BERKELEY — Cal plays its last home game of the season Saturday — kind of.
An agreement was finalized Thursday that will send the Bears to the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 27 at AT&T Park. That means Cal will play its bowl game in front of an overwhelmingly partisan crowd against likely Miami or Wake Forest.
The agreement is contingent on USC beating UCLA on Saturday, a likely occurrence. In the improbable event that the Bruins pull off the upset, the Bears likely would go to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, on New Year's Eve.
The Las Vegas Bowl and Emerald Bowl share the No. 4 and No. 5 slots in the Pac-10, and the Las Vegas Bowl has the first pick this season. Las Vegas Bowl executive director Tina Kunzer-Murphy agreed to invite the winner of Saturday's Arizona-Arizona State game so the Emerald Bowl can have Cal.
"This is what we've been hoping for since we started this game," said Emerald Bowl executive director Gary Cavalli, who admitted he still wants to make sure USC takes care of business before really planning for the Bears. "This is the day we've been looking forward to for seven years. It's an amazing feeling to finally get one of the local teams in the game. I know there will be a great crowd and a ton of excitement. The entire Bay Area will be focused on the Emerald Bowl."
Cavalli estimates as much as 35,000 of the capacity of 40,184 could be Cal fans at the game. He said ticket sales in the past couple days have picked up when it became apparent the Bears were a strong possibility for the game.
When UCLA played Florida State in the Emerald Bowl in 2006, Cavalli estimated about 33,000 were Bruins fans.
"We're thrilled to be able to agree with our friends in Las Vegas that this is the right thing to do," Cavalli said. "Cal is right across the bridge. We've been hoping to have this opportunity since we started the Emerald Bowl. It makes sense."
There wasn't much reaction from the Bears on Thursday. Players are off-limits to the media on Thursdays, and coach Jeff Tedford declined to discuss the news, saying he wants to focus only on Saturday's game against Washington.
Cavalli said the Atlantic Coast Conference representative for the game will come into focus after Saturday's conference championship game between Boston College and Virginia Tech. But Miami and Wake Forest seem the most likely candidates, with an outside shot at Florida State.
Cavalli said in that scenario, the bowl committee likely would lean toward Miami.
"You try to evaluate what name is going to get Bay Area football fans excited," Cavalli said. "The opportunity to play Miami should get a lot of people pumped up. And they're one of the highest rated teams for national television."
Note: Safety Brett Johnson practiced in full capacity Thursday and will start Saturday. Johnson missed the Big Game with a shoulder injury.
Contact Jonathan Okanes at firstname.lastname@example.org.