Monday, November 13, 2006

Daily Cal: Roses Still in The Air for Cal After Loss

Close your eyes and dream a little bit.  At halftime, with the No. 8 Cal football team up two scores against one of the worst offenses West of the Mississippi, it seemed all-but-certain the Bears would head into the L.A. Coliseum riding their first nine-game winning streak since 1950.  It seemed all-but-certain their match with USC would be the biggest game Cal has played since before most Old Blues graduated from college.  Oh yeah, and it seemed all-but-certain Cal would have a decent shot at sneaking into the national championship game with a win over the Trojans. The stars aligned. No. 3 Louisville fell, No. 5 Auburn fell, No. 6 Florida nearly fell. Then, even No. 4 Texas fell.  But like a train wreck slamming through the wall next to your bedroom, rudely interrupting your wistful reverie and even wounding your poor dog, the Bears lost to Arizona.  To make the nightmare just a little worse, Stanford got its first win of the season, knocking off Washington.  On Saturday, the scoreboard read like this: Stanford 1, Cal 0.  But the sky has not fallen.  The snake bite in Tucson may be hard to swallow, but it actually does not do much to alter the Pac-10 landscape.

Aside from the chances of a trip to the title game, everything is the same as it was before one of the strangest Cal games in recent memory.  The Bears are still playing for a Rose Bowl berth and a Pac-10 title Saturday.  The hype meter may have taken a hit now that Cal is a two-loss team. Any Marshawn-Lynch-for-Heisman-finalist campaign is now over.  But Cal will still go to the Rose Bowl with a win Saturday.  Before the BCS standings existed, when national rankings were for nothing but bragging rights and nobody had to use a TI-92 to determine whether a team had a shot at the Orange Bowl, winning the conference was all the mattered.  Those days of yesteryear are here again after Saturday’s meltdown. The Bears control their own destiny, which is all a team can hope for at this point in the season.  Sure, heads were hanging low after the shocking upset, but the focus eventually shifted to the USC game.  All year, Cal coach Jeff Tedford has stressed the need to take things one game at a time in an effort make sure his players did not look ahead to the Trojans.  Well, now it’s finally here.

The loss to Arizona just ratcheted up the stakes a little bit. Now there are no hopes that the Bears can sneak into the Rose Bowl if the Trojans go to the title game and no hopes that a USC loss to another Pac-10 team will give Cal the back-door route to the game everyone wanted.  It’s win or go home, Rose Bowl or Holiday Bowl.  The stewardess on the team plane on the way back from Tucson knew that.  She got on the intercom, in a grandmotherly voice, and told the team that she knew Cal would beat USC and she couldn’t wait to see the Bears play in the Rose Bowl. Many people groaned, as if even mentioning the Rose Bowl could put a curse over this year’s team.  But the stewardess wasn’t dreaming. Even she knew that a Rose Bowl berth may still be very much a reality.


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