
UCLA W 38-24
at Arizona L 24-20
at USC L 23-9
Stanford W 26-17
Texas A&M
The Citadel W 35-3
UL Lafayette W 51-7
Army W 28-24
La Tech W 45-14
Texas Tech L 31-27
at Kansas
W 21-18
Missouri W 25-19
at Ok St W 34-33 OT
at Baylor W 31-21
Oklahoma L 17-16
Nebraska L 28-27
at Texas W 12-7
Position Ratings
relative to each other
Cal 5 highest
1 lowest
4 Quarterbacks 4
5 RBs 5
5 Receivers 3
4 O Line 4.5
3.5 D Line 3.5
3.5 Linebackers 4
4 Secondary 3
5 Spec Teams 4
4.5 Coaching 4

It's also prove it time for the Pac 10 in one of its biggest bowl slots after losing four of the last five with the one win coming when Washington State pulled off a monster upset in the 2003 win over Texas. The Pac 10 is always fighting for respect, and it can't afford a loss here.

The Bears started out the season as a sleeper in the national title race, but those dreams were quickly met with a thud after Tennessee ran away with a 35-18 win. After reeling off eight straight wins averaging close to 40 points per outing, and getting back in the national championship chase, Cal blew it a week before facing USC when Nate Longshore threw three critical interceptions in a loss to Arizona. After getting pasted by the Trojans, and almost getting stunned by an awful Stanford team, Cal is still looking to show everyone just how good it really is.

Texas A&M is in the midst of a strong year, but it could've been something truly special with a little bit more luck. The Aggies lost to Texas Tech 31-27 on a 37-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds, lost to Oklahoma 17-16 after failing to hold on a late fourth and one, and lost to Nebraska after giving up a touchdown drive after getting an apparent game-sealing field goal blocked. It's not an overstatement to say A&M was three plays away from being in the Big 12 title game with a shot at the BCS Championship game.

With a strong running game, an adequate defense, and good special teams, this is a solid A&M team that has the athletes, and the experience, to stick around with Cal's speed. A win would get everyone around College Station jacked up for 2007 with most of the key starters on both sides of the ball returning.

Cal is fast, fast, fast on both sides of the ball with some of the most explosive skill players in college football and star defensive playmakers in LB Desmond Bishop and Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year CB Daymeion Hughes. But is this a tough enough team to handle getting punched in the mouth by the tough Aggies?

Easily one of the most entertaining bowls year in and year out, with seven of the last eight being decided by seven points or fewer (with the one exception being Cal's 45-31 loss to Texas Tech in 2004), this should be no different. It'll be a shock if this isn't one of the most competitive pre-New Year's Day games.

Players to watch: This game will be all about the running backs, but Cal's DeSean Jackson is the one X factor who could turn the tide of the game with one big play. While a wisp at around 160 pounds on a six-foot frame, the sophomore is one of the nation's most electrifying players with 4.3 speed and Reggie Bush-like moves once he's in the open field. He was the team's top receiver with 54 catches for 979 yards and nine touchdowns, but he only has one scoring grab over the final six games of the season. He's also among the most dangerous punt returners in college football.

The Bears don't just use Jackson to hit home runs, they get big-time pop from its fabulous running back tandem of Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett. Lynch has the size at around 225 pounds to go along with sub-4.4 speed with a career average of 6.6 yards per carry. He's a fantastic receiver out of the backfield and is normally great in the red zone, but he didn't score in the final three games of the year. Lynch's running mate, Forsett, is a small, quick back who scored 63 touchdowns as a Texas high school star, but he didn't get any offers from anyone close by. A&M's negligence is Cal's gain as Forsett has rushed for 502 yards and three scores this year, and filled in for a banged up Lynch throughout last year rushing for 999 yards and six scores. Both will have to sharp with top fullback and star special teamer Byron Storer out with a broken arm.

A&M has a tremendous tandem of its own in 274-pound sophomore bowling ball Jorvorskie Lane and star true freshman Mike Goodson combining for 1,474 yards. Lane is unstoppable around the goal line with 19 touchdowns on the year scoring at least once in every game. While he has workhorse ability, he hasn't had to carry the entire load with Goodson, a big-time recruit for the program last year, getting more and more work as the season has gone on with double-digit carries in five of the final six games and 785 yards on the year. With tremendous speed and nice hands, Goodson is truly the lighting to Lane's thunder. 

Texas A&M will win if... Lane and the A&M running game controls the tempo by pounding the ball and doesn't give up too many big plays. A&M was third in the nation in time of possession holding the ball for 33:29 per game helped by converting 51.2% of its third down chances, and the success should continue as the Aggies have a big advantage on the line. Cal only faced one nasty running team, Minnesota, and that game got out of hand early forcing the Gophers to throw. As long as the A&M defense limits Jackson, Lynch, and the explosive Bears from tearing off backbreaking plays, it should be able to hang on to the ball as long as it wants to.

California will win if... it gets all the pieces involved. The Bears get in trouble when it becomes one-dimensional, and it has big problems when Longshore gets pressured. The Aggie corners are nothing special meaning the safeties will have to spend most of their time worrying about the speed of Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins, and Robert Jordan on the deep plays while opening everything up for Lynch and Forsett. Even if the Cal running game is held under wraps, Lynch should have plenty of room to run when he gets the ball in his hands on short passes. Cal would have no problem if this turned into a shootout.

What will happen: Texas A&M struggled all year against the nastier passing offenses and doesn't have enough of a pass rush to throw the Bear passing game off, so expect a big day from Longshore. Cal isn't physical enough to handle the nasty A&M offensive line and the pounding of the ground game, so expect a big day from Lane. When in doubt, go with the better running game.

Line: California -5.5 ... CFN Prediction:
Texas A&M 24 ... California 23

Get Tickets for the Holdiay Bowl | Get more picks for this game

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl Player Profile: California CB Daymeion Hughes, team bowl history and more