A trip to San Francisco might not be high on the list of rewards for fans of a team from Berkeley, but those California fans who make the short trek should be treated to a pretty good bowl game.
The Cal Golden Bears finished fourth in the Pac Ten this season, going 6-3 in league games and finishing 8-4 overall. Ken from Excuse Me For My Voice makes a good point when he mentions that only one Pac Ten team is playing in a New Year's Day bowl. I mean, whoopie for the Holiday Bowl in that they get the second-best team from the league, but the Pac Ten has to start doing a better job negotiating their bowl tie-ins. The fourth-best team from the Big Ten is playing in the highly-visible Outback Bowl, while the fourth-best team from the Pac Ten is stuck in the Emerald Bowl.
Miami comes from the ACC, where they went 7-5 overall and 4-4 in league play. While they don't have the swagger of past Hurricane teams, they certainly are an improved football team this year. Canes Rising is all over the play of their defense because of their lack of turnovers and red-zone production, and Miami sure didn't finish the season with a boom, but there is good reason for hope. Randy Shannon has recruited well so far, and he needs to be given time to get his recruits some experience.
More on the matchup after the jump.
When: December 27, 8pm
Media: ESPN and ESPN Radio
Who to watch
Cal: Without question, it's running back Jahvid Best (above). With nearly 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns, Best has been the main catalyst for the Golden Bears. The quarterback position has been a struggle, with Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore combining to hit a rather putrid 53% of their throws. The running game has been strong throughout the season. Best was held in check against Maryland and USC, and he didn't play against Arizona State, but he finished the season strong. Well, actually, it was probably better than that, because "strong" doesn't begin to describe running for over 500 yards in two games, even if those games were against Stanford and Washington.
Miami: The Hurricanes didn't improve with their offense this year. There are some pieces there, but nothing to remind anyone of the old days just yet. The defense was flying all over the field in their big wins over Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, and one of the real keys on that side of the ball has been true freshman Marcus Robinson. The Hurricanes had 11 true freshmen on their two-deep, and Robinson likely made the biggest impact of any of them. He was second on the team with four sacks, three of them coming against Virginia Tech, and Robinson tied for the team with nine tackles.
I'm not a big fan of basing bowl predictions on the perceived strength of the leagues represented in the bowl game. If you did that here, there's no question you'd pick Cal to win a blowout.
Miami's strong defense should be enough to keep them in the game. I expect that Cal will try to get through this game with Best and Shane Vereen carrying the offense. Neither quarterback is consistent or accurate enough to win this game for his team, especially if Miami turns up the heat with their pass rush.
Of course, Miami has a similar problem on offense. Robert Marve and Jacory Harris have both seen time at quarterback. While both are very good athletes, they're not great passers, yet. Graig Cooper and Javarris James lead the running game, and I would expect Miami to make some things happen on the ground. The mobility of their quarterbacks is the real difference between the running games, as both Riley and Longshore are, um, stationary.
Miami probably has the flashier defense, but Cal's been pretty effective on defense for most of the season. Being that I do think they've faced better offenses, I think the Golden Bears have an advantage on that side of the ball. With the more dynamic running game and probably better play from the quarterbacks and receivers, I see Cal having a few too many edges across the board to be ignored.
I'll take California to win the Emerald Bowl.
FanHouse Previews the 2008 Emerald Bowl: California vs. Miami originally appeared on NCAA Football FanHouse on Fri, 12 Dec 2008 12:10:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.