Cal's season began with grand ambitions, three consecutive wins and one heady week at No. 6 in the national rankings. It ended in a half-empty stadium two nights before Christmas, with another in a curious collection of desultory losses. The Bears jumped ahead early in Wednesday night's Poinsettia Bowl, played dreadfully for a long stretch and fell 37-27 to Utah. The Utes won their ninth consecutive bowl game, the longest active streak in the nation, while Cal lost a bowl game for the first time since 2004. In some ways, it was a fitting end to the Bears' utterly strange season. They put together little sustained offense - quarterback Kevin Riley faced heavy pressure, threw two interceptions, fumbled once and seemed indecisive all night - and the defense struggled to contain Utah's spread-option attack.
"This is going to sting for a while," coach Jeff Tedford said. A crowd of 32,665 at Qualcomm Stadium watched the Utes finish their season at 10-3 and give the Mountain West Conference its second consecutive bowl victory over a Pac-10 opponent. BYU thrashed Oregon State 44-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl on Tuesday night. Cal (8-5) made the final score respectable by scoring a late touchdown, but even that came with a semi-embarrassing moment. Tedford initially sent the kicking team onto the field to attempt an extra point, rather than try for two - with his team trailing by 10 and obviously needing to slice its deficit to eight (only 1:46 remained). Tedford realized his gaffe and called a timeout before the kick. (Cal's subsequent two-point try failed.) He later said he mistakenly checked the laminated chart he holds during games, when he should have checked the scoreboard.
At any rate, Cal's players - and especially the seniors - struggled to digest ending their season this way. They were riding high Nov. 21, after an impressive win in the Big Game left them 8-3, gave them five wins in six games and put them on track for a strong finish.