How Cal Prevented College Football History

Cal's win against UCLA made them bowl-eligible and more importantly, prevented something that has never happened...for now.

Cal beat UCLA 33-7 last Friday
Source: AP Photo/Ryan Sun

Saturday’s Cal-UCLA game was a historical event. The lone PAC-12 After Dark game of the night was the final game in the conference’s storied history. Surprisingly, Cal dominated UCLA at the Rose Bowl, winning 33-7.

With the win, the Golden Bears became the eighth bowl-eligible PAC-12 team. This news was devastating for the Sun Belt. With Oregon and Washington locked into the New Year’s Six, the PAC-12 needed eight teams to fill all of its bowl obligations.

The PAC-12’s last bowl selection belonged to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport. The bowl had the sixth choice of teams from the PAC-12 after the New Year’s Six. Should either the PAC-12 or its opposing conference, the Big 12 be unable to provide a team to the Independence Bowl, the Sun Belt provides a team.

The Sun Belt filling in for either conference would have been a historic occasion for the league. In the 23-season history of the Sun Belt, no team has played a Power Five (or six) school in a bowl game.

In 2008, the Bowl in Birmingham inexplicably broke its backup tie-in agreement with the Sun Belt, preventing the league from having a team face off against Rutgers out of the Big East. 12 years later, Coastal Carolina finished four spots behind Cincinnati in the final College Football Playoff poll, denying them an elusive New Year’s Six berth.

The Independence Bowl may have rooted for California to lose to UCLA. Instead of receiving a program in the region, the bowl will likely settle for Cal. The Los Angeles Bowl will have its choice of either UCLA or Cal, with the Bruins being the obvious choice. This sends Cal to Louisiana.

The Power Five pedigree of Cal could bring increased viewership to the bowl, but that’s the Golden Bears’ only appeal to the bowl.

Cal is not a national brand in football. The Golden Bears' last Rose Bowl appearance came two years after Sputnik orbited the Earth and they have appeared in one New Year’s Day bowl since the 1959 Rose Bowl. Shreveport residents likely will not flock to Independence Stadium to see 6-6 Cal.

Not all hope is lost for the Sun Belt. The Sun Belt’s massive contingent of 12 Bowl teams could force an ESPN-owned Bowl to pair one of the league’s top teams with a middling Power Five school. Troy and James Madison look like top candidates for a Power Five matchup. Instead of having a set slot against a Power Five team in the Independence Bowl, the Sun Belt is now at the mercy of the powers that be at ESPN.