Monday, October 09, 2006

San Jose Mercury: Cal's dominant play creates rosy outlook

By Jon Wilner

Mercury News

The best team in the Pacific-10 Conference wears gold -- and blue.  The best team in the Pacific-10 Conference is Cal.  That might not be the case in a week, or in two weeks, or Nov. 18 in the Los Angeles Coliseum. But for the moment, the Golden Bears are playing better than conference kingpin USC. While the Trojans needed last-minute defensive stands to beat the Washington schools by six points each of the past two weeks, the Bears are stomping all comers.  While USC (5-0, 3-0 Pac-10) struggles with injuries and inexperience, the Bears (5-1, 3-0) are operating near maximum efficiency.

Since the season-opening debacle at Tennessee, they have won five consecutive games by an average of 26.5 points. They have scored at least 40 points in each game and averaged 470 yards of offense. And they're getting better by the week. The 24-hour period beginning Saturday afternoon was one of the greatest of the Jeff Tedford era.  Not only did the Bears overwhelm No. 11 Oregon, they also did so on an ABC telecast that was sent to 62 percent of the country, including the two regions where Cal most needs to impress voters: the south and east.

At the same time, Tennessee (5-1) was winning big at No. 10 Georgia. The more games Tennessee wins, the higher it is ranked, the better for Cal in the eyes of the voters and the circuitry of the computers that make up the Bowl Championship Series standings. The worst-case scenario for the Bears was a bad season for the Volunteers team that beat them 35-18.  Then, Sunday afternoon, the top-25 polls were released. Cal jumped to No. 11 in the two used to help calculate the BCS rankings: the USA Today coaches and the Harris Interactive polls. The significance of that climb -- five spots in one, six in the other -- cannot be overstated. (More on that later.)  If the Bears run the table -- that means winning at USC on Nov. 18 -- they'll win the conference title and play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1959.  But there's another path to the BCS, another path to the Rose Bowl. Here's how things would have to play out:

Cal wins every game except USC and finishes 10-2.

• USC goes undefeated and finishes No. 1 or No. 2 in the final BCS rankings. Instead of playing in the Rose Bowl, the traditional spot for the Pac-10 champ, the Trojans would move into the national-title game in Glendale, Ariz.

• The Rose Bowl, which would have its pick of at-large teams to fill USC's slot, selects Cal.

``If Cal is eligible for the BCS and USC goes to the championship game, then I think that's very, very likely,'' Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said Saturday in Berkeley. ``It's all but a certainty that the Rose Bowl would invite a Pac-10 team if it lost USC. . . . They have made that clear that that's what they want.''  Only teams in the top 14 at the end of the season are eligible for an at-large berth in the BCS. That's why the jump to No. 11 in the polls this week was crucial for the Bears: They must be ranked high enough before the USC game that a loss would not knock them below 14th.

The Harris and coaches polls count for two-thirds of the BCS rankings; the remaining third comes from an average of six computer polls.  Based on preliminary indications, Cal will be higher than 11th when the first BCS rankings are released next week.  The Bears are seventh in two of the six computer polls, and the Pac-10 is the top-rated conference in three of the six.  That might not make much sense to anyone who watched the Pac-10 lose three lopsided games to Southeastern Conference teams. But it's an indication that the league will be viewed favorably by the computers, which should help Cal's placement in the BCS rankings.  But hold off at least another week on those Rose Bowl flights. This is all predicated on Cal winning at Washington State on Saturday -- and that hasn't happened since 1979.

1 comment:

Jake DH said...

I don't think USC should be in Cal fans' minds. Both Washington teams are not pushovers, and UCLA is getting Top 25 votes. Do I think Cal can (and will) crush these teams? Yes. But I'm going to wait for it to happen each week. I'll be thinking about USC on November 12th.

By the way, wtf is up with this crappy TV schedule? No TV for OSU, no TV for WSU?! This is a top ten team, damnit!