Cal will not play Jeff Tedford-coached Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl as some -- including me -- had hoped.
Instead the Bears are headed to Phoenix for a Dec. 26 Cheez-It Bowl matchup against TCU, a game that probably suits the Bears coaching staff just fine. The Horned Frogs (6-6, 4-5 in the Big 12) had to beat Baylor and Oklahoma State in their final two games to become bowl-eligible, and they won the finale against Oklahoma State with their third-string quarterback, Grayson Muehlstein, who made his first career start.
The Cheez-It Bowl will be played at Chase Field, the home stadium of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the game will begin at 6 p.m. Pacific time (7 p.m. Mountain time).
But playing in that game robs the public of a chance to see the current Bears, coached by Justin Wilcox, against Fresno State and Tedford, who took Cal to national prominence with his offensive know-how before being fired in 2012.
The problem was Washington State's final CFP ranking. The Cougars came in at No. 13, and if they had been ranked two or three spots higher, they would have received a bid to one of the New Year's Six Bowls. That would have moved all the other bowl-eligible Pac-12 teams up a notch in the bowl pecking order, and Cal might have claimed a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl, which had already decided it would take the Mountain West champion – Fresno State. Arizona State landed that berth against the Bulldogs.
Because Washington State missed out on a New Year's Six bowl, it dropped down to the Alamo Bowl, the top Pac-12 bowl affiliation after the Rose Bowl.
All the other bowl-eligible Pac-12 team dropped down to the next rung on the Pac-12 bowl ladder, putting Cal in the Cheez-It Bowl.
That scenario mattered little to the Bears, who were pleased to be in the Cheez-It Bowl after failing to earn a postseason berth the past two seasons.
“It’s awesome,” Cal linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk said. “Just an opportunity to play a bowl game – and the goal is not only to get to a bowl game but to win it.
“It’s going to be a dog fight.”
Redshirt senior center Addison Ooms is one of the few current Cal players who played in the Bears’ 2015 bowl game – a 55-36 victory over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. Interestingly, that game was played at the home stadium of TCU.
“Our experience in 2015 was so much fun,” Ooms said. “I told our young guys, ‘It’s awesome.’
“It’s exciting for this game and the future of the Cal program.”
Cal coach Justin Wilcox is probably pleased that the Bears landed in a game that will not be played until Dec. 26 rather than in the Dec. 15 Las Vegas Bowl. It gives Cal more time to practice.
“The more time you have, the better it is for your program,” he said.
Much of the practice time before a bowl is spent working out young players who did not get much playing time during the season.
“It’s like having another spring ball,” Kunaszyk said.
The Bears will begin practice for the bowl game on Friday.
“One of the goals we talk about beginning each season is to win a bowl game,” Wilcox said. “(Being in a bowl game) is important for the fans, the program, the university. It needs to be a part of the Cal program.”
It also gives Cal something to focus on after losing to Stanford for a ninth straight time – a 23-13 defeat that dropped the Bears’ record to 7-5 overall and 4-5 in the Pac-12.