On the one hand, I am surprised Cal has wound up in the Armed Forces Bowl. It seemed like everyone I talked to was pretty convinced Arizona State was going to go to the Fiesta Bowl if it beat Arizona on Saturday. The Sun Devils were BCS-eligible and why wouldn’t the Fiesta Bowl want the local team?
On the other hand, the Fiesta Bowl made the right choice. Arizona State simply isn’t worthy of a BCS game. Yes, the Sun Devils are 10-2 and shared the Pac-10 title with USC. But they played eight of their 12 games at home and lost to both USC and Oregon.
Had ASU been picked by the Fiesta Bowl, Cal would have wound up in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco. Since the Sun Devils weren’t, they were slotted No. 6 among the Pac-10’s six bowl-eligible teams and therefore in line for the Armed Forces Bowl bid.
Sometimes, bowls make deals with each other within the conference so it wasn’t set in stone Cal was going to Fort Worth. In fact, Armed Forces Bowl executive director Tom Starr said Sunday night that he was talking to the Las Vegas Bowl about swapping with UCLA. But both bowls stayed put.
Cal will be playing Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Bears beat the Falcons in 2004 but lost to them in 2002. In fact, the loss in ’02 was Jeff Tedford’s first as Cal’s coach (after starting his first season 3-0). Air Force is 9-3 and finished second in the Mountain West Conference.
It should be a nice trip for running back Justin Forsett, who is from nearby Arlington, Texas. I talked to Justin’s father last week for a story and he was really hoping the Bears would wind up there. Freshman quarterback Brock Mansion is the only other player on Cal’s roster from Texas (Dallas).
The Armed Forces Bowl is on New Year’s Eve at 9:30 a.m. Pacific Time, and on ESPN.
You have to wonder what the next month is going to be like for the Bears. How motivated will they be to play in this lower-tier bowl game after their sights were set so high two months ago? They certainly haven’t given a very inspired effort the past couple of games. If the Bears felt like they had something to prove, why didn’t we see it against Stanford? If the Big Game can’t get them to play closer to a higher level, will the Armed Forces Bowl? It may be a big game for the underclassmen, to set things up for the spring and next season.
Reflecting on the Big Game, obviously Cal was disappointed with its offensive performance. The Bears went to a lot of two-receiver sets because of the absence of DeSean Jackson. I’m not sure how much that affected the Bears. When Robert Jordan sat out the UCLA game, Cal stuck with more three-receiever sets. For the record, Tedford said it didn’t affect the game plan that dramatically.
The defense is what it is. Giving more reps to Greg Van Hoesen and Justin Moye at linebacker didn’t make much of an impact, good or bad.
Some leftover comments Saturday’s postgame interviews:
Linebacker Worrell Williams: “They’re not a better team than us. No way, no how. You guys know that. Everybody knows that. But you couldn’t tell from today’s game. Take nothing away from them. Coach Harbaugh has those guys playing hard. They’re a good team. But we killed ourselves today. That’s what we’ve been doing.”
Moye: “That was the best Stanford team I’ve ever played against. They came out hitting hard. We just couldn’t answer it, I guess.”
Linebacker Zack Follett: “We were riding so high on what we had going. Once we faced a little adversity, everything kind of tumbled down from there. Once again, I don’t think we had the leadership to bring it up. Me being a senior next year, I’m going to have to fill those shoes. That’s going to be my biggest thing in the offseason to work on so it doesn’t happen again.”