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BERKELEY -- The California vs. Texas Holiday Bowl match-up is a grudge match seven years in the making, at least for the Bears faithful.
So far, Cal has sold approximately 7,000 of its 11,000-ticket allotment for the Dec. 28 bowl game, and the bowl itself has sold a total of 57,000 tickets - well on-pace to equal the 63,711 and 62,395 that watched the Bears in San Diego in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
For the players, though, it's just another chance to get back on the field and win a bowl game for the first time since 2008, when Cal defeated Miami 24-17 in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge for us," said sophomore wide receiver Keenan Allen. "They like to go man a lot, so we'll have a great time with those DBs. It's just a great exposure for our program, going against Texas. They've been good for a long time, and they still are good, so we're just going to try to go out there and compete. It would definitely mean a lot. It would show that we can deal with big teams and we can go out and compete with big teams. It shows that we can have a run for the BCS."
The BCS has been the talk of the recent recruiting weekends, as quarterback Zach Kline has been reeling recruits in with talk of Rose Bowls. Plural.
The game will give recruits out of the Lone Star State an up-close look at the Bears, who are going after current Longhorns commit Thomas Johnson, and have already gotten a commitment from former Texas Tech commit Christian Okafor.
[Read more about the most recent recruiting happenings HERE]
The Bears returned to practice on Wednesday in their first true game-prep session, and saw the return of several key pieces on both offense and defense. Senior wide receiver Micheal Calvin practiced in full, as did redshirt freshman outside linebacker David Wilkerson. Fellow starting outside linebacker Chris McCain was in yellow, but was in full pads, along with the rest of the team.
"It went good," head coach Jeff Tedford said of Wednesday's practice. "We're getting back into the focus of what's going on. Today was our first real day of Texas preparation, so we're starting now to implement the game plan. We had good focus, and we'll have three really good days this weekend of practice for Texas."
The Cal players now have to spend double the amount of time they did during the season in study, as they get ready for the last round of finals, as well as a stout Longhorns defense.
"Today was the first day of Texas practice, so the game isn't for a long, long time. It's really important that we stay focused on the details and we practice well, but our guys have been doing a lot of things with finals," Tedford said. "They're staying up really late doing finals and writing papers and things like that, so today, we just kind of scratched the surface a little bit, trying to just introduce some of the things, and then, Saturday-Sunday-Monday, we'll expect a lot more focus. We're going to have three days off, after that, and then, when we get there, it's obvious. As the zone of proximity closes in on the game, you start doing that, but two weeks away from the game, I don't expect a lot of hooting and hollering and things like that. We have to focus on the business at hand and the preparation, and then, all the other emotional things will draw, we'll increase, as we get closer to the game."
Texas ranks 11th in the nation in rushing defense (103.67 yards per game), No. 14 in total defense (315.33 ypg) and No. 14 in passing efficiency defense, holding opposing quarterbacks to a rating of 111.88.
"They're really, really good," Tedford said. "They're No. 1 or No. 2 in almost every defensive category [in the Big 12], and then, I saw the All-Big-12 Team came out today, and they had nine guys on it. Eight of them were on defense."
Senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho (102 tackles, 13.5 TFL), junior defensive lineman Alex Okafor and junior defensive back Kenny Vaccaro were named to the first-team defense by the Big 12, with sophomore defensive lineman Jackson Jeffcoat, senior defensive lineman Kheeston Randall, senior linebacker Keenan Robinson and freshman defensive back Quandre Diggs were named to the second-team defense. Diggs was named the conference's Defensive Freshman of the Year.
Paradoxically, the Longhorns are No. 47 in the country in passing defense (211.67 ypg) and No. 42 in scoring defense (23.25 points per game).
"We're definitely excited," Allen said. "Neither one of us -- in my opinion -- should be 7-5. We should be way better than that. We lost a couple games early on, early games in the season, where we didn't have our minds right. We're ready to go, now."