Offensive tackle Mike Tepper counts as a unique figure on this year's Cal football team, in ways beyond his size, loquaciousness and status as a sixth-year senior. Tepper also is the only member of these Bears to lose a bowl game. It happened here in San Diego, when Texas Tech flattened Cal in the 2004 Holiday Bowl. Tepper vividly remembers the feeling, so he gathered his teammates during practice last week in Berkeley and implored them to treat tonight's Poinsettia Bowl with urgency.
"That sour taste in your mouth is the worst thing in the world, 10 times worse than spinach or whatever vegetable you hate," Tepper said. "You lose a bowl game and your offseason is terrible. All the coaches do is rag on you." The Bears (8-4) face a sizable challenge in avoiding the ragging, despite falling into a low-profile bowl. They meet No. 23 Utah, which sports a splashy 22-3 record over the past two seasons - 13-0 last year, capped by a Sugar Bowl thumping of Alabama, and 9-3 this year. The Utes also arrive with the nation's longest active bowl win streak, at eight games. Cal counters with bowl wins in each of the past four years, from the Las Vegas (over BYU) and Holiday (Texas A&M) to the Armed Forces (Air Force) and Emerald (Miami).