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Roses wither, but what a season

– Two young stragglers, clearly football players from the look of their baggy sweats and unmistakable bulk, walked through the damp, deserted innards of Memorial Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the last of the California Bears to leave a gathering where the team heard the announcement of BCS bowl selections.

"Ohhh, we're goin' to the Holiday Boooowl!" one of them sang to an improvised tune, not with sarcasm but as if trying to jump-start the enthusiasm the Bears will seek as they prepare for San Diego on Dec. 30 instead of Pasadena on Jan. 1. His teammate only walked glumly on.

The corridors of the stadium, so full of blue-and-gold glee on Saturdays this fall, turned gloomy on Sunday as the team, awaiting word in one stadium room, and assembled sports reporters, watching the televised announcement in another, heard the BCS outcome: Cal is bound for the Holiday Bowl to play No. 23 Texas Tech, while Texas takes the coveted spot in the Rose Bowl, opposite Michigan. In the end, Cal's phenomenal 10-1 season was eclipsed by a ranking falling .0129 below Texas in the BCS standings.

Minutes after the announcement, quarterback Aaron Rodgers kept bitterness largely in check, but the look on his face told the story of the team's disappointment. "I'm frustrated, not surprised," he said. "I've been a college football fan all my life, and I've seen the BCS. There's been controversy every year, so I think it shows it's a faulty system."

Coach Jeff Tedford concurred. "Obviously, we're very disappointed," he said. "We had our fingers crossed, and I was hoping for the best situation for the kids. I really believe they deserved it." He added, "When you're fourth in the country and your only loss is to the No. 1 team in the country, it feels like a little injustice. But I don't have the answers."

Tedford said he met with the team after the announcement and reviewed the string of accomplishments Cal had during the season - their No. 4 national ranking in the sportswriters' and coaches' polls, finishing in the top six in both scoring offense and defense, a margin of victory averaging 24 points, and, most impressive, evolving from a 1-10 team to a 10-1 team in three short years.

His advice to the team: "Be disappointed, but don't be dejected."

Tedford added that he was "heartbroken" for alumni who have been pining for a Cal Rose Bowl bid for 46 years.

"I believe this team deserved to go to the Rose Bowl," said Athletic Director Sandy Barbour. "But what's important now is that we honor this team for their accomplishments. It's been absolutely phenomenal. I talked to the chancellor this morning, and we are so very proud of this team ... not only on the football field but off it in how they represented this institution."

The Bears will resume practice on Wednesday for the Holiday Bowl, and report to San Diego on Christmas Eve to prep for the Dec. 30 game. "It's tough to spend Christmas in a hotel again," said Rodgers, adding gamely, "We're excited about the Holiday Bowl. The bowl experience, as a whole, is a great time. I love the city of San Diego. Texas Tech is a pretty good team. I was talking to my buddy, [quarterback] Jason White at Oklahoma, and he said Texas Tech was one of the best teams they played this year."

"We have a chance to go down there and show the nation what we're all about," Rodgers added. "It will be a statement game for us."

Questions linger about Tedford's pregame assertions that, if given the chance, he would not drive up the score of Saturday's Southern Mississippi game (which Cal won 26-16) to impress BCS voters. With seconds left, Cal conceivably had the opportunity to go for another touchdown, but opted to down the ball and run out the clock.

"With 12 seconds to play, to throw the ball into the end zone, what's that going to do to change anyone's mind?" Tedford said. "It was what it was."

His athletic director was more emphatic. "I don't know that I've ever been prouder of a coach and a program in my 26-year career," said Sandy Barbour of the final seconds in Hattiesburg, Miss. "What Jeff did last night was absolutely the right thing to do. What a role model for his young men. I'll defend that to the hilt."

Tedford said it would take a few days for the Rose Bowl disappointment to wear off for the team and fans, but he was clear on his own assessment of Cal's year. "While we're disappointed, in no way, shape, or form do I want this to be a downer for our team," he said. "It's about a season - we played great football all year long. This is about celebrating this team that went 10-1."