Cal got back together Sunday night after the Thanksgiving break, knowing a lot more about their postseason status. After Oregon’s rout of Oregon State last night, it seems to be almost a sure thing that the Bears are headed to the Emerald Bowl at AT&T Park on Dec. 27.
Cal is going to finish alone in fourth place in the Pac-10 or tied for fourth place. Either way, the Bears will be in fourth place and be in the crosshairs of the Emerald Bowl. The Emerald Bowl wants Cal in a bad way, giving the game a local flavor for the first time and almost assuredly guaranteeing a sellout.
This season, the Emerald Bowl actually is slotted to take the conference’s fifth-place team with the Las Vegas Bowl scheduled to have the fourth place team. But the two bowls work in tandem for the 4-5 slot, switching off every year with the first pick. The Las Vegas Bowl actually has the first pick this year, but the Emerald Bowl is working with the Las Vegas Bowl to make sure it gets Cal and the Las Vegas Bowl is happy with its team.
As of right now, Arizona is the fifth-place team. The Las Vegas Bowl likely would rather have Arizona anyway. It’s closer than Cal, hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1998 and should travel well.
The only scenario in which Cal could possibly not go to the Emerald Bowl is if Arizona State beats Arizona on Saturday. That would make the Wildcats 6-6. Assuming Cal beats Washington and finishes 8-4 and possibly in the top 25, the Bears could be a more attractive product than Arizona. But even that may be a stretch.
Gary Cavalli, the executive director of the Emerald Bowl, said Sunday that it “looks good” to bring Cal to his game. But he also added that it’s not as a sure thing as he’d like it to be.
“We’re working together with the folks at the Las Vegas Bowl to find something that works well for everyone,” Cavalli said. “More than likely, we will have Cal. We’d love to have Cal in the game. It’s a guaranteed sellout. We’ve been looking forward to the day we can have a local team in the game. Cal brings a tremendous fan base.”
It makes for an interesting dynamic for Cal’s players. On one hand, they’d love to play in front of a partisan, sellout crowd, many of them family and friends. On the other hand, part of a bowl experience is going to a new city with new attractions, and the Emerald Bowl won’t have that component.
“We’re not going to do anything that we haven’t done already,” Cal linebacker Zack Follett said after practice tonight. “We’ve been to Alcatraz. But I’m happy with it. At least it’s somewhere close to home. It’s another opportunity to play in front of family and friends.”
He then added: “I’d love Vegas, but I’m fine with it.”
Linebacker Worrell Williams added that some players would be disappointed not to travel to another area, but those were mostly younger players who haven’t had the bowl experience yet.
As far as practice, the Bears went heavy on drills, which is normal coming off a bye week. Cal usually practices three times during a bye week but only went once last week, in addition to a conditioning practice. The Bears got in some good fundamental work tonight before really going hard on Washington on Tuesday. They still did some game planning for the Huskies tonight.
Backup quarterback Nate Longshore missed practice, staying back home for an extra day to see his younger brother off on his Mormon mission. Longshore isn’t going to see his brother for the next two years. He will be back on Monday.