Kyle Whittingham is going to find out officially today that Utah, the team he coaches, has drawn Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl, and he will begin to watch tape of the Bears' season. After about an hour, and somewhere between the eight impressive wins and the four gruesome losses, he will turn to his coordinators and say, "Well, fellas, I have no idea what we're dealing with here. Let me know when you've figured them out." The Golden Bears completed their manic-depressive regular season Saturday evening with a ridiculously decisive 42-10 defeat at the hands of the Washington Huskies, almost certainly costing them about three rungs on the hamster habitat that is the college football bowl system.
But it wasn't just that the Bears plummeted from the Sun, Emerald and Las Vegas Bowls to the Poinsettia on Dec. 23 in San Diego against the Utes, the third-best team in the Mountain West Conference. It was the way they did it. They weren't beaten, they were beaten flat. They channeled all their struggles in their other three losses and distilled them into a lopsided, overwhelmed mess against a Huskies team playing for nothing except the chance to be 2011's version of Stanford.
As a result, they will have somehow managed to go 8-4 while losing their four games by 39, 27, 17 and 32 points, which is a measure of ... well, something. The losses stood out in such dramatic contrast to the eight wins that it is hard even now for Cal experts to make sense of this season. They will end up going to a bowl despite being outscored in Pac-10 games by more points than only Arizona State and Washington State. And they will go to a bowl game because (a) they don't have the nerve to Notre Dame their way out, and (b) they need the mouthwash.