Dave Stephenson/Icon SMI
Cal (8-4) vs. Miami (7-5)
Dec. 27, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Reason To Watch: Catch an early glimpse of two young teams with high expectations for 2009. Cal and Miami both competed for conference titles this season before falling out of their respective races in November (the Hurricanes in more tragic fashion), but both look to be serious players next season.
Cal starts just five seniors total, and although three of them (C Alex Mack, OLB Zack Follett and ILB Worrell Williams) are high-impact players, this Golden Bears squad will remain mostly in tact for next season. The same can certainly be said about Miami, one of the youngest teams in the country. The Hurricanes' two-deep depth chart is littered with high-ceiling freshmen and sophomores on both sides of the ball.
Both teams will look to send their seniors off in style and use this bowl game as a launching pad to bigger things next year.
Keep An Eye On: Explosive Cal RB Jahvid Best. Although he's earned a reputation as one of the nation's top quarterback gurus, Jeff Tedford has regularly churned out top-tier running backs during his tenure at Cal, including J.J. Arrington, Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett. Jahvid Best took the torch this fall. Best showed immense potential on special teams last season, but he truly busted loose as Cal's primary ball carrier in 2008. The sophomore averages an unthinkable 8.0 yards per carry -- which leads the nation among players averaging at least 10 carries per game -- and paces the Pac-10 with 1,394 rushing yards. Best rushed for 512 yards ... in Cal's last two games. He must be licking his chops, seeing as Miami allowed a combined 691 yards rushing in its final two games against Georgia Tech (472) and North Carolina State (219).
Feel The Breeze: It's fitting that a bowl featuring the Hurricanes will be powered by 100 percent wind. While Miami looks to reduce Jahvid Best's rushing average (126.73 ypg), FPL Energy looks to reduce the game's greenhouse gas emissions.
Final Analysis: These two programs share comparable youth, but Cal has a few notable advantages heading into this game. First of all, the game is being played in San Francisco; while Miami has to travel across the country, the Golden Bears have to travel across the Bay Bridge. Therefore, Cal should enjoy a big homefield advantage in the awkward football confines of AT&T Park. The Golden Bears will also benefit from Miami QB Robert Marve's suspension. Although backup Jacory Harris earned extensive experience this season, it won't be easy for the 'Canes to play without their starting quarterback for the last 11 games.
The Pick: Cal 28, Miami 17. Expect Best to begin his 2009 Heisman campaign with a big effort against the 'Canes' young defense while Cal's D contains Jacory Harris and Co.