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College Bowl Schedule Features an Unmistakable California Flavor

College Bowl Schedule Features an Unmistakable California Flavor

Gabriel Murphy (11) and Laiatu Latu (15) of the UCLA Bruins pressure Caleb Williams (13) of the USC Trojans from the pocket during the second half of a game in Los Angeles on Nov. 18, 2023. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

12/6/2023

Updated: 12/21/2023

The sense of accomplishment, as well as the enthusiasm level, might vary greatly from one campus to another, but five college football teams from California are nonetheless preparing to appear in bowl games later this month.
Three of the games are set for Dec. 16. Fresno State will take on New Mexico State in the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque (2:45 p.m., ESPN). UCLA will face Boise State in the LA Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California (4:30 p.m., ABC), and Cal will play Texas Tech in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana (6:15 p.m., ESPN).
A week later, on Dec. 23, San Jose State will meet Coastal Carolina in the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu (7:30 p.m., ESPN). The last of this year’s bowl games involving a California team will be the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl at San Diego’s Petco Park that matches USC and Louisville (5 p.m. FOX).
This year marks the sixth time since 2009 that five California teams will play in bowl games, a total surpassed only by the six teams from the Golden State that appeared in bowl games in both 2012 and 2015.
The Bruins, Trojans, and Golden Bears will be playing their final games as members of the Pacific-12 Conference. USC and UCLA, along with Oregon and Washington, are headed for the Big Ten next season, while Cal and Bay Area rival Stanford will be joining the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Without question, it’s safe to say that the Trojans, who entered this season with national championship aspirations, and Bruins had anticipated taking part in bowl games much farther from home.
“It’s not where USC and UCLA envisioned themselves being, but I think they can use it as a positive,” Pac-12 Network and ESPN play-by-play announcer Roxy Bernstein told The Epoch Times. “For example, you get extra practice time. Especially for younger players, you get some experience. It gives opportunities for other players, and they can use it as a springboard into next season.”
Among those younger players are Trojans quarterbacks Miller Moss and freshman Malachi Nelson. One and perhaps both stand to play in the Holiday Bowl, given Coach Lincoln Riley’s Dec. 4 announcement that 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams will skip the post-season game. With Williams seemingly all but certain to enter the NFL draft, the starting spot for next year figures to be open.
After starting the season 6–0, USC lost five of its final six games. Louisville will be no soft touch. The Cardinals, 16–6 losers to Florida State in last weekend’s ACC championship game, are 10–3 and finished 15th in the final College Football Playoff rankings.
The Bruins, ironically, will play a bowl game about half as far from their Westwood campus as the distance to the team’s home field at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
UCLA lost three of its final four games after a 6–2 start, following up a 38–20 victory over rival USC on Nov. 18 with a 33–7 home loss to Cal a week later. Boise State, riding a four-game winning streak after a 44–20 victory over Nevada-Las Vegas in the Dec. 2 Mountain West Conference championship game, is 8–5.
At the other end of the enthusiasm spectrum lies Cal, which used its resounding road victory over the Bruins to finish the regular season with a three-game winning streak and become bowl eligible at 6–6.
The Bears will be appearing in a bowl game for the first time since posting a 35–20 win over Illinois in the 2019 Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara, California. Texas Tech, 6–6, tied for seventh in the Big 12 at 5–4.
“I think Cal is really excited because it was a goal to get back to the post-season,” Mr. Bernstein said. “It wasn’t trending in a good direction when they were 3–6. Their program, I think, is feeling really good about themselves.”
The same is true at another Bay Area school, San Jose State. The Spartans finished in a three-way tie for first place in the Mountain West but were left out of the conference championship game by virtue of a computer tiebreaker.
California Golden Bears wide receiver Trond Grizzell (left) catches a touchdown pass against USC Trojans safety Jaylin Smith (right) during the second quarter in Berkeley, Calif., on Oct. 28, 2023. (Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports via Field Level Media)

California Golden Bears wide receiver Trond Grizzell (left) catches a touchdown pass against USC Trojans safety Jaylin Smith (right) during the second quarter in Berkeley, Calif., on Oct. 28, 2023. (Darren Yamashita/USA TODAY Sports via Field Level Media)

San Jose State, which won its final six games to wind up 7–5 overall, nonetheless landed a plum post-season assignment. A date in Hawaii is particularly appealing given that standout quarterback Chevan Cordeiro hails from Honolulu and transferred from the University of Hawaii.
The Spartans will be making their third post-season appearance in four years, against a Coastal Carolina team that will also enter 7–5 after tying for third place in the Sun Belt Conference East Division at 5–3.
San Jose State’s longtime rival, Fresno State, went the other direction, losing its final three regular-season games after winning eight of its first nine. The Bulldogs tied for sixth in the Mountain West at 4–4, but nonetheless will play in a bowl game for the third consecutive year.
“The way the season started for them, they had higher aspirations, but then they kind of hit a rough patch,” Mr. Bernstein said. “Maybe this is an opportunity where they can get some momentum back.”
New Mexico State is 10–4 after having fallen to Liberty, 49–35, in the Conference USA championship game.
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Dan Wood

Dan Wood

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Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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