Cal vs. TCU: Cheez-It Bowl shootaround

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The 2018 Cheez-It Bowl is bound to be an offensive struggle. Will that make this game more competitive or simply sloppy?

Christie Aguilar: For those who are fans of defensive football, this is the bowl game for you. While I agree that both offenses may put on a slow and, perhaps, sloppy performance, both defenses are capable of making the game a fun and competitive one to watch. Neither team possesses a high-firing scheme nor a batch of offensive superstars, so for fans looking for quality action, key in on Cal’s inside linebackers and TCU’s defensive ends.

Josh Yuen: It’s going to get sloppy. An over-under line of 38.5? Disgusting. TCU wideout Jalen Reagor will be arguably the only “superstar” on the offensive side of the ball for both teams, meaning whoever punts the least and avoids unforced errors will win the game. The Horned Frogs are rolling out their No. 3 option under center, but it’s hard to see the Bears exploding for an Oregon State-esque performance in the desert.

Sophie Goethals: Definitely sloppy. While “offensive struggle” might be a good way to characterize this battle, it’s also a bit misleading — both of these offenses have shown themselves to be a bit sloppy throughout the course of their seasons, and it’s doubtful that they’ll undergo some sort of coming-of-age. It’ll be more of a competition over which one can be LESS sloppy, not which will be more productive.

Andrew Wild: A great defense going against a great offense is good football. Two great defenses going against two dismal offenses is an equation for a half-empty Chase Field and home viewers drowning their sorrow in leftover eggnog.

If there’s one thing that needs to happen for the Bears to get to win No. 8, what is it?

CA: Quarterback Chase Garbers needs to connect with wide receiver Jordan Duncan on big plays and in the red zone. While this seems like a niche detail, Garbers has failed to build consistent and reliable chemistry with a go-to receiver. Prior to his injury, Duncan proved to Garbers that he was a trustworthy target, and out of Cal’s wide receivers room, Duncan is the most capable of getting the Bears’ offense rolling and on the board.

JY: Justin Wilcox will have to out-coach Gary Patterson. That’s not an easy feat against one of the most successful minds in college football, but with two below-average offenses going to battle, field position and primetime decisions will play a huge factor in determining the victor of this one. It will be interesting to see if Wilcox sticks with his aggressive approach on third and fourth downs (he probably will, given that winning a bowl game has been preached since day one of this season) or if he’ll trust his defense more than ever before.

SG: They’ve got to tip the turnover scale in their favor. The Bears have got to limit their offensive turnovers and force more from TCU if they want to secure a win. And in all honesty, I think the Bears’ defense can fulfill their half of the bargain, but it’s the offense that might not follow through. Garbers has got to be smart with the ball because this one could easily be lost through poorly timed turnovers.

AW: TCU QB Grayson Muehlstein will be making just his second career start, after looking decent in the last two games of the regular season in which he helped the Horned Frogs reach bowl eligibility. He’s still lacking in on-field experience, so it’s up to defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter to confuse him and force some turnovers, which is the only realistic way Cal can win this game.

How much will TCU’s recent experience in bowl games (and winning) benefit the Horned Frogs?

CA: If I am being completely honest, I do not believe TCU’s recent bowl game experience matters in the matchup, for the sole reason that it does not matter to the Cal coaching staff and players. Cal surely respects TCU and its history in the postseason, but the Bears are treating this game as they have every single contest of 2018 — as a faceless opponent (and the only thing standing in the way of the team’s season goal of winning a bowl game.)

JY: Just ask the 2015 Oregon Ducks and last year’s Stanford Cardinal if TCU is a tough December opponent. Trevone Boykin and Kenny Hill aren’t sporting the purple and black anymore, but Patterson has shown that the Horned Frogs are annually no Mickey Mouse squad, even if they’re 6-6 at this point in 2018. TCU has won five of its past seven bowl contests, so even if Cal takes a 31-0 lead at halftime, the Horned Frogs have already shown that no lead is too big to overcome.

SG: The Bears haven’t been on a stage like this since 2015 — which means that a vast majority of this years’ Cal team hasn’t experienced a game with this sort of significance. TCU, on the other hand, has made it to a bowl game for four straight seasons. And, as much as it sucks to admit — that matters. TCU’s experience will undoubtedly level the heads of any unsteady players, while Cal doesn’t have the situational experience to bring that kind of levity. That could factor into how this game plays out, especially if it goes down to the wire.

AW: I think bowl experience only matters as a proxy for how good the coach is and how much you trust him to prepare his players for a big moment. Gary Patterson is pretty much beyond reproach at this point, but I also don’t doubt Wilcox in this situation. I’m not going so far as to say that Wilcox is a pure coaching equal, but there isn’t a huge preparation differential that’s going to swing the game.

Score prediction for the game?

CA: 17-10, Cal.

JY: 20-13, TCU. That score, however, assumes that Kanawai Noa will be sidelined once again by the injury bug.

SG: I’m going 24-10, TCU.

AW: 20-6, TCU.

Bonus: What is your favorite Cheez-It flavor?

CA: Cheddar

JY: Goldfish or bust.

SG: Original? (I think OG is cheddar)

AW: N/A

Christie Aguilar, Josh Yuen, Sophie Goethals and Andrew Wild are the 2018 football beat writers.