Thursday, November 30, 2006

Marin Independent Journal: Ayoob's Final Stroll at Cal

ON THE TOP shelf of a glass trophy case marked "Bowls" inside the Hall of Fame Room at Memorial Stadium is a 50-cent program and a $2.75 student ticket stub from the 1959 Rose Bowl, the last time Cal played in Pasadena on New Year's Day. There is also a black-and-white photograph of Cal's starting offensive unit from that game including Joe Kapp, the Bears' legendary quarterback. When Joe Ayoob of San Rafael came to Cal two years ago, he hoped to become the Technicolor version of Kapp; a man revered at Cal for the ages for his never-say-die attitude after leading the Bears to the singular goal they possess and obsess about on the eve of every season: A Pac-10 championship. "I wanted to come in my senior year having a year of experience under my belt and make a run for all the marbles, which we did this year," Ayoob said the other day. "I just wasn't the quarterback." The once ballyhooed Ayoob is now the underachieving backup quarterback at Cal who, on Saturday in the Big Game against Stanford, will be introduced for the last time at Memorial Stadium as part of Senior Day. Please stand. He should be applauded. In the past year, Ayoob, who arrived on campus with sky-high expectations, was booed by fans, ridiculed by media, banished to the bench in favor of a converted fullback and eventually demoted to fourth string after last season. It was enough to bring any human to his knees, which it did with Ayoob (he is still the holder on field-goal and extra-point tries).

But Ayoob could have transferred to another school with much lower expectations. Family members recommended that he do so, but the former Terra Linda High star gutted it out.  "If something goes wrong in life, you just can't run from it. If things didn't go the way I wanted them to here, why would I pack up and leave? I wanted to stick it out and prove that I could play," Ayoob said this week, relaxing in Memorial Stadium before practice. "There are other reasons. I didn't want to sacrifice this (Cal) education to go play one more year at a Division II school. I figured I can play here - which I know I can."  Unfortunately, Ayoob hasn't thrown a pass in a game since mop-up duty against Portland State, a Division II school, on Sept. 16. Yet his body language doesn't suggest that he's angry or upset. In fact, in Cal's last game at the L.A. Coliseum, the backup QB was seen consistently encouraging and enlightening the starting QB, Nate Longshore, and Bears teammates in a huddle on the sideline during timeouts. "There's no point in sulking on the sidelines. That's not going to get anything accomplished," Ayoob said. "So I just try to go out there and have as much fun as I can and enjoy all the experiences."

Ayoob doesn't appear to harbor any resentment or regret. He wishes Cal coach Jeff Tedford would have given him one more chance to start last season. Instead, Tedford made third-string quarterback Steve Levy the starter and put Levy in situations that he could succeed - in the Big Game against a struggling Stanford team and against a mediocre BYU team in the Las Vegas Bowl with more than a month to prepare for it. Then, in the offseason, Cal brought in a new offensive coordinator, Mike Dunbar, and instituted a new spread offense, similar to the one Ayoob was successful with at City College of San Francisco. Ayoob, however, has not been given the keys to this car, which he can handle like his 1967 Chevy Impala.  "I feel I can run this offense really well," Ayoob said. "My mobility would be a big factor and add another dimension to the offense. It is tough last season trying to fit into an offense that I wasn't totally accustomed to and then this year bringing in an offense I'm really familiar with and not getting an opportunity to play." Coming into this season, Ayoob rose from fourth string to a neck-and-neck battle with Longshore. The message to both on the eve of the season-opening game - a humbling 35-18 loss to Tennessee in Knoxville - was that both would play. "I sort of came in against Tennessee (in the third quarter, trailing 35-0) when things were all said and done," Ayoob said. "I kind of got the feeling there that that was going to be my role." Longshore rebounded from a rough debut and Ayoob didn't throw another pass after the Portland State game when Longshore threw four first-half touchdown passes. So Ayoob has had to be content as a holder and playing on the Bears' on-side kick recovery "hands team." His most thrilling play came two weeks ago when Ayoob made a tackle on a missed 55-yard field goal attempt against USC.

Ayoob just wishes he had one more chance to prove he could be the starting quarterback at Cal. "What I'd like is to be back next year for that first game and play Tennessee in front of this crowd and show them what I can do," the 22-year-old Cal senior said. "That's what I would like." Instead, Ayoob will make his last playing appearance in uniform at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. "It'll be the last time I run out that tunnel and it'll be emotional, but I'm about 98 percent sure I won't cry," Ayoob said. "In a football sense, I'm ready to move on and to do bigger things." Ideally, Ayoob would love to show pro football scouts he could play for their team, whether it's in the NFL or NFL Europe; whether it's indoors in Arena Football or outdoors in Canada. In the spring, Ayoob will earn his degree in social welfare at Cal but, he said, "I want to keep trying to play (football)." That's part of the Cal educational experience, too. "If you want to do something bad enough, you've got to keep working at it no matter what anybody says," Ayoob said. "Last year was hard and a lot of people gave me a lot of crap for it. I listened to them at first, but I kind of put them behind me and said, 'I can do this.'" Ayoob just hasn't been given another opportunity in game action. But that's not what he's going to remember when he leaves Cal. He'll remember the sound of the stadiums in L.A. and Tennessee and Oregon. "Coming into the stadiums right before you start the game. Seeing 100,000 people all looking at you," Ayoob said. "Going into the Rose Bowl (to play UCLA) last year with the thing packed and knowing you're about to play." Ayoob doesn't know if he'll play this Saturday, unless Cal's offense comes back to life and Stanford is as bad as advertised. But, in at least one respect, Ayoob will leave Memorial Stadium on Saturday and Berkeley in the coming months being remembered like Joe Kapp. "As a guy," Ayoob said, "who didn't quit."


Daily Cal: Dunbar Spreads Wealth to Cal

Mike Dunbar had nothing left to prove and few records left to break.  As the head coach at Central Washington, he was named the Columbia Football Association Coach of the Year.

As the offensive coordinator at Toledo in 1995, he engineered an offense that broke 21 school records.  His exploits as Northwestern’s offensive coordinator are legendary.  In 2005, the Wildcats became the second Big Ten team to ever generate over 500 yards per game.  But with the chance to coach a potential national-championship contender and move closer to home, Dunbar left behind the comforts of the record books and an unblemished reputation to take the job as the Bears’ offensive coordinator before the season.  “I’m from the West Coast, my family is out here,” Dunbar said. “My wife jokingly said to get her back to the right time zone, and it’s an exciting time to be a part of this program.”  It seemed that with the fusion of Tedford and Dunbar, the possibilities were endless.  “He’s brought a great deal of organization and skills for game-planning that he’s made a mark on and a few schemes here and there,” Tedford said. “Just the spread offense especially and trying to work some of those things in.”  Dunbar mastered the spread offense at Northwestern, Tedford knew how to run the ball and both coaches were among the nation’s best at developing quarterbacks.  “It’s about us trying to mesh our two styles to be successful,” Dunbar said.

But Dunbar made the shift with quite a few question marks. Looming over him was the prospect that Tedford would want near-full control over the offense, much as he had before George Cortez left as the Bears’ offensive coordinator before this season.  “Coach Tedford and I talked a lot about that ahead of time,” Dunbar said. “We knew there were some things we’d have to work through, but I didn’t have any major concerns. We were upfront and honest with each other.”  Dunbar also came to Cal without knowing who the quarterback would be.  Developing quarterbacks, however, is something he has been more than capable of doing in the past. Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez, who matured under Dunbar, left the Wildcats as the second most prolific quarterback in Big Ten history.  One key difference with Cal quarterback Nate Longshore, however, is he is not nearly as mobile as Basanez. That is why the Bears have only implemented parts of the spread and do not resemble a complete spread like West Virginia or Dunbar’s Northwestern teams.  “The spread from the quarterback-run perspective, we’re not going to get into, and that’s because we need to play to our strengths,” Dunbar said.  Looking at the stats, the process has been a success. Cal is averaging a conference-leading 32.74 points per game and is second in total offense with 416.6 yards per game.  The Bears have installed more shotgun sets, which Longshore is more comfortable with. The addition of more three- and four-receiver sets has allowed tailback Marshawn Lynch to line up as a receiver and has ensured that the Bears’ trio of wideouts can all get on the field.  Tedford has entrusted Dunbar with the bulk of the play-calling after calling most of them himself over the past few years. While he has been largely successful, there have been more than a few bumps in the road.  “There are a few games we’d like to have do-overs, but they don’t give us any mulligans unfortunately,” Dunbar said.


Contra Costa Times: Cal Over USC, Ready for Big Game

BERKELEY -- With the 109th Big Game looming Saturday, most of Cal's football players ran through Sunday's practice at Memorial Stadium with the devastating loss to USC in the rear-view mirror.  "This is a different kind of game," said Bears tailback Marshawn Lynch. "We've put the loss to USC behind us and we are ready to move forward. Stanford is going to come to play. We aren't sleeping." However, not all the Bears are over the USC hangover. Cal senior linebacker Mickey Pimentel was asked if it's tough to reach the same emotional level that the players had facing the Trojans. "I'm not going to lie," he said. "It is. Stanford hasn't won that many games. "At the same time, they did beat Washington. They are playing better and better." Cal coach Jeff Tedford said his players should take the Cardinal seriously despite its 1-10 record. "They've been playing very good on defense," Tedford said. "Through the first six games, they were giving up 455 yards a game. The last five, they have given up an average of 315 yards. They are a dangerous team." Bears quarterback Nate Longshore said he understands Stanford will put out everything it has to win the Big Game and turn around an awful season. "Nothing matters at this point, rankings or records," Longshore said. "This is not a regular game. It doesn't matter where or when. They are dangerous. They are doing some things very well." Cal, ranked No. 18 in the BCS ratings released on Sunday, is virtually locked out of a No. 14 spot or higher that is needed to qualify for a BCS berth. The Holiday Bowl is waiting for the BCS to release Cal so it can publicly announce its invitation. That announcement could come as early as today.

However, Longshore noted that it's not just Stanford that has something at stake. "For us, it's our last home game," Longshore said. "For our seniors, it's their last game here."

There is also a lot at stake for the alumni of each university who put so much importance on the outcome. Senior cornerback Daymeion Hughes said Tedford makes sure his players understand that importance. "He always lines up somebody to come to speak to us about the history of the game," Hughes said. "Right around this time, he starts giving us reminders."

Travel woes

Sophomore wide receiver DeSean Jackson and freshman defensive back Gary Doxy both missed Sunday's practice. Tedford said they ran into travel problems. Both players, out of Long Beach Poly High School, went home for Thanksgiving. "They are together," Tedford said. Asked if there would be any disciplinary action, Tedford said he wanted to talk with both of them to find out the reason for their delay.

Extra points

Marcus O'Keith, who has turf toe, didn't practice on Sunday and his status is doubtful for the Big Game. ... This will be the first time that Cal will have played in four bowls in a row. ... Lynch and Jackson are tied for the conference lead in touchdowns with 12. ... Cal leads the conference in sacks allowed with 11. ... The Big Game, which dates back to 1892, is the ninth oldest rivalry in college football. ... Stanford leads the series 54-43-11, but Cal has won the past four games by a combined score of 126-32. ... Cal has not won five consecutive games against Stanford since 1919-23. ... Jackson has scored on five punt returns in only 25 career attempts. ... Stanford is last in the conference in scoring offense (10 points per game) and scoring defense (31.9 points allowed per game). ... Place-kicker Tom Schneider has made all nine of his field goal attempts inside 50 yards this season.


Yahoo Sports: Stanford vs. (21) California

When Jeff Tedford took over as California coach in 2002, he led the Golden Bears to a victory over archrival Stanford for the first time in seven seasons.  That win also marked the beginning of a turnaround in the series, and Tedford and No. 21 Cal (8-3, 6-2 Pac-10) will be looking for their fifth straight victory over Stanford (1-10, 1-7) when the teams meet in the 109th edition of The Big Game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

Cal beat Stanford 30-7 in 2002 to snap the Cardinal's seven-game winning streak in The Big Game, and the Bears have gone on to post their longest run in the series since taking three in a row from 1948-50.  Cal's recent domination of its rival has coincided with the rise of the Bears' program under Tedford. Cal is 41-20 under its current coach after winning just 13 games in the four years before he arrived. Now Tedford has the Bears poised for their 15th nine-win season and fourth straight bowl appearance, which would also be a first for a Cal squad.

"I would hope you don't have to tell the guys about how great it is to beat your rival," Tedford said. "They're fully aware of what this game will mean to them on Saturday and for years down the line. I don't worry about anybody forgetting that the Big Game is a big game."  The Bears haven't done that in their four straight wins over the Cardinal, outscoring them 126-32. Cal rolled to a 27-3 victory at Stanford in last year's matchup, a year after a 41-6 home win.  "We won it in 2002, and we haven't given it up," Cal offensive lineman Erik Robertson said of capturing The Axe, the trophy given to the winner of this game. You definitely don't want to be a part of the senior class that loses it."  While the Bears appear to be focused on knocking off their rival, they will also be trying to end a two-game losing streak that cost them a chance at their first Rose Bowl appearance in 48 years. Cal fell 23-9 to then-No. 3 USC on Nov. 18, one week after losing 24-20 to Arizona.  The defeats, which followed an eight-game winning streak, will probably send the Bears to their second Holiday Bowl appearance in three years.  "The USC game means a lot to us now, but this game is always going to be the biggest," linebacker Desmond Bishop said of the matchup with Stanford. "You just know how important this rivalry is, and we want to win so we're in the right frame of mind going into our bowl game."  Cal was held to season lows in points and total yards (275) by USC. The Bears' Nate Longshore threw for only 176 yards, completing 17 of 38 passes with one touchdown and two interceptions.  Longshore, who averages 233.5 yards per game, had just seven takeaways in his first nine games. He has not been as accurate in the last two, totaling five interceptions.  Longshore and Cal will be looking to get back on track against a Stanford team that's in the midst of one of its worst seasons. Stanford is allowing the second-fewest passing yards in the conference at 173.4 per game, but has the fewest interceptions in the Pac-10 with seven. The Cardinal's run defense isn't nearly as good, allowing 218.1 yards per contest -- third-worst in Division I.

That could mean a big day for Pac-10 leading rusher Marshawn Lynch, who averages 107.1 yards per game. Lynch, who ran for 88 yards on 20 carries against USC, is 68 yards shy of matching last season's total of 1,246. The junior ran for 123 yards and a touchdown in last year's win over the Cardinal.  Stanford faces a tough task in trying to contain Longshore, Lynch and the highest-scoring team in the conference. Cal averages 32.4 points per game.  "To win this game makes everything we've done worth something," Stanford linebacker Michael Okwo said. "It's the one that people will remember. It will feed into our preparation, our passion and our attitude for next year."  The Cardinal followed up their sole win of the season against Washington on Nov. 11 with a 30-7 home loss to Oregon State the following week.  Stanford gave up more than 200 yards rushing for the eight time this year and failed to rush for more than 85 yards for the ninth straight game. The Cardinal's passing attack has struggled without quarterback Trent Edwards, who suffered a season-ending injury against Arizona on Oct. 14. T.C. Ostrander has thrown for 714 yards and one touchdown in nine games in Edwards' place.  Ostrander took over for Edwards against Cal last season and went 15-of-23 for 152 yards.  Despite not beating the Bears since No. 17, 2001, the Cardinal lead the series 54-43-11.


San Jose Mercury: Joe Kapp Still has Fire in his Belly, Even Without Beloved Tequila

Joe Kapp is fired up. If you know Joe Kapp, this is not a unique state of affairs. We are having breakfast Tuesday at a Willow Glen coffee shop, to discuss the 20th anniversary of Kapp's last game as Cal football coach, among other topics. But before Kapp can even dig into his oatmeal, he is already talking in exclamation points. Two weeks ago, he says, he decided at the last minute to fly south for the USC-Cal game. As the first half progressed, Kapp grew more and more ticked off. `I almost had a fight because these guys kept standing up in front of me!'' Kapp says. ``I told them, `Damn, watch the game!' '' Alas, the Golden Bears did not give Kapp -- who played quarterback on Cal's last Rose Bowl team, in 1959, and later became coach -- many other reasons to scream that evening. The Trojans pulled away in the second half and ruined the Bears' conference-championship hopes. Along with so many other alums, Kapp was disappointed. With the result, not the effort.

``Oh, the players played their hearts out,'' Kapp says. ``The Bear will not quit! The Bear will not die! The Bears have played with spirit and they always have! No matter who the coach is. They played hard for me, too! The players always play hard! And the fans root hard!'' At this point, I am ready to put down my fork and run out to tackle the next vehicle on Lincoln Avenue. That's the effect a Kapp rap can still have. While it is not my place to tell Cal Coach Jeff Tedford how to prepare his team for Saturday's game with Stanford, I will say this much: Between now and kickoff time, if Tedford does not ask Kapp to give the Golden Bears a pep talk, something is wrong. Because those players are missing an experience that will motivate them, inspire them, give them a great lesson in Cal football tradition and make them truly appreciate what school loyalty means. As a bonus, it would also teach them a very important lesson about drinking tequila. ``Let me say this,'' Kapp is telling me, lowering his voice. ``As much credit as I get for all the drinking I did as a player in the NFL, you know what I always did? I always found a driver, found someone who liked to drive and not drink. These rich guys today, rich athletes . . . get a driver! Pay them! Get your cousin!''

Well, that's not exactly the lesson I meant. Although it is certainly a good one. But the lesson I am talking about is the famous promise Kapp made after he was hired as Bears coach before the 1982 season. At his first team meeting, he talked about his goal of winning a conference championship, about how everyone would have to make sacrifices for that to occur.

``But I didn't want the players to think they'd be the only ones making the sacrifices,'' Kapp says, revisiting the moment. ``So I told them I would make a sacrifice, too. I said I would not drink a drop of tequila until we won the Rose Bowl again.'' This was no idle pledge, given Kapp's love of margaritas. To show he meant business, he bought a bottle of his favorite tequila brand, Herradura, and kept it on an office shelf. After he was dismissed following the 1986 season, the bottle was moved to his brother's restaurant in Mountain View, where it still resides. In fact, there is an entire case of Herradura waiting for Cal's return to Pasadena -- which of course, still has not happened. Kapp doesn't want you to think he's thirsty, though. He still has not sipped any tequila. But that has not ruled out other spirits.  ``Thank God for Mexican beer and California wine,'' Kapp said. And one day, Kapp swears, tequila will rejoin the party. He calls Tedford ``an outstanding coach'' and notes that ``he is at Cal when the support and the management of the enterprise sees the value of competing.'' That's as opposed to 24 years ago, when Kapp had to make do with sub-par facilities and a relatively indifferent administration. Of course, Kapp's coaching skills were also sometimes called into question. But it would have been fun to see what he could have done with top-notch support. After all, he did still manage to produce some thrilling moments, including the most celebrated play in college football history -- the five-lateral kickoff return that ended the 1982 Big Game. ``The Play'' was no accident, as Kapp has said. Every week in practice, for enjoyment, he had his Bears play a keepaway game called ``grab-ass'' that Kapp had learned while playing Cal basketball for Pete Newell.

The players' instincts took over in the final seconds against Stanford, famously replayed every year with radio announcer Joe Starkey's frenzied description of Kevin Moen running through the Stanford band to victory. ``Twenty-four years later and I still don't know what Joe was saying,'' Kapp says, laughing. As events transpired, that was Kapp's best coaching moment. In 1986, after losing too many games, Kapp was out at Cal. But he had one final moment of glory, leading his 1-9 team to a remarkable upset of a Stanford team that was 7-2 and headed to the Gator Bowl. Afterward, his players carried Kapp off the field. Today, Kapp still looks like a million bucks, owns more energy than any 67-year-old man has a right to own, and enjoys watching games as much as ever. His son, Will, plays at Los Gatos High and will play in a Central Coast Section championship game Friday. Then comes the Big Game on Saturday in Berkeley. Pretty much a perfect weekend for a man who doesn't really need a reason to get excited. ``The strategy of it still fascinates me,'' Kapp said. ``But it is the passion, the visibility of the passion and teamwork, the great example it sets. And `The Play' is the epitome of that, in my opinion. You look at fundamentals and strategy, but overriding all of it is, `Where's the fever? The Bear fever? The corazon, the heart of it?' That's why it is such a great game.'' Then he makes a playful suggestion. ``What if we did a survey in the paper of whether Joe Kapp should get a dispensation from the pope so he can drink tequila again?'' he asks.


Contra Costa Times: Bears Headed to Holiday Bowl


By Jay Heater

Moments after Cal finished practicing Tuesday at Memorial Stadium, Brandon Mebane talked about his team's invitation to the Holiday Bowl. ``We've got some unfinished business there,'' the senior defensive tackle said. ``The last time, we lost. This time, I want to go out with a bang.'' Cal's official invitation Tuesday was expected, and it came soon after the Bowl Championship Series committee released Cal (8-3, 6-2 Pacific-10 Conference) from consideration. Sixteen teams were put on hold for the 10 BCS slots. Cal, ranked No. 18 by the BCS, was deemed to stand no chance of moving up to No. 14, which is the final qualifying spot. Unlike 2004, when Cal's players felt they were robbed of a Rose Bowl berth after going 10-1, this year's Bears seem excited about the opportunity to play in the Pac-10's No. 2 bowl game. ``We're fortunate to be in the Holiday Bowl for the second time,'' Coach Jeff Tedford said. ``It is a quality opportunity for us. They have a rich tradition and they do a first-class job of putting on the game.'' The Holiday Bowl will be played Dec. 28 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Tedford didn't want to field questions about a possible opponent, which appears to be Texas A&M or Nebraska. ``First things first,'' Tedford said. ``Stanford is the only thing on my mind.''

Cal faces Stanford (1-10, 1-7) in the 109th Big Game on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. A Cardinal upset would land the Bears in a second-place tie with Oregon State. The Holiday Bowl, however, didn't want to wait, and made the announcement Tuesday. The Beavers accepted a Sun Bowl invitation Tuesday. Tedford informed his team after practice that it would get a second shot at the Holiday Bowl. In 2004, Cal lost 45-31 to a Texas Tech squad that ran up 520 passing yards. Cal senior cornerback Daymeion Hughes said it should be a different experience this time around. ``This is a different team,'' Hughes said. ``We felt we were cheated (out of the Rose Bowl) last time. This time, we put ourselves in this position.'' Saturday, the Bears will try to snap a two-game losing streak after dropping contests at Arizona and at USC. ``Man, this will be great,'' Hughes said. ``I know it will be a rocking house.''  A matchup against Texas A&M (9-3), coming off an upset of Texas, would stir some interest.  ``A&M is a big, physical team that loves to run,'' Mebane said. ``They will be wanting to show that the Big 12 is better than the Pac-10, and we will be trying to show the Pac-10 is better.''

• Receiver DeSean Jackson did extra disciplinary drills Tuesday for missing Sunday's practice. Jackson and defensive back Gary Doxy didn't arrive back in time after their flight from Los Angeles was canceled. Tedford said Jackson would start Saturday.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

SF Chronicle: Steve Levy: Big Game hero now bench warmer

Rusty Simmons, Chronicle Staff Writer

Steve Levy has gone from Big Game hero to somewhat of a forgotten man, but you'd never know it by watching him on a daily basis.  The senior prepares every day like he's going to start, and he musters up a smile each day before he leaves the field even though he's leaving the field with the realization that he's the No. 3 quarterback.  "My smile lasts off the field, too," he said. "It has to. If it didn't then I wouldn't be able to come out here and compete every day."  Levy was at the helm as Cal won its fourth consecutive game over Stanford last season. As the 109th Big Game approaches, his responsibilities have reverted to menial tasks, like backing up the backup and relaying plays to sophomore quarterback Nate Longshore.

It would be tough for anyone to accept going from being "the guy" to being the third guy, but Levy doesn't allow those kinds of feelings in his life. He's managed to maintain a grin through being converted into a fullback, becoming an overachieving hero as a quarterback and being tossed back into reserve status.  "I like seeing these guys go out and compete," he said. "I'm just trying to help this team in any way I can to make it more successful."  He did that first-hand and saved the end of last season. Levy sparked a 27-3 win over Stanford with a 56-yard scoring strike to DeSean Jackson, and he went 16-of-23 for 228 yards and two scores in the Bears' 35-28 Las Vegas Bowl victory over BYU.

"I knew deep down that I could do those things my whole life," he said. "But it didn't hit me what I had accomplished until a long time after that. I'll have those memories forever."

Levy is everything that is worth cheering, because he's a guy much like the guys rooting. He's 6-foot-1 (maybe) and 225 pounds, but he's as tough as most collegiate linemen.  "People tell me that they respect how I play with pride and spirit," he said. "I gave hope to people who have always been the underdogs, and it's cool how destiny works out."  But destiny played a dirty trick on him this summer, when he was involved in a fracas in North Beach that caused him to be suspended for the season-opener in Tennessee. Still, he came into training camp determined to keep his starting job, despite the obvious talents of Longshore and the pressure from Joe Ayoob and Kyle Reed.  Levy looked as good as any of the four quarterbacks competing for the starting nod in camp, but Longshore simply fits the Division I-A bill better than a guy who is more guts than pro quarterback prospect. Though Longshore has thrived, Levy has played in only two games, completing 7 of 10 passes for 66 yards and zero touchdowns.  "Everything happens for a reason," he said. "If you look in the mirror and know you gave everything you could possibly give, then you have to believe that even when it appears that everything is happening for the worse."


Sports Network: Golden Bears take on Cardinal in Berkeley

Berkeley, CA (Sports Network) - A pair of long time rivals close out their regular season campaigns this Saturday, as the Stanford Cardinal square off against the 21st-ranked California Golden Bears from Berkeley in Pac-10 play. It was been a simply awful season for the Cardinal, which has won just once in 11 tries. The team was last in action on November 18th, when it suffered a 30-7 setback against Oregon State in its home finale. The loss dropped Stanford to 1-7 in league play, with its only win coming against Washington (20-3) the previous week. As for Cal, it enters the contest riding its first losing streak of the season at two games. After winning eight games in a row and putting themselves in position to win the Pac-10, the Bears hit a major bump in the road and lost at Arizona (24-20) and than at nationally- ranked USC on November 18th. Despite the losses, Cal is still a solid 8-3 on the year and is headed to a fourth straight bowl game, which is a school record. The Bears and Cardinal have met 108 times previously, with Stanford holding a 54-43-11 series advantage. California however, has won the past four meetings, including a 27-3 win last season.

Offensively, Stanford is one of the most inept teams around, and that is no more evident than in the mere 10.0 ppg and 228.5 total ypg it is currently averaging. One of the major reasons for the team's lack of success this season has been its ground game, which is gaining a dismal 65.1 ypg on the season. In the team's last game, the Cardinal was held to just 210 total yards, including only 85 rushing, in a 30-7 loss to Oregon State. Anthony Kimble paced the team in defeat by rushing for 78 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. It was a solid showing by Kimble, who has amassed just 425 rushing yards and two scores on the year. T.C. Ostrander got the nod under center against Oregon State, but he threw for just 125 yards and an interception on 9-of-25 pass attempts. Ostrander has struggled to get things going all season long and he has completed just 44.9 percent of his throws with only one touchdown and five interceptions in nine appearances.

On the defensive side of the ball, Stanford has been equally as bad, allowing 31.9 ppg and 391.5 total ypg. The unit has been torched on the ground for 218.1 rushing ypg and 26 touchdowns, and it has forced just 14 turnovers on the season. In the squad's last outing, the Cardinal gave up 385 total yards of offense, including 208 via the run, in a loss to Oregon State. Trevor Hooper posted the team's only sack in the loss, while Michael Okwo recorded nine stops. On the season, Okwo leads the team in tackles with 86, and he also has five TFLs and two sacks to his credit.

California has been able to produce at a high level on offense this season and it enters the contest averaging a hardy 32.4 ppg and 416.6 total ypg. The unit has fared well on the ground (158.5 ypg), but has really thrived through the air (258.2 ypg). The Bears however, were completely shutdown by USC in their last game, posting just 275 yards of total offense with three turnovers. Tailback Marshawn Lynch rushed for 88 yards on 20 carries in the loss and he also caught five passes for 21 yards. It was a sub par effort from one of the most versatile backs in the Pac-10, who has rushed for 1,178 yards and nine touchdowns this season, in addition to catching 30 balls for 286 yards and four more scores. Quarterback Nate Longshore also had some problems against USC, completing only 17-of-38 pass attempts for 176 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. It was an uncharacteristic performance by Longshore, who has completed 60.2 percent of his throws for 2,569 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. DeSean Jackson has been his go-to-guy, as he leads the team with 47 catches, 852 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

Defensively, the Bears have struggled this season and are giving up 20.4 ppg and 376.6 total ypg. The unit has had some problem trying to slow down the pass (249.2 ypg), although it has compensated for some of those yards allowed by recording an impressive 20 interceptions. In the team's last game, Cal failed to generate a single turnover, as it allowed 358 total yards to USC in a losing cause. Desmond Bishop guided the squad in defeat with 13 stops. Bishop leads the team on the season in both tackles (104) and TFLs (14), and he also three sacks on his resume. Another player worth nothing is Daymeion Hughes, who ranks second in the nations with eight interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns.  California is clearly the pick here and it should have no trouble routing a rather dismal Stanford club that is surely happy to see its season come to an end.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: California 35, Stanford 7

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

San Jose Mercury: Big drama lacking from this Big Game

Ann Killion

Mercury News

Yet another Big Game is upon us, one sure to be full of new twists and turns and legendary moments. Like, um, well, let's see.  OK, there's this: The game is being played in December for only the second time in history and for the first time since 1892. It's unlikely that 114 years ago the game was scheduled for December so that TV could stretch the season into more paydays. We're also pretty sure that this game won't replicate the 10-10 tie played that day on the corner of Haight and Stanyan. Still, the game's date is the most intriguing element this year. Otherwise, the 109th Big Game is shaping up like so many others have recently: sadly predictable. Monday, at the Big Game media luncheon in San Francisco, there was the same brave chatter about what a close rivalry this is. ``It's always been a hard-fought, close game,'' Jeff Tedford said, with a straight face. Not exactly, Coach. While it's true that only 23 points separate the schools after 108 meetings, Tedford is doing his best to change that. The margin was much closer a year ago -- only one point separated them after 107 games. ``If you look at the series the last four years, it's always very, very close,'' Tedford said. Absolutely. That is if you're talking about at kickoff. Since Tedford took over, Cal is 4-0 against Stanford and has won by an average of 23.5 points. The scores: 30-7, 28-16, 41-6, 27-3. In recent times, the Big Game has been about streaks. Stanford won seven in a row in 1995-2001. Now Cal is likely to win its fifth in a row: The Bears are an angry 8-3 team that had national aspirations just two weeks ago pitted against a 1-10 team that has been abysmal.

The one sliver of hope for Stanford rests in the common denominator of Washington. The Cardinal beat the Huskies in the Northwest two weeks ago. In October, Cal struggled at home against the Huskies, finally beating them in overtime. Conclusion (at least if you're wearing red)? Anything can happen Saturday. Of course, there are seven other common denominators: Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State, UCLA, Arizona State, USC and Arizona. Other than the last two, which defeated both teams, Cal handily beat Pac-10 opponents and Stanford handily lost to them. The buildup to this game will be less about analyzing competitive balance than pondering bigger questions. Such as: Could Cal come out flat?

The Bears lost their past two games, including an emotionally devastating defeat to USC that ended their Rose Bowl dreams. ``There's no question there was a lot of disappointment over the last two weeks,'' Tedford said. ``But we have so much to play for. There's a lot of emotion, a lot of rivalry and tradition.'' Linebacker Desmond Bishop, one of the seniors playing his final game for Cal, is determined to keep his team from suffering a letdown against weak Stanford. ``Not fully meeting expectations has been painful,'' he said. ``But a loss to Stanford would hurt even more.'' Here's another subplot: What will happen to Walt Harris? Stanford Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby is expected to give a quick thumbs up or thumbs down on Harris' future soon after the game. Monday, Harris seemed to be campaigning for his job, detailing the number of first-year players on his squad (31 -- including 18 redshirt freshmen) and pointing to the improved defense as a sign of progress. ``I think it will pay big dividends for us in the future,'' Harris said, apparently including himself in that future.

And there's this intrigue: Will oak trees force Tedford out? This will be the last Big Game at Memorial Stadium until 2008. That was the season the newly renovated Memorial Stadium was supposed to be unveiled. Tedford's contract contains an escape clause if those new facilities are not built. But, as fully expected, in the city of Berkeley, plans aren't going smoothly. The city plans to sue the school to halt the renovation over concerns about seismic safety. The UC Regents have postponed a vote on the project. And a group called ``Save the Oaks'' has been formed to save 38 old oak trees that would have to be removed for construction.  So sit back on Saturday and enjoy the pretty view and the oaks. They might end up providing more drama than the game.

Contra Costa Times: Game is still Big, especially to seniors

Tedford's first class looks to cap an impressive run; Cardinal seniors want to get their first win vs. rival Bears

By Jay Heater

SAN FRANCISCO - Don't try to tell Cal fullback Byron Storer that Saturday's 109th Big Game isn't special because it is perceived to be a mismatch. Storer, who will be playing his final game at Memorial Stadium, said it is a chance for him to put an exclamation point on one of the most successful team runs seen in Berkeley. Although Cal (8-3 overall, 6-2 Pac-10) failed to win a conference title in his four seasons, Storer and a few of his senior teammates will become the first Bears to play in four bowl games. Cal also can register its fifth consecutive win over Stanford. "If that's my legacy ... if that's the legacy of my class ... then I am happy," he said. "I'm glad I was part of it." Storer and offensive guard Erik Robertson, both fifth-year seniors, were on hand during Monday's Big Game media luncheon at Perry's restaurant in San Francisco. Both were part of coach Jeff Tedford's first recruiting class. "Byron and I were talking about it on the way here today," Robertson said. "Has it hit you yet?' It's starting to hit me." Robertson agreed with Storer that he would like to go out in style against Stanford, putting a fitting end to an impressive run. "My junior year at Apple Valley High School, we were 0-10," Robertson said. "The next season, we made the playoffs. At that time, people were saying to me, 'Oh, you are going to Cal? Why?' I told them that the same thing was going to happen at Cal. It did. "This is my last season here and some people are disappointed even though we had a great season." That's a change from his first season at Cal, when the Bears capped a 7-5 season with a win over Stanford. The fans went bonkers.

"It was the first time I saw the field rushed by the fans," Robertson said. "It was great." Storer said he doesn't mind that expectations are higher now. "We made it happen," he said. "This is what we wanted. Coach Tedford has set the standard."

Besides Storer and Robertson, the other fifth-year Cal seniors are cornerback Randy Bundy, offensive tackle Andrew Cameron, wide receiver David Gray, defensive end Steve Kelly, quarterback Steve Levy, tailback Marcus O'Keith and offensive tackle Scott Smith. Storer, Gray and fourth-year seniors Daymeion Hughes and Brandon Mebane will become the first Bears to see action in four bowl games. None of those players has experienced a Big Game loss, like the three that Stanford senior Michael Okwo has had to endure. Okwo, who also attended Monday's luncheon, said his three Big Game experiences were memorable despite the losses. "The Big Game isn't any regular Pac-10 game," Owko said. "I still remember my first one (Cal's 28-16 win at Stanford in 2003). I remember my walk to the stadium and how there was a different air. You could feel the rivalry. "We haven't won one and they've gotten the best of us. This is the last chance for me." Tedford's theme during Monday's luncheon was that Stanford is a vastly improved team despite its 1-10 record (1-7 Pac-10). Stanford coach Walt Harris thanked his players for their dedication during difficult times. He said the past week's practices have been the team's best this season. "Obviously, it has been tough," Harris said. "But they made it a great experience even though it was a difficult experience." Stanford sophomore cornerback Wopamo Osaisai was asked if a victory in the Big Game would make up for a dismal season. "It would mean we would go from 1-10 to 2-10," he said. Fox Sports Net Bay Area will televise Saturday's game, which begins at noon.


Contra Costa Times: No Pac-10 title but two major awards for Cal

RB Lynch, DB Hughes conference's top offensive and defensive players

SAN FRANCISCOCal didn't win a Pac-10 title, but it did garner two major awards on Monday. Junior tailback Marshawn Lynch was named the Pac-10's offensive player of the year, while senior cornerback Daymeion Hughes was named the defensive player of the year.  The awards were selected by the conference head coaches.  Lynch has rushed for 1,178 yards, and his 107.1 average per game leads the conference. He also leads the Pac-10 with a 6.3 yards per carry average.

He is the first Cal player to win the offensive award since quarterback Mike Pawlawski in 1991.  Hughes leads the conference in interceptions with eight, including two that were returned for touchdowns. He also leads the conference in passes defensed with 19, and he has 62 tackles.  The last Cal player to win the defensive award was Deltha O'Neal in 1999.  The other major award, coach of the year, went to USC's Pete Carroll.  Cal players named to the All Pac-10 first team were Lynch, Hughes, sophomore wide receiver DeSean Jackson, sophomore center Alex Mack, senior defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and senior linebacker Desmond Bishop.  Jackson also was selected as the first-team punt returner.  Second-team picks were junior tight end Craig Stevens, junior offensive tackle Mike Gibson, senior defensive end Nu'u Tafisi and special teams performer Byron Storer.  Honorable mentions were senior offensive tackle Andrew Cameron, sophomore linebacker Zack Follett, junior wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins, junior wide receiver Robert Jordan, sophomore quarterback Nate Longshore, senior linebacker Mickey Pimentel and senior offensive guard Erik Robertson.

BUILDING MOMENTUM: Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour was emphatic Monday after the Big Game media luncheon at Perry's Restaurant in San Francisco that construction on the Student-Athlete, High-Performance Center would begin on time.

"We're moving forward," Barbour said.  The environmental impact report and the building's design are expected to be approved by the UC governing Board of Regents' grounds and building committee on Monday. The approval was delayed since Nov.14 so that the regents could study complaints from the city of Berkeley about the project.  Although Cal faces possible lawsuits aimed at stopping the construction — the city of Berkeley has indicated it would file a lawsuit once the regents approve it — Barbour said she was confident that the project had fulfilled all the necessary safety and environmental standards in order to proceed.  A ground-breaking for the project originally had been scheduled for Friday but was scrapped when the UC Board of Regents delayed its approval. Although no new date for a ground-breaking has been set, Barbour said the project will have lost zero days of construction time should it be approved Monday.  Breaking ground could be huge for Cal's football team in a couple ways. First, it would come at a time when other programs are certain to make an attempt to lure away coach Jeff Tedford. Tedford has said all along that the project's completion is key to attracting top-level talent to the university.  Second, the project needs to begin on time so it won't affect the start of Cal's 2007 season. The Golden Bears host Tennessee on Sept.1.  Although the project has been estimated at 14 months for completion, enough of the building is supposed to be completed by August 2007 that it would allow Memorial Stadium to host events.

EXTRA POINTS: Hughes and Mebane have been invited to the Senior Bowl, while Bishop has been invited to the East-West Shrine Game. ... Sophomore defensive end Rulon Davis has a stress fracture in his leg and won't be available in the Big Game. ... Tedford said that true freshmen Michael Costanzo of Monte Vista High and Derrick Hill of McClymonds, who are both doing rehabilitation work after knee surgery, won't be able to practice when Cal prepares for a bowl game. ... Tedford said there remains no good news about junior defensive end Phillip Mbakogu's damaged knee, which is threatening to end the ex-Hayward High star's career if it doesn't respond to treatment. ... Junior linebacker Chris Purtz, suspended since Oct.12 for breaking team rules, has rejoined the team.



Monday, November 27, 2006

SF Chronicle: Jackson AWOL

DeSean Jackson had travel issues and didn't make it back from Southern California for Cal's practice Sunday, coach Jeff Tedford said.  Tedford didn't have a timeline for the return of his big-play receiver and punt returner.  "We'll see," he said.  Jackson's Long Beach Poly High teammate Gary Doxy, who is a reserve defensive back at Cal, also missed the practice.

-- Reserve linebacker Chris Purtz, who was suspended for violating team rules in mid-October, has been reinstated and will be available to play in the Big Game on Saturday, Tedford said.

Contra Costa Times: Cal not looking past Stanford

With the 109th Big Game looming Saturday, most of Cal's football players ran through Sunday's practice at Memorial Stadium with the devastating loss to USC in the rear-view mirror.  "This is a different kind of game," said Bears tailback Marshawn Lynch. "We've put the loss to USC behind us, and we are ready to move forward. Stanford is going to come to play. We aren't sleeping."  However, not all the Bears are over the USC hangover. Cal senior linebacker Mickey Pimentel was asked if it's tough to reach the same emotional level that the players had facing the Trojans.  "I'm not going to lie," said Pimentel. "It is. Stanford hasn't won that many games.  "At the same time, they did beat Washington. They are playing better and better."

Cal coach Jeff Tedford said his players should take the Cardinal seriously despite its 1-10 record.  "They've been playing very good on defense," Tedford said. "Through the first six games, they were giving up 455 yards a game. The last five, they have given up an average of 315 yards. They are a dangerous team."  Bears quarterback Nate Longshore said he understands that Stanford will put out everything it has to win the Big Game and turn around an awful season.  "Nothing matters at this point, rankings or records," Longshore said. "This is not aregular game. It doesn't matter where or when. They are dangerous. They are doing some things very well."  Cal, ranked No. 18 in the BCS ratings released on Sunday, is virtually locked out of a No.14 spot or higher that is needed to qualify for a BCS berth. The Holiday Bowl is waiting for the BCS to release Cal so it can publically announce its invitation. That announcement could come as early as today.  However, Longshore noted that it's not just Stanford that has something at stake. "For us, it's our last home game," Longshore said. "For our seniors, it's their last game here."

TRAVEL WOES: Sophomore wide receiver DeSean Jackson and freshman defensive back Gary Doxy missed Sunday's practice. Tedford said they ran into travel problems.  Both players are out of Long Beach Poly High and went home for Thanksgiving.  "They are together," Tedford said.   Asked if there would be any disciplinary action, Tedford said he wanted to talk with both of them to find out the reason for their delay.

EXTRA POINTS: Marcus O'Keith, who has turf toe, didn't practice Sunday and is doubtful for the Big Game. ... This will be the first time that Cal will have played in four bowls in a row. ... Lynch and Jackson are tied for the conference lead in touchdowns scored with 12 each. ... Cal leads the conference in fewest sacks allowed with 11. ... The Big Game, which dates back to 1892, is the ninth-oldest rivalry in college football. ... Stanford leads the series 54-43-11, but Cal has won the past four games by a combined 126-32. ... Cal has not won five consecutive games against Stanford since 1919-23. ... Jackson has scored on five punt returns in only 25 career attempts. ... Stanford is last in the conference in scoring offense (10 points per game) and scoring defense (31.9 points allowed per game). ... Kicker Tom Schneider has made all nine of his field-goal attempts inside 50 yards this season.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

SF Chronicle: Big silence one week before Big Game

It's a sunny, fall Saturday in Berkeley with all the makings of a great day for a football game, but the usual sounds have been muted. The anxious ovations from a crowd have been replaced by an uneasy silence.  The sounds of pregame pad-clashing has been replaced by youthful laughter and an occasional bark as a father, three children and a dog are the only ones utilizing the Memorial Stadium field.  The sizzling from a barbecue has been replaced by the footsteps of someone delivering McDonald's to the coaching staff.  It's a week, to the minute, until the scheduled kickoff of the 109th Big Game, and most of the buzz surrounding the Cal football program has been lost. Of course, a lot of the inactivity is because it's a bye week, but it also has a lot to do with the fact that there's an overwhelming sense that the season is already over.   "It does kind of feel like that, doesn't it?" coach Jeff Tedford said Tuesday. "The guys put so much into (the USC loss), so that was their initial reaction."  Despite the solemn setting at Strawberry Canyon on Saturday, the Bears' season isn't over. In fact, it has two games left and more than enough reasons to continue playing.

First, there are still attainable goals. The common theme from the Cal players last week was a desire to "keep the Axe." The Bears still have a shot at posting a 10-win season, and before the Big Game, they'll start preaching the importance of giving their all for the seniors, who will be playing in their final home game.  Senior linebacker Desmond Bishop, the Bears' vocal leader, stared Tuesday at some black-and-white photos in a Memorial Stadium hallway. As he looked at sold-out stadiums and pictures that mark big wins from Cal's history, he stopped and smiled as if he had found his rallying cry for the season's final weeks.  Then, there's the knowledge that the last two games of the season grant Cal a chance to set the tone for next year while fixing the problems that have ailed it lately.  The Bears will look to regain the potent offense that has been bobbing around with up-and-down weeks after producing at least 40 points in five straight games. Cal needs to get back to setting a physical tone with the running game and finding a way to get all three play-making receivers involved once again.  The Bears also will be seeking ways to create takeaways again. After spending most of the season among the national leaders in interceptions, the Bears' defense hasn't forced a turnover in consecutive losses.  On Saturday, a "day off," the Bears' coaching staff and a handful of players were looking for solutions on game tape.  They're hoping that in the silence, the answers will show up loud and clear.



Thursday, November 23, 2006

Contra Costa Times: Tedford doesn't fret despite halt on new facility


BERKELEY — Dec.1 was supposed to be a great day for Cal coach Jeff Tedford. He was going to look out a window at Memorial Stadium and see a bunch of guys with shovels.  However, the ground-breaking ceremony for the Student-Athlete, High-Performance Center is not going to happen yet as the UC Board of Regents has held off approving the project for at least a few more weeks while its checks out a lawsuit filed by the city of Berkeley that aims at halting construction.  At this point, Tedford isn't fretting. "I have trust that everything will be fine," Tedford said. "I have a lot of faith in our administration. I know that there is a sincere, genuine effort to get this done. Everyone has the same goal."  Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said the lawsuit was anticipated, and she is confident construction will begin soon.  If Cal is expected to close the gap on USC, Tedford said that project needs to go forward.  "Our recruits walk in here, and they're a little surprised because of the modest success we've had on the football field," Tedford said.  The surprise comes because Tedford is recruiting athletes who visit some of the nation's top football powerhouses. They see elaborate locker and weight rooms. They see universities that commit resources toward winning.  When Tedford took the Cal job in 2002, then-athletic director Steve Gladstone said he didn't see why a coach couldn't develop a powerful team even without upgrades in facilities.

However, the administration changed its attitude toward football and started pushing forward to improve conditions.  Tedford, meanwhile, did build a powerful program. His worry, though, is sustaining a high standard.  "No question, facilities make an impression on people," Tedford said. "We are competing now with Michigan, Florida, Notre Dame, USC, Oklahoma — all that. Recruting has been very competitive."  Cal currently has 11 oral commitments, and Tedford has several top recruits visiting campus Dec.1-3 and Dec.8-10. "Dec. 8 is going to be a big weekend for us," Tedford said.

REGRETS, A FEW: Although Tedford said he does second guess himself on some of the offensive calls, he remembered one play where Nate Longshore's arm was hit just as he was attempting to throw the ball. "We had a guy running open down the middle," Tedford said.  He also said that USC won the battle at the line of scrimmage and many of the individual battles in terms of receivers getting free. He doesn't know that changing plays would have changed the outcome.  "You always reflect on what could have happened differently," he said. "What could I have done? You wonder if you should have run something different on third and inches."  

BRING ON STANFORD: Cal will take off today, Friday and Saturday, and the players will report back for a Sunday practice as they prepare for the 109th Big Game on Dec.2 at Memorial Stadium.  "There is a lot of football left, a lot to play for," Tedford said. "I know our players are disappointed. That's the initial response. Our sights were set high — on the league championship — the Rose Bowl.  "But we need to finish strong."  Tedford said that the bye week will give his staff longer to prepare for the Cardinal. He was asked if he believes his team will be enthusiastic about a trip to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego (Dec. 28, Pac-10 No. 2 vs. Big 12 No. 3).  "Stanford is the only thing on my mind," he said. "It's not official that we are going to the Holiday Bowl. We had better be ready to play Stanford." Cal, which is ranked No.19 in the BCS ratings, almost is a lock to play at the Holiday Bowl. Without moving up five spots in the ratings, virtually impossible with only Stanford left on the schedule, the Bears won't be BCS eligible. Cal can't finish any worse than a tie for second, and the Holiday Bowl would love to have the Bears back.  

KEEPING UP: Tedford has to win as many recruiting battles as possible if he expects to keep up with USC, which has dominated on a national scale the past four years. That domination shows up on game day.  "In certain areas, we match up with them," Tedford said of USC. "We have to keep working at it."  Tedford said the Bears are talented enough now to win against anyone, but facing USC takes a great effort. "There is not a lot of room for error," he said. "It's going to take a lot of really good execution."  That execution wasn't really good last Saturday. "You just see how talented USC is," Tedford said. "To win at the Coliseum, you have to play your best. Hopefully, you will get some turnovers. We turned it over and they didn't. It's a hard enough place to play."


Oakland Tribune: Gutsy call: Levy deserves start

Column by Dave Del Grande

DO YOU WONDER where the Cal football team would be today if Steve Levy had been the quarterback all season? I do.  No doubt, the senior from New Jersey isn't half the "classic" signal-caller Bears starter Nate Longshore is. Levy lacks the first two things pro scouts look for in a quarterback: height and arm strength.  But as he demonstrated a year ago when Cal's season was falling apart, the fifth-year Bear is a winner. And there were times this season when Cal needed a winner more than a guy with a rocket arm.  They needed a guy who could stand up to 90,000 orange-clad crazies and shout: "This is Bear territory."  They needed a strong voice who could have prevented letdowns against vastly inferior Washington and Arizona teams.  And they needed someone who could have stuck his nose into the middle of the USC defensive line and come up with a yard when the Bears needed it.  In general, they needed a guy with some guts.  Steve Levy doesn't have all the tools it takes to be a big-time quarterback, but one thing he has is guts.  I don't think anyone owes the fullback-looking young man an apology. But if I were Jeff Tedford, I'd certainly say thank you.  Thank you for saving the 2005 season. And thank you for setting the stage for a highly successful 2006 campaign.  As a graduation present ... I'd give him the start in the Big Game. After all, honoring the heart and soul of the program — the mostly invisible guys who have taken one for the team time and again for up to five years — is what "Senior Day" is all about.

DATELINE: Pasadena. Here's the irony of Cal's loss to USC: The Bears might be headed to the Rose Bowl had the high-and-mighty Trojans had their way.  You see, Pete Carroll doesn't approve of the use of instant replay in officiating college football games. Given a choice last season, USC insisted no replay be used in its dramatic victory at Notre Dame, where a review of either of the final two plays might have changed the outcome.  Coaches no longer have a choice. A new rule this season assures the replay system will be used at every game in Division I-A.  Imagine Saturday's game without replay. Cal had two touchdowns overturned — and rightfully so — upon further review, one leading to a USC field goal.  That's a 17-point swing in what turned out to be a 14-point game.  Now what do you think about replay, Pete?

SF Chronicle: Tedford Worried About Stadium Issues

A week after the UC regents postponed plans to retrofit Memorial Stadium and build a parking structure and a training center, Cal coach Jeff Tedford chimed in Tuesday on the potential delay.  "I have trust that everything's going to be fine, but it's concerning because we all know what we're up against in recruiting," he said.  It's never going to be clearer than right now as the Bears to try to recover from Saturday's loss, which cost them the school's first Rose Bowl berth since 1959. USC, which clinched its fifth consecutive Pac-10 crown with the win over Cal, regularly has one of the nation's top recruiting classes, and to beat a team of that caliber, the current Bears' roster has to play perfect football and hope for some help.

With Cal's recent success, it is no longer competing against Big West and bottom-rung Pac-10 teams for recruits. Instead, it is seeking players considering offers from top-tier schools, which also have top-tier facilities.  Tedford noticed what he was up against this summer as out-of-state prospects took unofficial visits to Berkeley and were disappointed to see the facilities.  "I don't think I need to get up and beat a drum about it to make everyone understand," Tedford said.  Both athletics director Sandy Barbour and Tedford remain confident that despite the regents' vote and the pending lawsuit by the city of Berkeley, the promised plan will be back on after a Dec. 4 meeting.

Hook, line and sinking: Tedford hasn't taken his phone off the hook yet, but he's been hurt by some of his most recent calls.  Since Cal missed its chance to secure a conference title and a spot in the Rose Bowl, Tedford has been contacted by a number of angry fans. There have also been a few calls to remind him that, four or five years ago, nobody cared, so he must be doing something right.  "I'm sure it's like that everywhere, but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with," he said.  Most of the calls have been about the Bears' sudden lack of offensive production, wondering about play-calling that seemingly hasn't take chances and has become too predictable.  "I'm not sure we didn't take chances," he said. "I mean, we threw the ball 38 times."

Briefly: Tedford will get out of his "coaching cave" just long enough to eat a turkey sandwich while watching Stanford game video Thursday and hit the recruiting trail Friday and Saturday. To date, 11 high-school prospects have given Cal verbal commitments, including the most recent, All-American punter Bryan Anger. ... Marshawn Lynch and Daymeion Hughes weren't among the finalists for the Doak Walker Award (top running back) or the Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back), respectively.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Contra Costa Times: `Back, back, back' call goes against Cal

LOS ANGELES - The key play came late in the third quarter, Cal needing an inch to get a first down and sustain a drive in a 9-9 game against USC.

Bears quarterback Nate Longshore took the snap, pushed forward for an instant on a sneak, but then was pushed back by the center of the USC line. Both side officials stood on the far side of the 30-yard line, which was where the Bears needed to get for a first down. By the time the officials met in the center of the field, they were standing on Cal's side of the 30. ``You noticed that, too?'' Coach Jeff Tedford asked. ``They kept moving back, back, back.'' Cal punted, USC scored on its next two possessions and the Bears' hopes of their first Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 1959, were finished.  ``Third-and-inches, and we didn't make that,'' Tedford said. ``That was a big play for us. That would have given us another set of downs. You have to be able to make that play.'' USC Coach Pete Carroll said his defense was the key to the victory. ``Our defense shut them out in the second half. They were absolutely kicking butt.''

• USC kept Cal receiver DeSean Jackson out of action for most of the game. ``They were double-teaming me, triple-teaming me,'' said Jackson, who finished with two catches for 41 yards. ``They played a very hard-fought game.''  Jackson didn't even get any action on returns. The nation's leading punt returner tried twice but netted just 3 yards. Both times he was surrounded immediately. ``USC always had someone in his face, jamming him,'' Tedford said.

• Tedford's summation: ``Our players came in here with confidence that we would win. You have to give USC a lot of credit, that's a great football team. We couldn't sustain two halves. The first half we moved the ball well. The second half, we didn't play well offensively.'' He was asked if USC played better late in the game because it had been in that situation so many times before. ``I don't think playing for the Rose Bowl and a conference championship made our players not play to their ability.  ``Of course, this is disappointing. We work long and hard to get here and play for a conference championship. We played well all season long to get to this spot. You would like to take advantage of it. ``But I wish USC well. I hope they are able to go to the national championship game.''


Saturday, November 18, 2006

LA Daily News: USC football notes: Jackson is Bear of a test

Despite the fact USC is ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings, the Trojans' secondary remains a question mark to some critics. That makes today's game against California a big test, especially for cornerback Terrell Thomas, who will defend Golden Bears wide receiver DeSean Jackson.  "They're a big-play team and we feel if we take away the big plays, we can beat them," Thomas said. "We didn't give up anything deep against Oregon and they needed to dink the ball around."  Jackson leads the Pacific-10 Conference with nine touchdown receptions, not to mention a nation-best four touchdowns on punt returns.  "They are the best deep-ball team we've played," Thomas said. "But it's a regular old game. I don't think you have to be on your toes more. Every game is important."

Read the entire article here.

San Francisco Chronicle: Bears enter Trojans' lair looking for roses

USC is more talented, so Cal will likely need better schemes -- and some breaks

Nate Longshore has a unique way of avoiding hyperbole.  "USC is definitely solid, so we're going to have to execute and get some breaks," the sophomore quarterback said.  No rah-rah speeches. No secrets. Nothing like that is needed for a game like this.  The Bears aren't looking for anything but good, old-fashioned execution today in the school's most important game in recent memory. When Cal and USC lock up at 5 p.m. today in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the teams will be playing for, at worst, a berth in the Rose Bowl.

Read the entire article here.


Mercury News: From talent to (lack of) talk, it is all breaking Cal's way

LOS ANGELES - Here a little early for reconnaissance, my ear to the hot pavement for clues to today's Cal-USC matchup, I was bombarded by USC ``chatter,'' as we call it in the spy-journalism business. Chatter about infamous Trojan O.J. Simpson, whose bug-eyed countenance provides nightmares for us all.

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LA Times: Keys to the Game

1 Run for the Rose Bowl: USC tailback Chauncey Washington said he would play despite a sprained knee, but it appears doubtful that he can repeat last week's career-best 119-yard rushing effort. C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson or Allen Bradford might have to pick up the slack and, most important, avoid fumbles when pounded by a Cal front seven that includes lineman Brandon Mebane. Running back Marshawn Lynch is Cal's workhorse. USC gives up only 2.9 yards per rushing play. Lynch averages 6.5 a carry.


2 Deep thoughts: Cal quarterback Nate Longshore loves to throw long to DeSean Jackson and other receivers, so USC defensive backs, especially free safety Taylor Mays, must keep the play in front of them. Defensive end Lawrence Jackson and the front seven also must pressure Longshore. Cal's secondary will be on the spot against Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith. USC quarterback John David Booty struggled early with deep throws, but his touch and confidence have improved.


3 Ain't that a kick: In case it has been forgotten, kickers played huge roles in two of the last three games between USC and Cal. The Trojans needed three field goals from Ryan Killeen to beat the Bears at the Coliseum in 2004 and they might call on Mario Danelo just as often today. Cal, which won on a field goal in the third overtime in 2003, is prepared with Tom Schneider, who has made 10 of 12 field-goal attempts, including all nine from 49 yards or closer. Note to Trojans: Kicking the ball to DeSean Jackson could be hazardous to their BCS health.

Stockton Record: Cal QB relaxed, focused

BERKELEY - For all those Cal graduates out there - the Graying Bears dreaming of that golden moment nearly a half-century in the making when the Rose Bowl no longer is a game that only other schools play in - we interrupt this reverie to bring you a dose of blasphemy. "It's just a game," Cal quarterback Nate Longshore said this week. "It's just football. It's just a little part of life." The junior wasn't talking specifically about the Rose Bowl, though he could have been. He was, however, discussing football in general and, specifically, today's game against USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

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Mercury News: Bears' hopes may well rest on shoulders of Longshore

They have been waiting nearly five decades for this game. Old Blues and Young Blues, ex-coaches and former players, they have been waiting since 1958 to win a game with the Rose Bowl on the line -- to win this game, this afternoon, at USC. Now that it's here, all their hopes and dreams rest on the shoulders of a 20-year-old in his first season as the Bears' starting quarterback. Nobody understands what Nate Longshore will be thinking and feeling better than the last Cal quarterback to take a team into Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with a trip to the Rose Bowl in the balance. ``There is going to be a ton of pressure on Nate,'' Aaron Rodgers said by telephone Friday from Green Bay, Wis. ``It's been 48 years, and the only reason I know that is because that's all people talked about. It's all we talked about. The fans, the students, the student paper, all the newspapers, everybody -- they all talked about the Rose Bowl.''

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Friday, November 17, 2006

SF Chronicle: Pac-10 Showdown: Cal looks to regain its offensive balance

Cal offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar says people were spoiled by the Bears' five-game stretch of scoring 40-plus points a game. "As the season goes on and people study your film and find various ways to defend you, it gets harder and harder," he said. "I don't think you're ever going to put up 40 a game for a whole season."
There is, however, a reason why he had broken down the video of Arizona's five previous games before his players started showing up at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 6, the Monday before the Bears faced the Wildcats. Cal has averaged 12 fewer points the last four games and has seen its potent, down-the-field offense minimized to dinking and dunking. "We have to continue to work and adjust and find that balance again," Dunbar said. "They pay (the opponents' defensive coordinators) too. We're just not getting as many opportunities to stretch the field with the vertical game as we were early in the season."
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LA Daily News: USC football notes: Barrett probably out because of calf injury

BY SCOTT WOLF, Staff Writer
USC defensive tackle Chris Barrett said he did not think he would play against California on Saturday because of a strained calf. "I think it's very doubtful," Barrett said. Barrett has had a history of calf problems and strained both last season. If he doesn't play, Fili Moala would start. Meanwhile, tailback Chauncey Washington (sprained knee) was limited in Thursday's practice but still expects to play. Washington will receive a new knee brace today because he could raise his knee enough with the current brace. "I'm going to try to do whatever I can," Washington said. "I'd rather hobble around with a brace and play. I ran (43 yards) against Oregon with the brace, so I know I can do it." Washington said the swelling has gone down "tremendously" in his knee since earlier in the week. USC coach Pete Carroll said there was still a bit of an "unknown" regarding Washington's status.
Havili redshirts: Carroll said he would redshirt fullback Stanley Havili (broken leg), who was not cleared for the game. Havili said he could practice next week and would prefer not to redshirt. "It's pretty obvious that we would hold him out," Carroll said.
Matthews honored: Sophomore linebacker Clay Matthews (Agoura High) was the only player named to the Pacific-10 Conference All-Academic team. He was a second-team selection. USC was the only school that did not have a player make honorable mention. "When Clay Matthews can be an All-American, that's something," Matthews joked. "I'll take it though." A student-athlete must have a minimum 3.0 overall grade-point average and be either a starter or significant substitute.
No nerves: Quarterback John David Booty said he would not be nervous for the game that decides which team wins the Pac-10 title. "I try not to get too worked up," he said. "It's just football. It's something I enjoy doing. Obviously it's a big game and there is a lot riding on it. But I'll enjoy it." Distant memory: Wide receiver Steve Smith said he spoke to USC compliance officials about his recruiting dinner four years ago to Papadakis Taverna restaurant in San Pedro. "I really don't remember much about it," Smith said. "I barely remember anything." Compliance officials are reviewing the dinners and also contacts between the football program and walk-on players for possible violations. Punter Greg Woidneck, who is a walk-on, said he was interviewed but did think any illegal contacts took place.