Long plays or long drives. Whichever is most prevalent may go a long way in determining the outcome of the Holiday Bowl.
The explosive Cal Golden Bears have posted 24 touchdown-scoring drives this season that have consumed less than two minutes. That includes 16 traditional drives, three interception returns, four punt returns and a returned fumble.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M takes more of a grind-it-out approach with its option offense. A&M has held a time-of-possession advantage in each of its last nine games. The Aggies have had 16 scoring drives of at least five minutes this season, including one for 8:56 for the game-winning touchdown in an upset of Texas.
The Bears and Aggies are also making their second Holiday Bowl appearances. Cal was defeated by Texas Tech 45-31 in 2004, while A&M defeated BYU 65-14 in 1990.
Holiday Bowl: No. 20 California (9-3) vs. No. 21Texas A&M (9-3)
When: Dec. 28, 7 p.m. (CST) Where: San Diego TV: ESPN, Announcers: Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Erin Andrews
No. 20 California Golden Bears Conference: (Pac-10) Record: (9-3, 7-2) Coach: Jeff Tedford (40-22 in five seasons at Cal) Passing leader: Nate Longshore (208 of 353 for 2,786 yards, 23 TDs, 12 INTs) Rushing leader: Marshawn Lynch (203 carries, 1,245 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, nine TDs) Receiving leader: DeSean Jackson (54 catches, 979 yards, nine TDs) Defensive leader: CB Daymeion Hughes (67 tackles, eight INTs, 11 passes broken up)
No. 21 Texas A&M Aggies Conference: Big 12 Record: 9-3, 5-3 Coach: Dennis Franchione (25-22 in four seasons at A&M) Passing leader: Stephen McGee (177 of 287 for 2,118 yards, 11 TDs, two INTs) Rushing leader: Mike Goodson (114 carries, 785 yards, 6.9 yards per carry, four TDs) Receiving leader: Chad Schroeder (37 catches, 576 yards, three TDs) Defensive leader: LB Justin Warren (90 tackles, 3½ for losses, one sack, three passes broken up)
California running game vs. Texas A&M run defense: Cal's Marshawn Lynch is among the premier RBs in college fooball. His backup, Justin Forsett (502 yards) isn't bad, either. Although the Bears don't depend too heavily on the running game, the fact they've been held below their 156.3 season average in the last three games may be cause for concern. They also won't have injured FB Byron Storer - a solid lead blocker. Injury will prevent Red Bryant, A&M's best run stuffer, from playing. However, the Aggies were strong against the run in the last two games, limiting Nebraska to 123 yards and Texas to 70. However, they've had some issues this year. Oklahoma State rushed for 226 yards and Oklahoma had 224.
California passing game vs. Texas A&M pass defense: Overall, Cal's Nate Longshore flourished in his first year as a starting QB. However, he struggled down the stretch. Longshore completed fewer than 48 percent of his attempts in the Bears' last three games and combined to throw five interceptions against Arizona and USC - both losses. Still, he's completed 58.9 percent of his attempts and has almost double touchdown passes (23) to interceptions (12). WR DeSean Jackson is a game-breaker who has averaged 18.1 yards per catch and has a reception for at least 25 yards in every game. The Bears have allowed only 13 sacks all season. Texas A&M made tremendous improvement from a year ago when it ranked last in the NCAA in pass defense. The Aggies have climbed to 41st and have allowed an average of 186.8 yards. However, their CBs have been subject to getting beat for big plays. DE Chris Harrington has posted 7.5 sacks, but the A&M pass rush isn't overwhelming.
Texas A&M running game vs. California run defense: The Texas A&M run offense ranks seventh nationally, and QB Stephen McGee and RB Mike Goodson give the Aggies a scary option attack. Goodson, a speedy freshman, gained 389 of his team-leading 785 yards in the last four games of the regular season - which included games against Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas. The hard-nosed McGee has added 635 yards. But no matter how well the option goes, A&M's most feared runner is 268-pound sophomore Jorvorskie Lane, who has surprising agility and speed for his size. Lane scored 19 rushing touchdowns and produced a first down or a touchdown on 26 of 29 carries on third down or fourth down. Cal allows just 122.3 rushing yards per game, but part of that may be attributed to the fact opponents would rather pass against a suspect secondary. The Bears allowed just 245 rushing yards in their final three regular seasons combined, but have given up more than 160 rushing yards in four games.
Edge: Texas A&M
Texas A&M passing game vs. California pass defense: The best thing about Texas A&M's passing game is that QB Stephen McGee has thrown just two interceptions all season. He has a deep threat in surprisingly fast and sure-handed Chad Schroeder, and also likes to throw to TE Martellus Bennett (37 catches, 491 yards). The Aggies have allowed only 17 sacks. Cal All-American CB Daymeion Hughes is the Pac-10 defensive player of the year and won the Ronnie Lott Trophy as college football's impact defensive player of the year after grabbing eight interceptions. Despite his presence, the Golden Bears have been vulnerable to the pass, allowing at least 200 yards in their last eight games and 10 overall. Three players have notched 4.5 sacks to lead an average pass rush.
Edge: Texas A&M
Coach vs. Coach: Prior to Jeff Tedford's arrival in Berkeley, Cal had gone eight years without a winning football season and was coming off a 1-10 debacle in 2001. Cal's fortunes immediately improved as the Bears defeated Baylor 70-22 in the 2002 season opener and went on to post a 7-5 record. Under Tedford, Cal is 40-22, has appeared in four consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history and got a share of the Pac-10 championship for the first time in 31 years. Texas A&M's Dennis Franchione also has a reputation for rebuilding fallen programs. He coached TCU to three consecutive bowl games from 1998 to 2000 and had two winning seasons at Alabama before going to A&M in 2003. He has compiled a 25-22 record in four seasons at A&M and has taken the Aggies to two bowl games.
California will win if: The Golden Bears have a big advantage with explosive WR DeSean Jackson and need to capitalize on it against A&M's CBs. Protecting Longshore will be extremely important, too. A&M's doesn't have a powerful pass rush, but Longshore has thrown six interceptions in Cal's three losses, so enhancing his accuracy is key. Defensively, the Bears must find a way to slow A&M's running game without underestimating the Aggies' ability to pass.
Texas A&M will win if: The Aggies have routinely dominated time of possession and need to do so again. An effective running game not only will keep the Aggies' drives alive, but will keep Longshore, Lynch and Jackson on the sideline. When A&M is on defense the Aggies must avoid giving up big plays. P Justin Brantly may also play a key role if he has the hang time or directional kicking to limit Jackson's opportunities for big returns.
Worth noting: Cal's DeSean Jackson leads the nation in punt return yardage and has four returns for touchdowns. … California shared the Pac-10 Conference championship with USC, which marked the first time since 1975 the Bears won a conference championship. … Cal is making its fourth consecutive bowl game appearance. … Texas A&M ranks third nationally in time of possession, keeping the ball for an average of 33 minutes and 29 seconds. Over the last nine games A&M held more than a 10-minute possession advantage in five games.
Line: California by 3.5
Buchana's pick: California 24, Texas A&M 20
Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Texas A&M 24-23
Bill King, Rivals Radio host: Texas A&M 24-23
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: California 28-17