TIME: 08:00 P.M. EST
VENUE: Memorial Stadium (Note: this is incorrect; it’s in SF at Pac-Bell/SBC/AT&T Park)
A pair of outstanding performances by star sophomore running back Jahvid Best helped California to wins in its final two regular-season games, ensuring the Golden Bears a short drive across San Francisco Bay for their sixth straight bowl appearance. If not for a major breakdown of its run defense, meanwhile, Miami could have had bigger plans for its postseason. Instead, Best will try to exploit the Hurricanes' struggling unit on Dec. 27 in the Emerald Bowl as Miami looks to bounce back on a winning note after its nine-year bowl streak ended last season.
November losses at Southern California and Oregon State crushed any hopes Cal had of winning the Pac-10 title, but that didn't stop the Bears (8-4) from earning blowout victories in their final two games. Best led the way, rushing for 201 yards and scoring three touchdowns in a 37-16 win over rival Stanford on Nov. 22, then setting a school record with 311 rushing yards and adding four TDs in Cal's 48-7 drubbing of winless Washington on Dec. 6. "I didn't even know I was close to it," Best said of the school record. "We just feel like no matter where we are on the field, if we block and do our assignments, we can run it on people."
The sophomore's 8.0 yards per carry leads the nation among players who average at least 10 carries per game, and his 1,394 rushing yards rank eighth nationally.
"I'm very proud of him," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said of Best, who has dealt with elbow, foot and ankle problems. "He's a guy who has played through a lot this year as far as injuries are concerned. You have to take your hat off to him. He comes out every week and he tries to practice, and we have to sit him down and rest him. And every week, he shows up at the game and puts his best effort forward." Best also had strong performances in some of Cal's most impressive wins this season, as the Bears beat a pair of teams currently ranked in the Top 25 in Oregon and Michigan State. But it was their fourth-place finish in the Pac-10 that earned the Bears a bowl bid in the Bay Area for the first time in school history. The Emerald Bowl is held at AT&T Park, home of major league baseball's San Francisco Giants. "It's going to be exciting to be close to home," Best said. "We'll have a lot of good fans there, and hopefully it will feel like a home game."
That likely won't help Miami, which will have something to prove after the way it finished the regular season.
The Hurricanes (7-5) had won five straight going into their final two games, giving themselves a chance at reaching the ACC title game, but they allowed a combined 691 rushing yards in losses at Georgia Tech and North Carolina State.
Miami held seven of its first 10 opponents under 100 yards on the ground, but the Yellow Jackets rushed for a staggering 472 in the Hurricanes' 41-23 loss on Nov. 20, and the Wolfpack followed with 219 yards on the ground in Miami's 38-28 defeat nine days later. "As a football team, we don't accept losing," Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon said. "I think the players understand one thing, as a football team, we always want to win, and we always going to be competitive. We are not going to sit up here and say, 'Oh, we are going to a bowl game.'" Coming off a 5-7 season in 2007, Miami is going to its 23rd bowl game in the last 26 years, but that's not much consolation for a program that played on or after New Year's Day 18 times between 1980 and 2004. The Hurricanes have won eight of their last 10 bowls, including the 2001 BCS national championship.
Cal, meanwhile, has extended its school-record streak of six straight postseason appearances under Tedford. The Bears have averaged 41.0 points in the first five, winning four of them - including the last three. Last season, they beat Air Force 42-36 in the Armed Forces Bowl. While Best missed that game with a hip injury, quarterback Kevin Riley - then a freshman - went 16-of-19 for 269 yards and three touchdowns. Riley has seen most of the action lately over senior Nate Longshore, although he only attempted a combined 18 passes in the wins over Stanford and Washington. He's thrown 14 touchdown passes and six interceptions this season. Miami's quarterback situation is a bit more complicated, as freshmen Robert Marve and Jacory Harris have split snaps all season for Shannon's young team. The Hurricanes' leading rusher, Graig Cooper, is a sophomore, while leading receivers Aldarius Johnson and Thearon Collier are both freshmen. Those players were at most toddlers the last time Cal and Miami met, a 52-24 Hurricanes win in 1990. The Bears have only beaten Miami once in three all-time meetings, 9-7 on the road in 1964.