Texas and Cal both bring 7-5 records into this year’s Holiday Bowl. But what separates the Longhorns and Golden Bears is how they got there.
After lopsided wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, Texas was 6-2 before losing three of its last four regular season contests. Meanwhile, Cal went 3-1 down the stretch after starting the year 4-4. The Golden Bears’ lone loss in their final four games was a three-point defeat at No. 4 Stanford, who is set to face the Big 12 champion Oklahoma State Cowboys. A two-point victory in College Station over Texas A&M is the only time the Longhorns have won since pounding the Red Raiders at home.
“You’ve just got to move on,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “It’s easier to let it go because last year when we lost to Baylor and A&M, we were done. The season was over. This year, we have one more game.”
After missing out on the postseason a year ago, Robinson and his teammates can better appreciate a bowl berth. With a loss to Alabama in the national title game two seasons ago, it’s been nearly three years since Texas has won a bowl game. Seven victories and a Holiday Bowl might not have been what the Longhorns had in mind, but it’s a step in the right direction.
“Whenever you go 5-7 at a school like Texas, things have to change,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “One of our main motivations this season was not being at home at this time of year. Everyone likes going home to their family and all but whenever you’re watching bowl games on TV that you should be playing in, it’s not a great feeling. That was tough.”
The importance of taking advantage of this bowl appearance is not lost on Texas. The Longhorns won their final game before seven of the nine 10-win seasons that preceded last year’s debacle, including winning five straight bowl games from a 38-37 win over Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl to a 24-21 victory in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl over Ohio State.
“The bowl game is always important because it allows you to go into the next season and into the spring with a little confidence,” said senior defensive tackle Kheeston Randall. “It’s pretty much the first game of next season.”
10 wins isn’t a possibility for this year’s Texas team but the Longhorns can get to eight with a win over the Golden Bears Wednesday. More importantly, a victory can propel Texas to elevate the program to its former glory – winning 10 games while contending for conference and national titles every year. The Longhorns are 12-12 over their last two seasons, both of which saw them fall in the season finale in the previous year.
“Momentum coming out of a bowl game is big,” said sophomore guard Mason Walters. “I haven’t been able to enjoy a win in a bowl game but I know what a loss does, even in the national championship. You feel terrible.”
If the Longhorns find a way to beat Cal, however, they’ll finally be able to go through an offseason without feeling terrible.