Instant Analysis - Poinsettia
Utah 37 ... California 27
Mountain West types are going to get all chest-thumpy after a dominant performance by Utah over the Poinsettia Bowl, but no, this game didn't go to prove as much as you might think.
Utah was supposed to beat Cal.
BYU blasting away on Oregon State; that's a story. Granted, it didn't seem like the Beavers had any interest in playing a game of college football, but that's not BYU's fault. Wyoming beating Fresno State despite being an 11-point underdog is a big deal, too. It's a killer for the WAC that the league's third best team could lose to a mediocre also-ran from another conference. But Utah beating a flaky and strange Cal team, whose last game was a 42-10 loss to Washington, and with four regular season losses by a combined score of 145 to 30, was sort of what was supposed to happen.
Utah's defense really was that good all year outside of the three losses to Oregon, TCU, and BYU. The offense has a nice offensive line that could neutralize the Cal pass rush, the Bear secondary has been miserable all season long, and Utah knows how to win bowl games with eight straight victories before the Poinsettia Bowl game. Utah was better than Cal, but that doesn't mean the Mountain West is better than the Pac 10.
Of course Utah, BYU, and TCU could play with and beat anyone in the Pac 10, but Air Force would be mediocre against a Pac 10 schedule (the Falcons lost to Minnesota, after all), and Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV, and Wyoming would all join Washington State at the bottom of the pack. Utah, BYU, and TCU are great; the Mountain West isn't.
Put down your pom-poms, Pac-10 boy. Your conference has been a nationally-televised disgrace on back-to-back nights.
On Tuesday, Oregon State got spanked by BYU, 44-20, in Las Vegas. On Wednesday, Cal blew an early 14-0 lead and lost to Utah, 37-27. These are supposed to be two of the league's more competent representatives. To those who tried to suggest during the regular season that the Pac-10 was sneaking up on the SEC in the conference pecking order, can we stop that silliness now? The league is today what it's always been, an extremely entertaining collection of teams and talent that doesn't play enough defense, especially when USC isn't at the top of its game. And since the Trojans are just average this season, the rest of the conference is going to reside somewhere south of that line.
Regarding the Golden Bears, did they want to be in San Diego for this game or what? It didn't appear that way. As soon as the Utes showed some fight and began to battle back, Cal folded and lost whatever emotion it had in the first 15 minutes. Yeah, I was on the Jeff Tedford bandwagon a few years back, but he appears to have peaked with this program. Maybe it's destined to be a perennial tease that tops out at around eight wins, nine when things break right. That's a far better fate than when Tom Holmoe was around, but the lack of consistency in Strawberry Canyon has become maddening and an indictment of the staff. This team that's been roughed up by Washington and Utah in consecutive games is the same one that surprised Arizona and Stanford in the two prior weeks. Go figure.
1) Kyle Whittingham and his staff coached this game the way Urban Meyer would have. Then again, Utah simply receives superb coaching each and every year.
At the beginning of this decade, Ron McBride outcoached Pete Carroll in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl. Eight years later, the Utes are still dusting off Pac-10 foes in December bowl games. There's a neat symmetry to be found in that reality. What makes this win extra sweet for Whittingham is that he defeated his former offensive coordinator, Andy Ludwig, who called this game for Cal. There were no secrets between these two teams, due to Ludwig's crossover from one sideline to another. The fact that Utah delivered the goods despite Ludwig's insider knowledge of the Utes' schemes is yet another indication of the holistic quality – coaching, talent, and physicality – found on Mountain West Conference ballclubs.
2) While Utah enhanced its reputation as a program – the Utes have now won nine straight bowl games, an achievement worthy of pigskin professors named Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno and Pete Carroll – the California brand name took yet another hit.
While Kyle Whittingham was letting loose on one sideline with creative and aggressive play calls, Cal boss Jeff Tedford punted on 4th and 3 at the Utah 48 with just over nine minutes left in a game the Golden Bears trailed by two scores, 30-21. Those kinds of abysmal decisions (go back to the 2006 Cal loss against USC for more evidence) have defined an era in Berkeley that has witnessed a modest improvement from the past, but certainly not an elevation to elite status in the college football community.
Cal got jobbed in the race for the 2005 Rose Bowl; few sensible people outside of Austin, Tex., would dispute that claim. Yet, the fact remains that Cal is bereft of a Pac-10 title and a truly significant bowl win in the Tedford era. Call Cal a solid mid-tier BCS program, but until the Bears shake off their penchant for displaying psychological shakiness and big-game stage fright, they're not worthy of lofty preseason rankings, abundant accolades, or any other form of treatment which even begins to suggest that this is an upper-tier college football program.
The sooner commissioner Larry Scott can get the Pac-10 out of these lower-tier bowl games against the Mountain West, the better. They're killing the conference's credibility.
Forget the fact Utah crushed Alabama under similar circumstances last year, all anyone will remember is how a Pac-10 team expected to challenge for the Rose Bowl was smacked around by those pesky upstarts no one ever sees play.
Cal and Oregon State have dug the conference such a hole, only total domination the rest of the way can salvage this bowl season for the Pac-10.
As for the Bears themselves, they have no playmakers on offense outside of Shane Vereen – wasn't quarterback development Jeff Tedford's claim to fame? - save the injured Jahvid Best and the secondary was horrendous with blown coverage and missed tackles.
For all the criticism directed at that coach down in Los Angeles this season - the one with national championships and Pac-10 titles to his credit, mind you –Tedford's latest flop will only amplify criticism he has taken the Bears as far as he can.