Monday, August 29, 2005

College football preview: Reloaded Cal could contend again in 2005

By Joe Davidson -- Bee Staff Writer
It just as well could have been "Rocky V" or some other sequel clunker in the VCR.
When Cal coach Jeff Tedford returned to his Danville home earlier this summer, he was stopped cold in his tracks. His son Quinn was trying to make sense of the Cal-USC thriller from last fall.
Cal outgained and often outhustled the mighty Trojans that day in Los Angeles. The Bears had a first and goal on Troy's doorstep late, yet succumbed 23-17.
"Every time I look at it," Tedford said, "I get a knot in my stomach. I try to forget. We had first and goal. We were in control. But we'll learn from it."
Though Cal climbed into the top five for the first time in 50 years last season, the Bears did not reach a Bowl Championship Series game despite a 10-1 record. That hangover certainly played a role in a 45-31 setback to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
And in that result, more lessons, more learning, more steam, more unfinished business.
Cal bounds into the 2005 season with some celebrated cleats to fill but seemingly armed with enough talent and speed to make another charge at USC and the BCS.
Saturday, Sacramento State will serve as a test for the Bears as they break in a new quarterback - either Nate Longshore or Joe Ayoob - and officially unleash tailback Marshawn Lynch.
Longshore and Ayoob are vying to take over for Aaron Rodgers, a first-round pick by the Green Bay Packers. They will work with a fleet of new receivers, meaning Lynch may have to carry the load early.
Lynch is fine with that. He has yet to start a college game but already has his name on the Heisman Trophy watch list. As a true freshman last fall, Lynch backed up 2,000-yard rusher J.J. Arrington, now the starter for the Arizona Cardinals, and amassed 628 yards and eight touchdowns in averaging 8.8 yards per rush. He can sprint, he can catch, he can dazzle on returns and he can even throw it, including a touchdown pass in the Big Game rout of Stanford.
"Marshawn's an incredible back," said senior center Marvin Philip of Oak Ridge High School. "We have to remind ourselves to keep playing, keep blocking, because he's so fun to watch. He'll have a huge year."
Especially if the offensive line keeps pushing foes back. Four starters return in the trenches, with Philip the anchor and a preseason All-America candidate. He's flanked by veterans Andrew Cameron, Aaron Merz and Ryan O'Callaghan.
"Marvin's an outstanding player," Tedford said. "He's the one making all the calls. If one of our quarterbacks get rattled, he'll calm them down. That's the leadership he brings."
The defense must replace all of its linebackers from last season, a unit that made for one of the top run-stopping units in college football.
Cal's early schedule should allow for growing pains. The Bears don't play a team that sported a winning record in 2004 until Oregon State on Oct. 15.
1 Pick a passer - Jeff Tedford is revered for his ability to mold and mentor college quarterbacks. Nate Longshore, a redshirt freshman, and Joe Ayoob, a transfer from community-college superpower City College of San Francisco, are still neck-and-neck.
2 Lean on the line - With so many new faces at the skill positions, the offensive line - led by Marvin Philip of Oak Ridge - returns nearly intact and is the team strength.
3 Play some defense - Cal often stopped running games cold last season with a host of senior stuffers, but only three defensive starters return. The time is now for newcomer linebackers Desmond Bishop of CCSF and redshirt freshman Worrell Williams of Grant to come of age.
4 Who's playing catch? - The receiving corps was gutted by graduation, but no one seems overly concerned after the summer camps that newcomers Lavelle Hawkins of CCSF and prep All-American DeSean Jackson produced.
5 Marvelous Marshawn - J.J. Arrington produced a 2,000-yard season in 2004, but sophomore Marshawn Lynch might be better, certainly faster. Think Reggie Bush, in Cal colors.
Sept. 3: Sacramento State, 2 p.m.
Sept. 10: at Washington, 12:30 p.m.
Sept. 17: Illinois, 2 p.m.
Sept. 23: at New Mexico State, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1: Arizona, 3:30 p.m.
Oct. 8: at UCLA, TBA
Oct. 15: Oregon State, TBA
Oct. 22: Washington State, TBA
Nov. 5: at Oregon, 12:30 p.m.
Nov. 12: U$C, TBA
Nov. 19: at Stanford, 4 p.m.

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