The college football bowl season can be as wacky as the illegal "stemming" call that helped decide the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl this past weekend. The bowl season also can go a long way toward putting the final icing on a successful season, encouraging a team and fan base as it pushes ahead to next year -- or it can be the beginning of a meltdown, hurting recruiting and casting doubts over a very long offseason.
For the following five teams, the narratives are all a little different, yet for a variety of reasons, their bowl games have an added element of pressure and expectation. A win this bowl season would help quiet critics of these teams' performances from 2011, but more importantly, it would send a clear message that for these programs, 2012 will be about BCS and championship aspirations.
Here are the five programs with the most to prove this bowl season and heading into 2012:
Mack Brown lost 12 games in a seven-year stretch from 2003 to 2009 and, alongside Vince Young, brought the Longhorns a national championship in 2005. In the past two years, Brown has lost 12 games and turned over his coaching staff.
After a promising six wins in the first eight weeks of 2011, the schedule toughened and the Longhorns faded down the stretch, losing three of four. Texas' opponent in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl will be a California Golden Bears team that got progressively better as the season evolved and will bring a top-25 defense to San Diego.
The pressure is squarely on Texas on Dec. 28, as Brown doesn't want to enter 2012 spring ball having lost four out of five to end the previous season, with the lone win coming in a game that had more to do with the Texas A&M Aggies' losing than the Longhorns' winning.
Will UT be able to turn it around next season? The Horns' performance against Cal could go a long way toward providing the answer.