San Francisco (ap) — When Worrell Williams was a star high school linebacker in Sacramento, his college choice came down to nearby California or exotic Miami, where his older brother was a star.
Although he decided to stay close to home, Williams knows more than most of his fellow Golden Bears about the unique Miami mystique they’ll face in the Emerald Bowl.
“That’s an amazing program,” Williams said. “With the history they have there and just the whole atmosphere around the University of Miami, it’s an honor to be on the same field with them. But still, we also think we can beat them. We’re going in expecting to win.”
A baseball stadium packed with shivering Cal fans will have much the same thoughts tonight when the Golden Bears (8-4) essentially host Miami (7-5) in the seventh edition of the game, but the first featuring one of the Bay Area’s two Pac-10 schools.
The Bears traversed the Bay Bridge repeatedly this week, going from a hotel in the city to their regular practice fields in Berkeley to prepare for their sixth straight bowl appearance under coach Jeff Tedford. Yet Tedford doesn’t see a huge advantage in being home, aside from a free trip to Alcatraz and the support of Cal’s fans, who snapped up every available ticket — including roughly half of Miami’s allotment.
“These are two very evenly matched teams, actually,” said Tedford, who’s 4-1 in bowl games. “Both of them have a lot of speed. All the speed that’s on the field is going to be very exciting for our fans.”
After missing the postseason in 2007 in head coach Randy Shannon’s debut campaign, Miami was eager to get back into bowl action, even if it meant traveling across the country for the holidays and practicing at City College of San Francisco in the bone-chilling rainy weather for which the city is known.
The Hurricanes lost their last two games and missed the chance to play for the ACC championship, but Cal’s mix of speed and experience — along with its 3-4 defense — provides plenty of challenges to a program hoping to take its biggest step forward in Shannon’s rebuilding project.
“I watch football late at night, and I see a lot of Pac-10 games,” Shannon said. “We know about Cal. They’re a very run-oriented team, but they can take shots downfield as well. There’s going to be a lot of speed on both sides, but you’ll also see two tough teams. I know it’s going to be a great TV game, that’s for sure.”
Miami hasn’t played in California since the 2002 Rose Bowl victory that completed its national championship run in the 2001 season, and the Hurricanes haven’t faced Cal since 1990. Yet the Bears know all about them, with linebacker Zack Follett clearly remembering Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey, Ed Reed and various other stars of that title team.
“They signify college football, basically,” Follett said. “I remember when they won that championship, I had my Miami sweat shirt on. I’m sure every kid did at that time, even out here in California. They’re just cool.”
The current Hurricanes’ biggest concern might be at quarterback, where baby-faced freshman Jacory Harris will make his second career start.