The Cheez-It Bowl, formerly known as the Cactus Bowl, will be held on December 26th at 9:00 ET at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. This bowl will feature the University of California Golden Bears from the PAC-12 North and the TCU Horned Frogs from the BIG 12. The Golden Bears look to capture their 12th bowl victory as the Horned Frogs try to win their 17th. Overall, this matchup should be a tough and competitive one as both teams look to prove themselves.
Cheez-It Bowl Preview: California vs. TCU
The Golden Bears were mediocre this season at best. They sat towards the bottom of the PAC-12 North with a 7-5 overall record, as their season was marked with inconsistencies. They had huge wins against some great schools. However, they would then lose the give-me games, which would explain why they fell to the bottom of the table. Three of their losses came by 10 points or less, so a fortuitous turnover or a big play easily could have made this a 10-win team.
The team’s Achilles heel for the season was undoubtedly their offense. Nationally, the team ranked 110th out of 130 teams in offensive efficiency. They averaged 22.8 points/game this season which was just enough to win seven games. However, their defense was something to point out. In this category, they ranked 24th out of 130 allowing only 21.2 points/game. The defense was definitely the focal point for this team and was the reason why they were able to find some success this year. California only had a +18-point differential for the season. This means that defense must be involved early and often. However, if they underperform, expect it to be a long day for the Golden Bears.
The Horned Frogs sat mid-table in the BIG 12. They finished the year with the fifth-best record in the conference. With a 6-6 record, the Horned Frogs did just enough to make this bowl game. TCU was unsuccessful in all of their Top-25 matchups, except against 24th ranked Iowa State. They were able to pull away with a narrow three-point victory, however, whenever they faced other stout competition, they clearly seemed overmatched. Their tough schedule attributed to this underwhelming season, however, when you’re in a conference with the likes of Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa State, and West Virginia, expect some tough games.
This season, the Horned Frogs were not nearly as dominant as they hoped they would be. The offense seemed stagnant and boring for the majority of the year. The team ranked 97th out of 130 in terms of offensive efficiency. They scored, on average, 24.7 points/game which ranked them towards the lower end of offensive performance. As for their defense, they ranked slightly better. By the end of the season, the team ranked 44th out of 130 teams in opponents points/game allowing only 24.4. The Horned Frogs point differential for the season is +3, which means that the team as a whole is doing just enough to win a game. However, against California, the Horned Frogs are going to need more than just luck to escape with a victory.
Do not expect this game to be a high scoring affair. All season, both teams have relied on their superior defensive play to win them ball games. California has only allowed more than twenty points five times this season. A lot of their competitive and close games have been low scoring. Meaning, the Golden Bears thrive when their defense can get a stranglehold on the opposing offense. This is very disadvantageous for the Horned Frogs as their offense has struggled all year. Their defense has been proficient enough in keeping other teams out of their end zone, however, this matchup against a tough Golden Bears defense will not allow them to score.
The game plan for both teams is going to be defensive based. Whichever one controls the turnover battle will ultimately win this matchup. For both teams, the primary offensive threats will come at the running back position. California running back Patrick Laird is clearly the superior back in this game. He has combined for a total of nine touchdowns on 935 rushing yards and 291 receiving yards. His multi-threat capabilities will prove to be too much for the Horned Frogs defense.
As for TCU, they hope that Darius Anderson is healthy enough to go on the 26th. Right now his status is unclear, however, his absence would be a huge loss to the Horned Frogs. He is currently the teams leading rushing and will look for him to handle the majority of the offensive workload. He has 598 rushing yards to go along with three scores. However, he is not nearly as effective as Laird in the passing game. Anderson only has seven receptions for 19 yards on the season. He is clearly the lesser of the two backs and will have his work cut out for him in this game.
Both teams have ten or more injured players coming into this game. California has two players who are listed as questionable for this bowl game, while TCU has three. The biggest injury comes from the TCU sideline. Senior linebacker Ty Summers is listed as questionable for this big game. He is undoubtedly one of the leaders of this team and if he must sit out for this game, the defense will surely miss his presence.
This match-up against two mid-tier football teams should be an exciting game to watch. Both sides will rely on the play of their defense and other individuals to step up and make plays. It will be a defensive battle and likely a low-scoring game. This is a solid test for both teams, so expect everyone to come out and perform to the final whistle.