Cal coach Jeff Tedford acknowledged that the Holiday Bowl was a treat for his team after a year away from postseason football, but he added that it was not the ultimate prize.
"Even though this is a great bowl game, you're always striving to be the best," he said. "Texas is probably a little different than us because they've been in the national championship, and that's where we hope to be someday. Got to keep working toward that."
Obviously, there still is much work to be done. Everything that clicked so well while the Bears won three of their final four regular-season games -- a more potent running game, a more efficient pass attack -- came apart during a mistake-filled 21-10 loss to the Longhorns on Wednesday.
But Tedford is convinced that the Bears, who finished the 2011 season at 7-6, will be improved next fall.
"I love our team," Tedford said. "I wouldn't trade our guys for anybody."
Texas exposed some weaknesses that weren't evident in late-season wins over Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona State, three teams with a combined 13-24 record.
Cal was guilty of five turnovers -- three by quarterback Zach Maynard-- but he was under relentless pressure during the entire game, as the Bears appeared to have no answer for it.
Eleven starters -- six on offense, five on defense -- return next season, with three key offensive positions intact, starting with junior-to-be Keenan Allen, who will be an All-America candidate at wideout after catching 98 passes for 1,343 yards this year.
Maynard, who played well late in the season before his Holiday Bowl troubles with Texas, and tailback Isi Sofele return for their senior seasons.
"We were inexperienced (this season) in certain areas on offense," Tedford said prior to the Texas game. "I think our quarterback situation has been answered a little bit. I think our running back situation (also has been), and I think we're going to have some depth at running back, too."
Maynard finished his first season in the Pac-12 with 2,990 passing yards, third-most in school history, and Sofele rushed for 1,322 yards.
The next hurdle for Maynard, Sofele and the offense is to deliver against the better teams: Cal scored a combined 34 points in losses to USC, Oregon and Texas.
Maynard is as upbeat as Tedford about next season.
"I see a bright future for us. A lot of young guys played this year," he said after the Texas game. "We have to work hard in the off-season, and we'll see the potential we have for next season."
The defense, which allowed the Longhorns just 16 yards on their first five possessions, will be the younger unit a year from now.
Gone are inside linebackers Mychal Kendricks, who was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and D.J. Holt. The Bears also lose safeties D.J. Campbell and Sean Cattouse, and all-conference punter Bryan Anger.
But freshmen linebackers Chris McCain and David Wilkerson are expected to blossom, and the Bears have two other promising young linebackers in freshman Cecil Whiteside and sophomore Dan Camporeale. All of the top cornerbacks return.
"Some of the lessons that the young guys learned this year are going to help us and give us momentum going into next season," Tedford said. "So there is a lot of learn from."
Cal opens the 2012 season on Sept. 1 against Nevada at Memorial Stadium, whose $321 million renovation will be complete. Two weeks later, the Bears visit Ohio State and new coach Urban Meyer. They will have home games against Stanford, Oregon and UCLA, and will play on the road against USC. Dates for Pac-12 games have not been announced.