BERKELEY, Calif. — Given the way the regular season ended for his team, California coach Jeff Tedford gladly accepted an invitation to the Poinsettia Bowl on Sunday.
The Golden Bears, who suffered their second-worst defeat of the season in a 42-10 loss at Washington on Saturday, will play Utah on Dec. 23 at Qualcomm Stadium.
Cal (8-4) could have earned a trip to the Holiday Bowl by beating the Huskies, but the Bears still get a trip to sunny San Diego — and hope to welcome back star tailback Jahvid Best following his frightening concussion last month.
"Of course, you want to play in the biggest bowl you can, but the frustration comes in just not playing our best and not finishing the season like we would have liked to have finished it in conference play," Tedford said Sunday. "We would have created more options for ourselves obviously if we would have won yesterday, but we're still looking forward to the Poinsettia Bowl."
This is the seventh straight year that Tedford has guided Cal to a bowl appearance, the longest streak in school history. The Bears are 5-1 in their previous six bowl games.
Best, a Heisman Trophy candidate early in the year, suffered a serious concussion during Cal's 31-14 loss to Oregon State on Nov. 7 when he hurdled a defender at the end of a 7-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He hasn't played since and last week flew to Pittsburgh to get checked out by a concussion specialist.
Tedford isn't sure if Best will be able to play in the Poinsettia Bowl but isn't ruling him out, either.
"I think they're looking toward having Jahvid do some working out this week," Tedford said. "Whatever the extent of that (is), I don't know. It's completely on how he feels from day to day. But the feedback I got from the medical staff is he can start progressing and doing some physical activity."
What is more important for Tedford is correcting the problems the Bears had in the loss to the Huskies.
Cal already had a bowl bid locked up before the game but played flat and uninspired against Washington. Quarterback Kevin Riley was sacked five times and fumbled twice while the Bears went 2 of 12 on third downs and were held to 81 yards rushing.
"I got a little sick to my stomach yesterday because they were a good team, but we shot ourselves in the foot a lot of times," Cal left tackle Mike Tepper said. "It was just disappointing. I thought those (mistakes) would be behind us."
Having a chance to end his college career on a winning note rather than the sour tune the Bears hit in Washington is one reason the Cal senior offensive lineman woke up Sunday not caring about what bowl game his team would get invited to.
"I don't think we as players look at it as, oh this is considered a high-profile bowl," Tepper said. "We look at it as it's a pretty cool location, an opportunity to play another game and make the most of it. I think our administrators and coaches worry about the prestige more than we do. Playing another game means more fun for us."
Playing two days before Christmas means Tedford and his staff will have to radically adjust their schedule with a heavy week of recruiting ahead for the coaches and finals looming for the players.
"It makes it pretty tight," Tedford said. "What this does, it takes away a recruiting weekend so we have to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. That makes it very challenging."