Monday, December 31, 2007

Sports Network: Riley, California overcome 21-point deficit to defeat Falcons

Kevin Riley threw three touchdown passes, as Cal stormed back from a 21-point deficit to down Air Force, 42-36, in the Armed Forces Bowl.   Justin Forsett rushed 23 times for 140 yards with a pair of scores for California (7-6), which started the year with five straight wins but dropped six of its last seven regular-season contests.  Riley, sharing time with Nate Longshore under center, finished 16-of-19 for 269 yards. Robert Jordan paced the receiving corps with six grabs for 148 yards and a touchdown.  Jordan, DeSean Jackson and Thomas DeCoud were all benched for the first quarter for violations of team rules. The team fell behind 7-0 in that span, and 21-0 early in the second quarter.

Air Force suffered a major blow to its offensive attack when quarterback Shaun Carney went down with a right knee injury late in the third quarter. Before leaving Carney threw for a touchdown and rushed 15 times for 108 yards with a score.  His replacement, Shea Smith, went just 4-of-12 for 45 yards for the Falcons (9-4), who got 101 yards rushing and a TD from Jim Ollis.  Air Force appeared to be in control after establishing a 21-0 second-quarter lead.  Riley responded with a pair of touchdown passes, however -- a 40-yarder to Jackson and a five-yard strike to Lavelle Hawkins moments later -- to pull within seven by the break.

The Falcons pushed the lead to 24-14 early in the third on a 29-yard Ryan Harrison field goal, but Riley countered with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jordan that pulled the Golden Bears within three.

Carney led his team right back down the field, but was knocked out when his right leg was twisted awkwardly as he was tackled near the goal line. The Falcons settled for a field goal after Carney was assisted off the field for a 27-21 edge.   Cal went ahead moments later following a one-yard run by Forsett, who also broke off a 21-yard run early in the fourth to put his team up 35-27.  Harrison booted a 47-yard field goal to move his team within five, but Riley found pay dirt from a yard out on the following drive for a 42-30 Cal lead.  Chad Hall ran in from four yards out with 2:23 remaining to pull Air Force within a touchdown, but that was as close as the Falcons would get.

The Falcons struck on their first possession, as Ollis broke off a 34-yard run to move his team into striking distance before Carney capped the drive with a one-yard TD run moments later.  Air Force scored again early in the second, assuming a 14-0 lead following a seven-yard touchdown pass from Carney to Travis Dekker.  The ensuing kickoff deflected off a member of the Cal return unit, and was recovered by Air Force. Five plays later, Ollis scampered in from eight yards out to make it 21-0.

Game Notes

Cal leads the all-time series against the Falcons by a count of 6-2, blowing out the academy in the most recent encounter back in 2004 by a score of 56-14 in Colorado...With respect to this particular bowl, which was also known as the Fort Worth Bowl for the first three years, Utah posted a 25-13 win over Tulsa in last year's event.

Cal Beats Air Force

Cal beat the Air Force Academy in the Armed Forces Bowl by a score of 42 to 36.  Kevin Riley replaced Nate Longshore and was almost flawless, completing 16 of 19 passes for 269 total yards and three touchdowns.  His passing percentage was 84.2 percent.


Longshore wasn’t bad, completing 5 of 8 attempts for 36 yards, but Tedford said before the game that Riley would get a chance, and when he sparked the team to 14 quick points by the close of the half there was no looking back.


A nice way to close an incredibly frustrating season. 

Saturday, December 29, 2007

SF Chronicle: Open competition for all positions in '08

Rusty Simmons

Texas - Coach Jeff Tedford said Saturday that no position would be safe come spring practice and spoke specifically about the quarterback spot because he was being asked about freshman Brock Mansion, a Dallas native.  "He has a lot of talent and has a bright future," Tedford said. "He'll compete, there's no question about it. He'll have an opportunity compete in the springtime."  Asked to define compete, Tedford said:. "It's going to be wide open to compete for all positions."

Junior Nate Longshore is the two-year incumbent - and would be a three-year starter if not for a broken ankle in the 2005 season-opener - but he's struggled in comparison to his sophomore numbers. Redshirt freshman Kevin Riley has shown promise in practice and in the second half of the Bears' 31-28 loss to Oregon State. Mansion, a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder from Dallas Episcopal High, flashes signs of brilliance on the scout team nearly daily.  "Oh yeah, there's going to be competition (at quarterback)," Tedford said. "Last year, (the young quarterbacks) really hadn't been in our system. Now, there are guys in the system, and they'll all get a chance to play in the springtime."

Though Tedford hadn't said publicly that any position would be open in the spring, he apparently announced the decision to the team after its loss to Stanford in the regular-season finale.   "He said that nothing is set in stone anymore," Mansion said. "It gets my blood going and makes the hair stand up on my arms. (The other quarterbacks) still have a leg up on me, so I'm going to have to have a big spring."

Under construction: During practices, there has been steady construction to TCU's John Justin Athletic Center, which houses the school's football, athletics director and compliance offices and meeting, weight and locker rooms.  Tedford has long coveted improvements to the Bears' antiquated facilities, but Cal's renovation and construction plan has stalled in the courts.  "I'd like to see some of that scaffolding around our place," Tedford said. "That crane is a beautiful sight. The hammers and the drills and the saws and everything else are good sounds.  "It sounds like progress. I'm anxious to hear that at our place."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Denver Post: Bears' 1-6 slide erases BCS hopes

By Irv Moss

The Denver Post

FORT WORTH, Texas — California football coach Jeff Tedford couldn't deny his team's appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl is several levels below the Bears' postseason expectations when they were 5-0, ranked second in the country and looking like a strong contender for the national championship.   Reality came with a chilly wind Thursday as California (6-6) went through its first bowl-site practice after arriving in Fort Worth. A chance for the Bears to play in a Bowl Championship Series game disappeared when they went 1-6 down the stretch. Now they are preparing for a Monday game against Air Force (9-3) on the Texas Christian campus.  "I think we feel fortunate to be in a bowl game," Tedford said. "We didn't finish as strong as we could. I think our players feel fortunate that they have one more opportunity to play.  "There's no question there's disappointment about the season. The expectations were high when we were 5-0 and things were going good and we were healthy.

"We ran into a stage where we had quite a few injuries and we lost some close games in the conference. But our preparation has been good."  Tedford said some of the Bears' bumps and bruises have healed since they lost 20-13 at Stanford on Dec. 1, but he did not say quarterback Nate Longshore was fully recovered from an ankle injury that slowed him late in the season.  "He's probably in the 90 percent range, but he's able to play and function," Tedford said of Longshore, who passed for 2,544 yards and 16 touchdowns in 11 games. "We still have players who are a little dinged up, but they're as good as they have been for a long time. They've practiced well over the last couple of weeks."

Familiar with the Falcons.

Tedford isn't a stranger to playing Air Force. He has faced the Falcons seven times, five from 1993-97 as an assistant coach at Fresno State and twice as the head coach at Cal. Air Force has a 4-3 edge in those games, 3-2 from the Fresno State.  But all of the seven games were played during the triple-option era of former AFA coach Fisher DeBerry. With their new coaching staff led by Troy Calhoun, the Falcons are playing a different style. Tedford, though, isn't discarding all of what he remembers about the previous meetings with the Falcons.

"The consistent thing is how hard they play, how disciplined they are and how well-coached they are," Tedford said. "You know you'll get a great effort from them. You have to stay on top of everything. They know what they're doing and they do it with precision."

Cal's Colorado connections.

Chris Guarnero, who played on Mullen's 2004 state championship team, is the backup center for the Bears as a redshirt freshman.  "I committed to Colorado my junior year, but later changed my mind after I visited Cal," said Guarnero, who won the state title his junior season at Mullen.  Cal freshman defensive back Darian Hagan, from Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, is the son of former CU quarterback Darian Hagan. The elder Hagan is a member of CU's coaching staff.

SF Chronicle: News about Best is good for Bears

Rusty Simmons

Here are the most straightforward and informed comments regarding the injured hip of Cal's Jahvid Best, as Dr. Cindy Chang on Thursday spoke positively about the freshman tailback's recovery.

"Most people equate crutches to a bad injury, but actually, (Best) is doing very well, clinically," said Chang, the head physician of Cal's 27 athletic teams since 1995. "We haven't seen anything obvious that we have to go in and fix. There's no obvious reason to be invasive and operate at this point."

Best's season ended when he injured his hip Nov. 10, blocking on a kickoff return against USC. In what Chang deemed as a "precautionary measure," Best has been on crutches ever since, but he often puts almost all of his weight on his legs while zipping around the perimeter of the practice field.

Read the entire article here.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

San Jose Mercury: More home cooking for Forsett

Cal running back will be supported by hometown fans

By Jonathan Okanes

Cal's football team travels to Fort Worth today to begin preparing for the Armed Forces Bowl on Monday, and the Bears will be greeted by a special luminary - their best player. The Bears went their separate ways over the past few days to spend Christmas with family and friends. For tailback Justin Forsett, that meant an early arrival to the Lone Star state.

Forsett, the team's offensive most valuable player, hails from Arlington, Texas, about 15 miles from Fort Worth. The senior expects as many as 300 family members and friends to attend the final game of his college career.

"It's just a blessing that the people that have supported me are going to be able to come to my last game," Forsett said. "A lot of them have never seen me play, except on TV. I've had a lot of phone calls and e-mails, mostly telling people I'm trying to get tickets. Everyone is very excited about it."

Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

SportsNetwork: Bet on Cal minus the Points


At first glance, the Armed Forces Bowl looks to be another one that fits the mold of a non-wager game. California has lost six of its last seven games and most gamblers are taking heed of that fact and siding with Air Force. Cal opened as a 5.5-point favorite, but a lot of folks have been packing onto the Falcons bandwagon of late, which has dropped the line two full points.

Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that the Golden Bears would face Air Force in a bowl game and be favored by a shade over a field goal? If this game took place in early September at a neutral site, Jeff Tedford's club would have been giving over two touchdowns. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Air Force is looking for its fourth consecutive victory, something the team from Colorado Springs hasn't seen since 2003. First year head coach Troy Calhoun also has his club in its first bowl game in five years.

Those wagering on the Falcons are doing so with the feeling that California has no interest in this game. Why would the Bears care about the Armed Forces Bowl when they had their sights on the Rose Bowl or the BCS Championship game after defeating Oregon back on September 29?

After all, Air Force has all the momentum, but if one closely inspects the Falcons schedule, they'll spot an interesting little nugget. Despite a 6-1 record in the last seven games, the combined record of the six teams Air Force has defeated is 16-52.

The Falcons do have wins over Utah and TCU from back in September. However, the Utes played without their starting quarterback and running back, while the Horned Frogs missed two field goals, turned the ball over twice in the red zone, and still led by 14 early in the fourth quarter.

There's no getting around how dreadful California has played since beating the Ducks at the end of September. No one could have expected the Golden Bears to lose six of their last seven, but at least the losses came to teams with a combined regular season mark of 40-31. The Bears would also like to finish above the .500 mark, and a win over Air Force would give them a 7-6 record.

Go with California minus the points.

Daily Cal: Bears Eager to Prove Herbstreit Wrong, Prepare for Falcons

BY Steffi Chan

ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit said Tuesday on SportsCenter that of all the non-BCS bowl games, the most likely blowout would be Air Force over the Cal football team in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31.

Needless to say, that didn’t sit well with some Bears players. Defensive end Rulon Davis had a few words to say about Herbstreit’s prediction.   “I just want to prove Kirk Herbstreit wrong. I don’t want him to think we’re a bunch of punks because we’re not, and if Air Force thinks that’s what they’re dealing with, I’m going to make sure that’s not going to happen,” Davis said. “They’re definitely not going to make a punk out of me.  “He keeps calling us out, saying we’re weak, we’re flat and we play with no heart—basically that we’re punks. We have to go prove to the rest of the United States that that’s not what we’re about.”

Read the entire article here.


SF Chronicle Podcast: Armed Forces Bowl preview - Bears try to ground Air Force

The California Golden Bears are preparing for a school-record fifth straight bowl appearance next Monday when 6-6 Cal takes on Air Force in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.

Cal beat writer Rusty Simmons and Sporting Green Editor Glenn Schwarz preview how the 9-3 Falcons, a straight-forward option team, will try to play tricks with the eyes of Cal players.

They also update the injuries that plagued the Bears during a second-half slump, including injuries to key players like wide receiver/returner DeSean Jackson and quarterback Nate Longshore.

You can access the podcast here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

LA Times: Bellotti likely out of UCLA coaching derby

Chris Foster

Mike Bellotti, Oregon football coach, is expected to announce that he will be remaining at the school and not taking the UCLA job, a source familiar with the Bruins' coaching search said.  Bellotti, 57, had been approached by UCLA officials twice since Coach Karl Dorrell was fired Dec. 3. He met with them the second time to ask questions about the job but has decided to remain with Oregon, the source said.  UCLA officials had coveted Bellotti, who has a 105-52 record at Oregon. They are expected to turn their focus to others they have interviewed, and a source said Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel may have moved back into the picture as a candidate. Neuheisel was interviewed by UCLA Chancellor Gene Block last week, but there were concerns with Neuheisel's past problems with the NCAA. Block has also met with Temple Coach Joe Golden.

Contra Costa Times: ESPN's Herbstreit Picks Cal....As Team Most Likely to be Blown Out in a Bowl Game

Negative comments fire up Bears

By Jonathan Okanes

BERKELEY — Cal already seemed to have overcome the motivation blues. But just to make sure, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit gave the Bears some added ammunition.  Herbstreit, appearing on ESPN's "College Football Live," picked Cal as the team most likely to be blown out during the bowl season. The Golden Bears, who meet Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl on New Year's Eve, finished the regular season by losing six of their final seven games.  Some questioned how excited the Bears would be to play in the Armed Forces Bowl after starting the season 5-0 and moving up to No. 2 in the national rankings. Cal went from a team being discussed in national championship discussions to barely qualifying for a bowl game altogether.

"I think he's calling us out, that he thinks we're weak and that we play with no heart," Cal defensive end Rulon Davis said. "We took great offense to it. I don't want him to think we're a bunch of punks. If Air Force thinks that's what they're dealing with, I'm going to make sure that's not going to happen. I'm going to do what whatever I have to do to make sure that's definitely not going to happen. They're definitely not going to make a punk out of me, because I am not a punk."  The Bears actually haven't seemed to have a problem with motivation. After their loss to Stanford in the Big Game, they held a players-only meeting to get everyone on the same page, and team chemistry has appeared to improve substantially. Cal's practices recently have been as spirited as they have been all season, and many players seem to be relishing a final chance to prove something on national television.

"Nobody likes to get called out, especially on national television," Cal right tackle Mike Tepper said. "I can tell you that our team wasn't too happy about it."  Herbstreit appeared to be a fan of Cal earlier this season, and he picked the Bears to beat Oregon in what was then a pivotal game on the national scene.  "I'm sure he's just trying to make headlines, or sell the TV show," Cal quarterback Nate Longshore said. "I'm sure some people really do have that opinion about us and look at us as a big disaster this year. But I feel like we're the healthiest we've been in a while, and everyone's mind is clear and not so congested with everything that was going on before."

MOST OUTSTANDING: Davis, who has missed seven games this season with foot and knee injuries, says he feels "outstanding" as the Bears head into the bowl game. Davis suffered a stress fracture in his foot in the Bears' third game of the season, missed four games, then returned to play for about five plays against Arizona State before suffering a sprained knee. He came back to compete in the Big Game. "It's been a long time," Davis said. "I feel like I'm in spring ball shape, the way my body feels — no aches, no pains, no nothing. Just heart." Davis said the extra time off between the end of the regular season and the bowl game has allowed him to get completely healthy. Davis began the season as a starter. "I'm fired up," he said. "I can't wait to see these guys (Air Force) and see what they're about. I'm looking forward to going to Dallas, doing my job and getting a victory."

EXTRA POINTS: Cal junior wide receiver DeSean Jackson reiterated that he will wait until after the bowl game to decide whether he will enter the NFL draft. When asked if the Armed Forces Bowl definitely will be his last game at Cal, he said: "Not at all. I honestly don't know what my decision is going to be. I'm definitely not worried about that right now." ... The Bears will hold their last practice of the season at Memorial Stadium today. The team will then part ways for the holidays before reconvening to travel to Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday.

SF Chronicle: Tedford tunes out job rumors

Rusty Simmons, Chronicle Staff Writer

At this point last year, seemingly every story about available coaching jobs found a way to include Cal's Jeff Tedford.  Alabama fans called, Michigan State donors started an e-mail campaign and Miami reportedly was eyeing Tedford. It went on and on from Alabama-Birmingham to the Atlanta Falcons and eventually included some link to at least 23 different destinations.  Though the number of rumors on news reports, radio talk shoes and Web chat rooms is down significantly this year, Tedford's name still surfaced with the now-filled Texas A&M and Michigan jobs. In maybe his strongest statement of commitment to the Cal program, Tedford addressed the rumors Thursday.

"There have been inquiries here and there, but there hasn't been anything I've been interested in listening to," he said. "I'm not listening to anything." Tedford has said in the past that he won't entertain other options during Cal's season, but he's never been so resolute. Tedford's investment in the program showed last season, when he stayed after the team's Fan Appreciation Day signed something for each fan. He also told The Chronicle that after the graduation of his youngest son, Quinn, a senior at Monte Vista High-Danville, he may be willing to look elsewhere.

Read the entire article here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merced Sun Star: Cal wins Pac-10 battle for speedy wideout

Sparks heading to Berkeley


Jarrett Sparks is going to Cal.  The Merced star receiver verbally committed to accept a football scholarship during his official visit to the Berkeley campus last weekend.  “Coach (Jeff) Tedford was asking about the other schools,” Sparks said. “He asked how close I was to making my decision. When I told him I was ready to committ, he was surprised.  “He said, ‘Give me a hug, welcome to the family.’”  Sparks had received scholarship offers from Cal, Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon State and Washington State.  “I think Cal just had the best mix of athletics and academics,” Sparks said. “Not everybody’s going to make the NFL. I have to train myself for my career.”

Sparks plans to major in physical therapy.  Sparks was named the Central California Conference MVP after leading Merced to a perfect run through the conference. The senior led the team with 42 catches for 949 yards and 14 touchdowns. “,” Merced coach Rob Scheidt said. “.” Sparks lost count long ago of how many times people asked him where he was going to school. Friends, classmates, opponents and people he didn’t even know wanted to know. “Too many, everywhere I went people asked,” Sparks said. “At first, I told them I didn’t know. When it started to get on my nerves, I just told them Merced College.” Sparks had been leaning toward Cal during the entire recruiting process. He did take other official visits to Arizona State and Oregon State.

“I already knew I was probably going to commit there,” he said. “It was just a matter of time. “But my mom hadn’t seen the facilities. That’s why I made the trip last weekend.” Sparks plans to return to Berkeley during spring break so he can start learning Tedford’s offense. Sparks is happy with his decision. “All the coaches embrace you,” Sparks said. “They’re good dudes. “They have three receivers leaving, so there’s a good chance to come in and play. They’re always ranked nationally. “I had fun during the recruiting process. It could be a little stressful, but it really wasn’t.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Kansas City Sun: Pembroke Hill stars choose UC-Berkeley

Kurt Kloeblen, Staff writer

At 6-7 and 235 pounds, Spencer Ladner stands out in a crowd.  Even on the football field, the senior at the Pembroke Hill School stands out among other players. Ladner’s play has also stood out, which is one of the reasons the tight end will be headed to California-Berkeley to play football next season.  Ladner ranks as the No. 17 tight end in the country by and No. 9 tight end by He said he chose Cal for a number of reasons.  “I really do like the Bay Area,” Ladner said. “My brother (Ben) plays at Stanford. The Bay Area has all these major cities and I just fell in love with Berkeley.”  Ladner committed to the school before taking his official visit to Berkeley, which finally came Nov. 30. through Dec. 2. Ladner said the visit only confirmed how he has felt since he made his decision June 6.

“It was unbelievable,” Ladner said. “It’s a great place. I got to see everything. It helped me a lot. It confirmed that it was the right place.” Ladner said that although his team’s record is not where he wishes it would have been, he will recall fondly his time at Pembroke Hill. “Our team, we worked real hard from last season,” Ladner said. “We worked harder than I’ve seen since I’ve played. We worked in the off-season. We got real close last spring and summer. We were just real close all season. It felt like everyone played every play as hard as they could in practice.” Pembroke Hill Coach Sam Knopik said most teams were well aware of anywhere Ladner went on the field. He said his team often times used that to its advantage.

“I think we tried to prepare him for that with our game plan,” Knopik said. “There are things we do where a lot of times he is a decoy. But if teams play him straight up, then we take advantage of it. I think all the kids take lot of pride in that.”  Unlike previous seasons at Pembroke Hill, Ladner will not take to the basketball court this winter. He had been a key part of the Pembroke Hill team that advanced to the Class 4 state title game a season ago, scoring 30 points in the game. He said he will use this time to focus on weight training and preparing his body for the rigors of playing college football. Ladner may have an advantage over many who are entering a career for college athletics. Ladner’s father, Dale, played basketball at the University of Kansas in 1975 and Ben Ladner plays tight end for Stanford University. Ladner said he has gotten advice throughout his career from his older brother.

“He said the first year is the hardest,” Ladner said. “You just have to get past being on scout team every day. Once you start to play in the Pac-10, it will be worth it to go through it.” Ben Ladner said he talks to his brother on a regular basis, both to keep informed on the goings on in Kansas City and to be a friend and brother to Spencer.  Ben said he can see why Cal could make for a good choice.  “I totally support that decision,” Ben said. “The University of California is an amazing place. This area is one of the intellectual centers of the world.  “For a Kansas City athlete to get a full scholarship to play there is a big deal. I know they had some problems this year, but I know from some people who have been recruited by the Cal program that Coach (Jeff) Tedford does a good job. Despite the rivalry, it’s still a good choice.”

Ben said that the Ladner household is one that has allowed for both brothers to think on their own. “My parents always fostered an environment of intellect curiosity,” Ben said. “My brother and I didn’t necessarily both take the same course to make our decision. I know he’s real excited about the academic possibilities at Cal.” Spencer said that during the recruiting process Cal showed up as other schools began offering scholarships.  “Once the offers started rolling in, a lot of programs that don’t normally recruit here did. With Cal it was just a random phone call one night, and they said ‘We would like to offer you a scholarship to Cal.’ It just went from there.”  Spencer said he knows of two tight ends who are finished with their eligibility at Cal this season. He said coaches have told him he will have an opportunity to earn playing time.  “They said they would give me a chance,” Spencer said. “They really emphasize a 50-50 with passing and blocking. They’re not going to play a tight end if they can’t block. I’m really going to have to work on my blocking and putting some weight on and getting stronger.”

Perhaps Spencer’s lasting legacy at Pembroke Hill will be some of the lessons he taught teammates. “He showed that when it’s time to show up and get to work, it’s time to show up and get to work,” Knopik said. “It’s fun to watch him in drills. The other kids had no mercy on him. They don’t care he was D-1 and he didn’t care they weren’t. If we could bottle that, wow. We have more good athletes in the mix, but it’s just seeing if we can match that intensity.”

Monday, December 17, 2007

Zachary Runningmouth Arrested Again

The UCPD Police log for December 15th notes the following:

3:36 PM - RUNNINGWOLF, Zachary L (MO-44-O) arrested for violation of a court order, Oak Grove. To BPD Jail. Case closed. 

Sunday, December 16, 2007

SuperPrep: Stockton Receiver Joins the Bears

Early in the recruiting process, the Bears saw something in a Stockton receiver and made him one of the earliest offerees in the Class of ’08. Some 7 months later, he joined the list of players committed to the Bears.  Stagg (Stockton) High School receiver L.J. Washington was one of the most productive receivers in the ultra-competitive Central Valley in ’07. The 6-0/180 Washington was the clear leader on his Stagg squad, averaging an amazing 18 yards per catch, leading the Central Section with 1144 yards on the year on 63 receptions along with 18 touchdowns overall.  Washington also excelled on defense at DB, with 56 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 sacks and 4 fumble recoveries on the year.

Read the entire store here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The 2007 Armed Forces Bowl Preview: Air Force California Spread, Matchup, Odds & Picks

California had hoped to put the disappointment of last year's finish behind it this season. Instead, it suffered an even greater letdown.  The Golden Bears (6-6) look to salvage the year and finish with their sixth consecutive winning season when they take on Air Force on New Year's Eve at the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.  Oddsmakers from Bodog have made California –3.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for the Armed Forces Bowl (Game Matchup).

Saying Cal is disappointed with how the season has progressed is probably an understatement. On Oct. 13, the Golden Bears were ranked No. 2 in the AP poll following a 5-0 start and were in position to possibly move into the No. 1 spot after LSU was upset by Kentucky earlier in the day. Instead they were stunned 31-28 by Oregon State at home.

The loss began a frustrating decline for Cal, which began the year expecting to compete with Southern California for the Pac-10 title. The Bears finished the season with a 20-13 loss to rival Stanford on Dec. 1, dropping them into a tie for seventh place in the conference.  "This is definitely a new low for us," Cal safety Thomas DeCoud said after the loss. "It's kind of too late to salvage anything, but we just want to get to a bowl game and end on the right note so the younger guys can get this program back to where it was."  The Bears faced similar disappointment last year when they were in position to win the conference championship and earn a Rose Bowl berth until they lost two of their final three regular season games.

Finishing the year on a positive note depends largely on how quarterback Nate Longshore responds to the time off. Longshore missed the loss to Oregon State with an ankle injury, and threw 11 interceptions in six games after returning the next week. Cal coach Jeff Tedford revealed after the season that Longshore had a chipped bone in the ankle that was limiting his mobility. It hampered the Bears, who averaged 39.4 points and 426 yards of offense in their first five games, but only 20.3 points and 380 yards in their final seven. While Longshore's ankle problems contributed to the slump, several other key players saw a notable decline. Leading rusher Justin Forsett ran for 1,406 yards and 13 touchdowns this year, but nine of his touchdowns came in the first five games.

DeSean Jackson had a disappointing junior season after finishing 2006 with 59 catches for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns. He has 60 receptions for just 681 yards and five touchdowns this year. Jackson, who may declare himself eligible for the NFL draft at the end of the year, missed the season-ending loss to Stanford because of a bruised quadriceps. "We've got to go back and look at a lot of things," Tedford said. "There's injuries, there's schedule, things like that. We had a chance to be in every game and had an opportunity to win every game we played. And that's probably the most frustrating thing." Under Tedford, the Bears have won three of their last four bowls, including a 45-10 win over Texas A&M last year in the Holiday Bowl. They also won 35-28 over BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2005.

While Cal is upset with how its season played out, Air Force (9-3) is feeling a lot better about itself. After ending on a three-game winning streak, Air Force has its most wins in a season since 2000 when it went 8-3 and beat Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Bowl. The nine regular season wins are the Falcons' most since 1998 when the team had 11. "These are the same people who will be the country's second lieutenants in the Air Force and they're also a pretty good football team," coach Troy Calhoun said as he accepted the invitation from Tom Starr, executive director of the Armed Forces Bowl.

Calhoun took over the Falcons this year following the retirement of Fisher DeBerry, who stepped down after 23 seasons at the academy. Calhoun, who was the Mountain West Conference's coach of the year, inherited a team that had suffered through three consecutive losing seasons, including a 4-8 record in 2006. The program made some significant improvements offensively, however, averaging 29.4 points and 418.9 yards per game - both second best in the conference. Calhoun also found a better use for senior Chad Hall, who was named the conference's offensive player of the year. After initially struggling to find a role for Hall, who is listed at 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, Calhoun decided to give him more carries later in the season. The tailback exploded in the final seven games, averaging 179.6 yards rushing and scoring 11 of his 14 rushing touchdowns in that stretch.  This is the Falcons' first bowl game since losing to Virginia Tech in the 2002 San Francisco Bowl. They are 8-8-1 in bowl games going back to the 1957 season.  Cal leads the all-time series against Air Force, 5-2. The Bears won the last meeting 56-14 in 2002.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Palisadian Post: Conte's Future is Now

Shortly after finishing practice last Saturday afternoon, Chris Conte takes a seat in the bleachers as the rest of the California football team trickles out of Memorial Stadium.  Eyes focused on the field, Conte begins discussing his season as a true freshman. But running backs coach Ron Gould, who recruited Conte, interrupts.  "How're you doin', baby?" Gould asks.

"I'm good," Conte says with a laugh.  "Spent all that time recruiting you, and then you don't even come by and see me anymore," says Gould jokingly, heading for the exits.  If Conte hasn't spent as much time with Gould as he used to, maybe it's because the recruitment process is over. Maybe it's because his attention has turned'justifiably'to the defensive coaching staff. In other words, Conte has been busy with football.

For the cornerback from Pacific Palisades, there was no redshirt season during which he could acclimate to the physicality and the complexity of the collegiate game. There was no extended period of time dedicated to watching, learning and reflecting'just doing.  Conte, who has played in every game for the Bears this season, has come a long way from his high school days at Loyola. But unlike many incoming freshmen, Conte's development has taken place on the field.  "I'm a lot smarter as a football player'a lot more experienced," Conte says. 'The whole college football game is a lot more complex. There's a lot more you have to know, and just getting used to that takes awhile. But playing in the games gives you all that experience, and now I know what to expect."  Before high school, however, Conte was seldom busy with football.  Aside from an occasional scrimmage with Kevin, his older brother, and Kevin's friends, Conte steered clear of the gridiron. But it wasn't his choice.  "I didn't play Pop Warner because my mom wouldn't let me," he says. "She thought it was too dangerous."

Conte, who attended Corpus Christi School before Loyola, instead resorted to soccer, basketball and baseball, and he always seemed to be one of the best athletes in the bunch. That raw talent would eventually complement a 6' 3" frame that helps him against the Pac-10's gifted wide receivers.  In his junior year on the Loyola football team, Conte recorded 38 tackles and snagged two interceptions. That season, Loyola edged Esperanza 49-42 to win the 2005 Division I CIF championship at the Home Depot Center in Carson.  Loyola's ensuing campaign was a dismal one, as the team skidded to a 4-6 finish, but that didn't slow Conte. Competing on both sides of the ball, he caught 43 balls for 614 yards and five touchdowns as a receiver in addition to his 58 tackles and four picks on defense.

Looking at those numbers, it would be easy to think that Conte would have an immediate impact at Cal. But because he got thrown right into the action, the playing time came before much of the progress.  "I think he's really adjusted well to the speed of the game," says Bears Coach Jeff Tedford. "That's a lonely place, that corner position. And there are gonna be times when you get beat. But the thing overall about him is he's continued to hang in there and keep playing and not get down, and so with that attitude he's gonna continue to get better."  Midway through the season, Conte got his first start at home against Washington State, and he didn't disappoint. Conte notched 10 tackles, one of which stopped a Cougars pass one yard shy of a crucial first down. But that 20-17 decision in November is the Bears' only victory since a 5-0 start during which the Bears downed Tennessee and Oregon.  As Cal sits at 6-6 with a less-than-prestigious Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force set for New Year's Eve at Texas Christian University, Conte tries to understand'let alone explain'the downfall of what was the country's second-ranked program in mid-October.  "Being at the top of the NCAA in football was a lot of fun," he says. "It was almost surreal to see all that. But once we had that loss to Oregon State, everyone got kinda defeated and it was really hard to come back. Everyone starts thinking, 'Oh no, we're gonna lose again,' and it's been hard for a lot of the team to have that confidence that we're gonna win every game."

For Conte, the Bears' collapse has motivated him even more to build on the successes of his first season in college.  "Everything I do is helping me get better for football," he says. "Hopefully, I'll have a starting spot next year and throughout the rest of my career here, and do some big things."   His improvements became even more apparent against USC on November 10, when he had five tackles in pouring rain. With Cal down 14-10 in the third quarter, and the Trojans knocking at the end zone's door, Conte pounced on the ball at the two-yard line after a fumble by USC running back Chauncey Washington.

Conte, who grew up as a UCLA fan, was happy that the recovery came against a doubly-hated rival. In fact, Conte might have been playing football for the Bruins'if it weren't for Gould, that is.  Gould didn't see Anne Conte, an eighth-grade teacher at St. Martin of Tours, attempt to discourage her son from football. He didn't see Conte merely as a genetic product of Mark, a film editor who excelled at beach volleyball. What he saw in Conte was a kid teeming with potential, and Conte's freshman season'through trial and error'has been one of undoubted progress.  "I came to camp, and it's all history from there," Conte says.  And with three promising years left at Cal, it's all future from here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

San Jose Mercury: Partial victory for opponents of UC Berkeley sports center plan

HAYWARD - A judge has given a partial victory to opponents of the University of California, Berkeley's $125 million plan to build a new sports training center and other facilities next to its aging football stadium, which sits on top of the Hayward earthquake fault.  But Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller, in an order issued late Monday, said she won't issue a final ruling on lawsuits aimed at stopping the project until Feb. 6 because she wants the parties in the case to submit more evidence on the question of whether the project is an entirely separate structure or is an alteration or addition to the existing stadium.  Miller, who issued a preliminary injunction against the project on Jan. 29 and held a seven-day non-jury trial in September and October on the merits of the case in September and October, rejected the university's argument that the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act doesn't apply to its so-called Student Athlete High Performance Center.

Miller agreed with three plaintiff groups who filed suit against the project in December of 2006 that the university is subject to the act and the act prohibits alterations or additions to existing structures for human occupancy built across earthquake faults where the cost of the alteration or addition will exceed half the value of the existing structure.  Miller said she agreed with project opponents that 'as far as the record shows, the university never considered whether (the sports training center) was an alteration or addition to Memorial Stadium (the football stadium) for purposes of compliance with the act.'

However, Miller ordered the parties in the closely-watched case to present expert testimony and argument about the university's fall-back position that the sports training center was designed as a separate structure.

Further evidence and legal briefs are due by Dec. 31.  Miller, who initially had been expected to rule several weeks after the trial ended on Oct. 11, said she now expects to rule by Feb. 6 "unless a further extension of time is needed for the parties to prepare their evidentiary submissions or objections thereto."  The judge said, "It is not the court's intention to delay the resolution of these proceedings in the trial court any longer than necessary."  Stephen Volker, the attorney for the California Oak Foundation, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said, "We are pleased that the court has rejected the university's claim that it is exempt from the Alquist-Priolo Act."  Volker said, "We are confident that we will prevail on the university's only remaining defense and that the court will declare (the sports training center) unlawful because it violates the act."  He said, "The university should not be allowed to sidestep its duty to protect the safety of the students entrusted to its care by denying its obligations under this important earthquake safety statute."  The other plaintiffs in the case are the city of Berkeley and a neighborhood group called the Panoramic Hill Association.  UC-Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said, "We welcome the opportunity to provide evidence from engineering experts that will show that the sports training center is clearly a separate structure."  Mogulof said the university had hoped that there would be a final decision before the end of the year but those concerns are outweighed by the opportunity to present additional evidence which it believes will support its position.

Contra Costa Times: Nothing new about QB's injury

Longshore's chipped bone is a product of his high ankle sprain

BERKELEY -- Although Cal coach Jeff Tedford said Monday that quarterback Nate Longshore has a chipped bone in his right ankle, that's not a different diagnosis from what was initially reported.  Tedford seemed surprised that his comments were taken as "new" developments on Longshore's injury. The chip in the ankle simply is a product of Longshore's high ankle sprain, not an additional injury.  "The diagnosis that was shared with the media. ... was an accurate diagnosis," Cal team physician Dr. Cindy Chang said. "The ankle 'chip fracture' was a part of the high ankle sprain and did not change the management of this primarily ligamentous injury."

Longshore sprained his ankle Sept. 29 against Oregon and sat out one game (two weeks because of a bye week). He aggravated the injury two weeks later against Arizona State but played through it the following week against Washington State. The ankle didn't appear to affect him during the last few games of the season, although he got banged up a bit during the Big Game last weekend.

A new slate

Tedford has seemed rejuvenated this week after enduring the toughest two-month stretch in his six years at Cal. The Bears finished the regular season by losing six of their past seven games, but will have a month off before playing Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31 in Fort Worth, Texas.  Perhaps one of the reasons for the extra bounce in his step is without a game pending, he's actually got a little sleep this  week. He said he's retired the famous air mattress in his office, and although he's still putting in a lot of hours, "it's not like game week."  Tedford also seemed excited about nine recruits who are visiting campus this weekend. Another group of potential Bears are expected to visit next weekend. "We have a good group in this weekend and a good group in next weekend," Tedford said. According to, Cal's recruiting class currently ranks 26th nationally. The Bears have 10 oral commitments so far.

Action Jackson?

Tedford said he expects wide receiver DeSean Jackson to play in the Armed Forces Bowl. Jackson sat out the Big Game with a thigh contusion, but has plenty of time for it to heal.  "I would think so," Tedford said when asked if Jackson will play. "The game is a long way away."  Tedford also said Jackson has maintained a positive attitude during the team's struggles and his own inability to match his explosive numbers from last season. Jackson actually has more catches (60) than last year (59) despite missing the past 11/2 games because of the injury. But his 681 yards receiving is well off the pace of his 1,060 a year ago, and he's failed to match his production on punt returns from a year ago. Many expect Jackson, a junior, to turn pro after the season. Tedford said he and Jackson have yet to discuss his future. "He still has a great attitude," Tedford said. "He's not a malcontent by any means."

Extra points

Tedford said he still doesn't have an official diagnosis of running back Jahvid Best's hip injury. The team still is waiting to gather multiple evaluations of MRIs from experts across the country. Best definitely is out for the season, and the team wants to make sure the injury doesn't have any long-term ramifications. ... The Bears will hold 13 practices before the Armed Forces Bowl. Tedford said the Bears won't start putting in the game plan for Air Force until this week. Cal leaves for Forth Worth on Dec. 27.

Los Angeles Daily News: Longshore Park to open Saturday

The city of Santa Clarita will celebrate the grand opening Saturday of Todd Longshore Park, a $4.5 million project named for a parks commissioner who died in April.  Planned for 20 years on a hilltop with a sweeping view of the city, the 32-acre park features a tot play lot, hiking trails, gazebos and picnic areas.  The 11 a.m. ceremony will be held at the park, 28151 White Canyon Road.  Longshore died April 24 at age 49 of a pulmonary embolism. He is survived by his wife, DeAnn, three sons and a daughter.  Nate Longshore, the eldest son, had a stellar football career at Canyon High School and now is quarterback for the University of California at Berkeley.

Monday, December 10, 2007

San Jose Mercury: Tedford: Jackson should play in bowl

Cal Coach Jeff Tedford said he expects receiver DeSean Jackson to play in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31. Jackson sat out the Big Game against Stanford with a thigh contusion.  "I would think so," Tedford said when asked if Jackson will play. "The game is a long way away." Tedford also said Jackson has maintained a positive attitude during the team's struggles. Jackson has more catches (60) than last year (59) despite missing the past 1 1/2 games because with the injury. But his 681 yards receiving is well off the pace of his 1,060 a year ago, and he's failed to match his production on punt returns from a year ago.

Many expect Jackson, a junior, to turn pro after the season. Tedford said he and Jackson have yet to discuss his future.

"He still has a great attitude," Tedford said. "He's not a malcontent by any means."  In other injury news, Tedford said he still doesn't have an official diagnosis for running back Jahvid Best's hip injury. The team still is waiting to gather multiple evaluations of MRIs from experts across the country. Best is out for the season, and the team wants to make sure the injury doesn't have any long-term ramifications.  The Bears will hold 13 practices before the Armed Forces Bowl. Tedford said the Bears won't start putting in the game plan for Air Force until next week. Cal leaves for Forth Worth on Dec. 27.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Daily Cal: Cal Meets High-Flying Air Force in Texas Tilt

BY Gerald Nicdao

Tailback Justin Forsett was probably the most excited member of the Cal football team when he heard that the Bears were going to go bowling in Fort Worth, Texas.   The senior hails from Arlington, Texas, a mere 10 minutes away from Amon G. Carter Stadium on the campus of TCU.  That’s where Cal will play Air Force in the Armed Forced Bowl on New Year’s Eve at 9:30 a.m. PST.  But Forsett wasn’t the only one who will be welcoming his homecoming.  “They were excited,” said Forsett of his parents. “They didn’t know if we were going to make it to a bowl either. It’s right in our backyard, so we’re going to get a lot of people together to come out and enjoy my last game.”  Forsett’s parents were right to be concerned that their son may not have had a chance to play in the postseason.  The Bears (6-6) finished the year losing six of their last seven games—most of them nail-biters, losing only two games by double-digit margins. The team needed Arizona State to defeat Arizona to ensure a bowl bid.

The losing skid coupled with losing the Big Game to Stanford for the first time in his four-year career with Cal, Forsett is ready to at least leave his college career on a high note.  “We definitely want to go out get another opportunity,” Forsett said. “We deserve to be as high as we were in the beginning of the season. We had a lot of ups and downs, it hasn’t worked out as well.”  Air Force has seen a resurgence under first-year coach Troy Calhoun.  The Falcons (9-3) have won six of their last seven games after going 4-8 in 2006. Calhoun was able to lead his new team to five more wins and a second place finish in the Mountain West Conference—second only to perennial conference power BYU.  Calhoun said he will not be underestimating his reeling opponent in the bowl game.  He expects the Cal team that defeated Tennessee and Oregon at the beginning of the year to be the squad that shows up in Fort Worth.

“From a national standpoint, it absolutely does that,” said Calhoun of getting tested by the Bears. “You’re talking about a team talent-wise that was a top-five team in the country. We’re going to get big-time tested.  “We’re going to get a great team to play against. Certainly one that played quite well against us three years ago and a team earlier this year that was the best team in all of college football.”  That option scheme is the same one that the Falcons still employ today, and they have used it to obtain a winning record this year.  Air Force is ranked second only to Navy in the country in rushing yards per game, averaging about 298.5 on the ground during the regular season.  The quarterback running the option is the same gunslinger that played against Cal three years ago.  Senior Shaun Carney has thrown for just 1,423 yards and eight touchdowns.  The Falcons’ passing attack ranks near the bottom of the MWC. But Carney has rushed for 529 yards and five touchdowns, as part of that efficient Air Force ground game.

The Falcons’ leading rusher—Chad Hall—has 1,414 yards and has scored 14 touchdowns.  This may pose a problem for Cal, which has given up 175 yards per game on the ground in its last seven matches and is ranked seventh in the Pac-10 in rush defense.  “In our experience with Air Force, they’re always a disciplined football team,” Tedford said. “They work very hard. With the option that they used to run, it was very difficult to stop. Going 9-3, they’ve obviously done something right.” Tedford said that his team will use the extra time of practice to get younger players more reps.  It will also allow players like quarterback Nate Longshore—who has been suffering from a bone chip in his ankle the last seven weeks of the season—to rest.  All of this is in hopes of giving the program a boost, especially after the kind of stretch the Bears underwent in the second half of the season.  “I definitely think that it would give a little bit of momentum going into the offseason,” Tedford said. “Either way, there’s going to be a real strong evaluation of everything we do in the program. Obviously, you’d feel better if you won, mainly for the seniors to leave here to feel good about their last game.”



Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Bowls are notorious for matching head coaches, by chance, with deep ties in the coaching community. Often, they coached under the same head coaches, worked together or played against each other in college.  Cal's Jeff Tedford and Air Force's Troy Calhoun have little connecting them. Calhoun spent one season (2006) as the Houston Texans' offensive coordinator, working with then-quarterback David Carr, now with the Carolina Panthers.  For a brief time, Tedford worked with Carr (1997) at Fresno State as offensive coordinator before moving on to Oregon.  "I'm pretty sure that's all there is," Calhoun said of the connection. "I've never met him until today," Tedford said.

Opposite momentum

Cal enters the Armed Forces Bowl having lost six of its last seven games. Air Force (9-3) comes in having won six of seven, including a momentum-turner at Colorado State on Oct. 13. Cal, ranked No. 2 in the country as of Oct. 12, slid out of the rankings and finished 6-6. "We didn't do a very good job late in games," Tedford said.  Calhoun said his team can't deceive itself into a false sense of security.  "We're playing a team that was No. 2 and can recruit a very different caliber of athlete than we can," Calhoun said. "Even though they struggled to finish the season, I expect them to be heavily favored."

Kevin Everett Recovery Update

Other than the fact that Marshawn Lynch is on the Bills, this has nothing to do with Cal football, and I'm not making light of Everett's injuries, but I thought this was pretty funny.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Contra Costa Times: Tedford promises program evaluation

By Jonathan Okanes

BERKELEY — Cal got the extra game it wanted, but no matter what happens Dec. 31 when the Bears play Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, coach Jeff Tedford said there is going to be some serious evaluation of the program.  "A bowl win would give a little bit of momentum going into the offseason," Tedford said. "Either way, there's going to be a really strong evaluation of everything we do in the program. We'll take a strong look at it. Obviously, you feel better if you win and send the seniors out the right way."   Immediately after Cal lost to Stanford on Saturday, the Bears didn't know if they were going to be playing in a bowl game at all. The Arizona-Arizona State game was still going, and Cal needed ASU to win.

Cal's players and coaches obviously were rooting for the Sun Devils, to give them yet one more chance to break their second-half slide that has reached six losses in the past seven games. "It's a great opportunity to go play another game, and I've heard great things about the Armed Forces Bowl," Tedford said. "We're excited about the opportunity."

CHIPPING AWAY: Tedford said quarterback Nate Longshore has a chip in the back of his right ankle, which he sprained midway through the season. Longshore has been battling the injury all season but has missed just one game.  Tedford admitted the ailment has affected Longshore's mobility but said the intangibles the quarterback brings as a result of his experience makes up for it. "When  you talk about the education of a quarterback, it's much more than X's and O's," Tedford said. "It has to do with leadership and handling media and criticism because the position is such a focal point. There's no question there has been some adversity there, and I've been impressed with how he's been able to handle it. It hasn't been easy for him, but he comes out every week and tries to practice harder and prepare himself in the meeting rooms."

GREGORY CONTACTED: Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory has been contacted by Washington State about its head coach vacancy, according to a source. He has not been interviewed.  Gregory is a former Washington State linebacker and defensive back and hails from nearby Spokane. Many believe Gregory is a leading candidate to replace Bill Doba, fired last week.

FULL CIRCLE: Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney played his first college game against Cal. Now, he's going to play Cal in his last.   Carney was a true freshman for the Falcons when they opened the 2004 season by getting blown out by the Bears, 56-14. Carney had respectable numbers that day, rushing for 75 yards on 18 carries and completing 9-for-15 passes for 89 yards.  Carney and the Falcons have improved a lot since then. Their 9-3 record this season is their first winning year since 2003.  "You always remember your first game," Carney said. "I'm a little different mentally and physically, and we have a much stronger team. It'll be good to have another chance at them. It puts a little more meaning behind the game."

EXTRA POINTS: Tedford and Barbour will appear at a "Team Announcement Party" for the Armed Forces Bowl on Thursday in Fort Worth. They will be joined by Air Force coach Troy Calhoun and athletic director Dr. Hans Mueh, as well as representatives from the bowl and each school's respective conference. ... Along with running back Justin Forsett, center Alex Mack and special teamer Jahvid Best's first team recognition, Cal had nine other players earn some type of All-Pac-10 honor. Wide receivers Lavelle Hawkins and DeSean Jackson and linebacker Zack Follett were second-team picks, while free safety Thomas DeCoud, guard Brian De La Puente, linebacker Anthony Felder, left tackle Mike Gibson, wide receiver Robert Jordan and tight end Craig Stevens earned honorable mention. ... At the team's annual year-end banquet, Forsett was named the offensive most valuable player, and DeCoud was tabbed as the MVP on defense.


San Jose Mercury: You have to be kidding me!

By Jon Wilner

I can’t remember the last time I tried to talk some sense into Hotline readers. All opinions are valued — without you, there would be no Hotline — except those with personal attacks (and we rarely, rarely get those from Cal fans).

Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

San Jose Mercury: Cal lied about Longshore's injury: Did Tedford's loyalty derail the season?

Jon Wilner

Turns out that Cal quarterback Nate Longshore had more than a “high” ankle sprain — he also had a bone chip in the ankle, according to a report in the Daily Cal.  The Bears never said a word about the bone chip, even though Coach Jeff Tedford knew about it all along. (Maybe the headline should say: “Cal did not disclose the full extent of Longshore’s injury.”)   This is hardly breaking news. Watching Longshore struggle in the second half of the season — he got hurt Sept. 29 at Oregon — it was fairly obvious that something was up. Either he had the worst ankle sprain in the history of mankind, or that wasn’t the only source of his trouble. The question was raised on the Hotline a few weeks ago (here’s the link to the full post):  

I can’t help but wonder if his ankle injury is worse than Longshore and/or Cal is letting on — maybe it’s a break and not a sprain? — and I say this because of how Longshore looks in the fourth quarter. Now that we know the truth, a couple thoughts:

* It would be nice if coaches and teams were honest about injuries, but that’s not reality, and I’m not about to rip the Bears for keeping the bone chip quiet. Tedford was protecting his player and his team, and that’s his responsibility.   My assumption is that he felt making the bone chip public would have put Longshore at greater risk — opponents would have been going after his lower leg viciously. Asked by the Daily Cal if the bone chip affected Longshore’s performance, Tedford said: “There’s no doubt about that. There’s no question that it’s hindered his ability to step up or to move around. He just hasn’t been able to do that.”

* But you do have to seriously question Tedford’s decision to stick with Longshore for all these weeks when it was obvious that his quarterback was not close to 100 percent. An already-immobile QB with a sprained ankle and a bone chip — that’s a recipe for six losses in seven games. The Daily Cal asked Tedford that very question, and his response should make Old and Young Blues cringe. Tedford said that he left the decision up to Longshore — that he asked Longshore if the bone chip was affecting his play in the fourth quarter, Longshore said it wasn’t, so Tedford stuck with the junior.  “I think it’s more a case of a guy trying to be too perfect,” Tedford explained. “A guy trying to get things done and maybe trying too hard.”

My reaction:

OF COURSE LONGSHORE SAID THE BONE CHIP WASN’T A PROBLEM!  Longshore wanted to play — like any player worth his scholarship — and wasn’t going to admit anything that might land him on the bench. (And maybe he believed what he was saying. Maybe he thought the pain wasn’t a problem, or shouldn’t have been a problem.)  But that’s where the head coach/offensive coordinator/quarterback guru with the seven-figure contract has to step in and use his best judgement — not defer to the player. It was obvious that Longshore was hurting in the fourth quarter of games (sometimes even the third quarter).  Tedford admitted that himself … that’s why he asked Longshore about it numerous times, and that’s what he told the Daily Cal: “There’s no question that it’s hindered his ability to step up or to move around.” Do you believe your eyes and the stat sheet, or what the gutsy but struggling junior tells you? Tedford should have yanked Longshore numerous times, both because of the ankle and because of his performance. But he stuck by his man. Loyalty (to players and coaches) is Tedford’s greatest attribute and possibly his greatest failing. I can’t believe I’m writing this about a college football coach, but sometimes Tedford is too loyal, too empathetic. So Longshore has a sprained ankle and a bone chip and he’s struggling mightily in the second half of games and it’s obvious that he can’t move …  Maybe some time on the bench would have prevented Longshore from making mistakes, thus avoiding the loss of confidence that also derailed the quarterback. Not only did Tedford’s decision to stick by Longshore undermine Cal’s chances for success this season, it jeopardized next year, too. Because all that time Longshore was on the field struggling, leading Cal to defeat after defeat, backup Kevin Riley was sitting on the bench not getting any experience for next year. There’s a good chance the Bears will need Riley next year, either because 1) Longshore won’t be good enough, or 2) because Longshore will get hurt again.  Remember, this is the seocnd time in three years that he’s had a serious injury in that area of his lower leg.

Isn’t there a decent chance that an immobile quarterback with two injuries in the same area will get hurt a third time? And then what will Cal have in ‘08?  The inexperienced Riley leading the way.

Monday, December 03, 2007

San Jose Mercury: A look ahead: Is Cal doomed in '08?

Jon Wilner

OK, doomed might be a bit strong — that headline was a visceral response when the topic of next season popped into my head driving home from Big Game on Saturday night.  But I sure don’t see a Pac-10 title contender when I look at the roster.   And that’s if DeSean Jackson comes back for his senior year.  Frankly, I think Jackson wants to bolt and will bolt if he gets assurances of being a first-day pick. When you have an older brother who played in the NFL, the NFL is just about all you’re thinking about once your junior year rolls around.  On that topic: I can’t help but wonder what the coaches thought privately of Jackson not playing in Big Game because of a bruised thigh. Isn’t that something you at least try to play through? Is it, unless you’re saving yourself … Anyhow, the defense should be decent, if for no other reason than many of the two-deepers are returning. (The Bears have to find an answer at middle linebacker, however. Worrell Williams is not it.)

But there are serious, serious questions at the skill positions, of all places. Justin Forsett departs, and Jahvid Best’s hip injury could be serious. If Best can’t play, then James Montgomery is the guy. (Could be worse, but it could be a lot better, too.) Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan depart, and Jackson might join them. If he does, the Bears will be totally rebuilding at receiver. If he doesn’t, he’ll be double-teammed every step of the way. And — here’s the biggie — what are the Bears going to do at quarterback? I believe Jeff Tedford put the 2008 season at risk by not playing Kevin Riley down the stretch in ‘07 — not full time, but for portions of each game, minimum. And I’m not saying that based on how Nate Longshore played in Big Game. I was saying that weeks ago (here’s the link) (and there’s a link within that link to an even earlier post on Longshore). What I saw in Big Game only made me more convinced that Longshore is not the guy to lead Cal to a conference title. He’s so vulnerable against first-rate pass rushes and blitzes, as we saw against UCLA, USC, Stanford … just about everyone who beat Cal down the stretch forced Longshore to make bad decisions/throws in the second half. His ankle was a factor, but it wasn’t the factor. And it’s not like he’s going to get more mobile in the next nine months. But because Tedford stuck with Longshore in November and kept Riley on the bench, the Bears are faced with what could be a very serious problem:

Their choice at the most important position is a somewhat-accurate, easily-disruptable, injury-prone, immobile senior … or a sophomore with virtually no experience. So if Longshore can’t get it done, or gets hurt, then the Bears will basically be starting all over with a rookie QB. And they’ll be doing it with (probably) a rebuilt receiving corps and (possibly) Montgomery, not Best, at tailback. (I haven’t even addressed to prospect of Alex Mack bolting for the pros.) Let’s just say, the defense had better be ready to play.

The 2008 schedule:

Aug. 30 - Michigan State

Sept. 6 - at Washington State

Sept. 13 - at Maryland

Sept. 27 - Colorado State

Oct. 4 - Arizona State

Oct. 11 - Washington

Oct. 18 - at Arizona

Oct. 25 - UCLA

Nov. 1 - Oregon

Nov. 8 - at USC

Nov. 15 - at Oregon State

Nov. 22 - Stanford

SF Chronicle: Bears looking to end season with win in Armed Forces Bowl

Cal will have one more chance to put a happy ending on its horror film of a season, getting a berth to play Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31 in Fort Worth, Texas.  "You know how, in a scary movie, you start out with like 10 people in a house?" senior cornerback Brandon Hampton said last week. "One guy branches off, doing his own thing, and dies. One guy gets caught behind and dies. It keeps going and keeps getting worse until there's like three people left.

"That's been our season. I get sick when I think about it. Hopefully, I won't be scared by this for the rest of my life."  Despite falling from the pinnacle of the college football world to the Pac-10's sixth-place bowl tie-in, a victory in Fort Worth would secure a sixth consecutive winning season for the first time in half a century and could go a long way toward setting the tone for next year. Cal had its season-ending banquet Sunday, so the players and coaches were not available for comment, but coach Jeff Tedford and athletic director Sandy Barbour released statements in an e-mail. "I've heard great things about the bowl, and we have always had a lot of respect for Air Force," Tedford said. "This should be a great experience for our players and our fans."

After Arizona lost to Arizona State on Saturday, Cal knew it secured a bowl berth, but whether it would land in San Francisco's Emerald Bowl or in Fort Worth was sketchy. When the Fiesta Bowl snubbed hometown Arizona State, the Bears were slotted in the conference's final bowl game. "We're very excited to be playing in our fifth bowl in a row," Barbour said. "Texas and the Armed Forces Bowl (representatives) are known for their hospitality, and we're looking forward to a great experience." This will be Cal's first trip to Texas since 1997, when it beat Houston 35-3. The Bears dominated Texas A&M 45-10 in last season's Holiday Bowl. "I've been in this business a long time, and I can tell those who plan to attend this year's (game) are in for a treat ... because these two teams are fun to watch," bowl executive director Tom Starr said. Air Force (9-3) accepted an invitation last week. Cal (6-6) has lost six of seven after moving to No. 2 in the nation after Week 6.


Armed Forces Bowl

Who: Cal (6-6) vs. Air Force (9-3)

Where: Fort Worth, Texas

When: 9:30 a.m. Dec. 31


Note from blog editor: Why am I having flashbacks of the Aloha Bowl against Navy?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

SF Chronicle: CAL: Now the wait for a low-tier bowl

Minutes after his final regular-season game, Saturday's 20-13 Big Game loss on The Farm, Cal senior receiver Lavelle Hawkins had a single thought."I'll never forget this game and my drops," Hawkins said. "I really want to apologize to Cal fans and everyone who has supported us. I'm really sorry about this game."  Trailing 20-13 in the game's final three minutes, Hawkins beat Nick Sanchez to the corner of the end zone, and quarterback Nate Longshore lofted a pass right over his shoulder. Hawkins, who had seven catches for 63 yards, couldn't catch No. 8 for the potential game-tying score. "It shouldn't have gotten to that point," Longshore said. "After the plays he made throughout the game, there's no way he can take the blame for that." For the third consecutive game, a Cal player or coach has emerged from the losing locker room and tried to take the blame. Longshore did it after throwing a late interception against USC, and coach Jeff Tedford did it after an uninspired showing at Washington. Now Hawkins was taking a turn.

The Bears finished the regular season by losing six of their final seven games. Once ranked No. 2 in the nation, the Bears now wait for an invite to low-tier bowl. "It's time to get ready for next season," junior middle linebacker Worrell Williams said. "It's just unfortunate that we haven't been taking advantage of opportunities. We're just killing ourselves over and over and over." Cal (6-6, 3-6) committed 10 penalties for 118 yards, turned the ball over three times and allowed consistent pressure on Longshore. "The penalties are a concern, but it came down to the pass rush," Tedford said. "They got too much pressure. We had some guys open deep, but we didn't have time to get them the ball." With Arizona State's win over Arizona late Saturday, Cal still secured a school-record six bowl berth. Depending on whether the Pac-10 gets one or two BCS invites, the Bears could go to San Francisco's Emerald Bowl or the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.

“It's out of our control now," Tedford said. "Ending a year like this is not what you want. It would be a great opportunity to get to coach these guys one more time and have them get to play together one more time."  For the most part, Cal played like a team that didn't realize it controlled its own bowl destiny Saturday. The Cardinal confused the Bears with an alternating-quarterback system, and both T.C. Ostrander and Tavita Prichard led drives resulting in 10 points. Stanford's defense limited Cal to 6 yards and zero first downs on its first five second-half possessions to extend a 3-point halftime lead to 20-10. "This season is definitely a new low for us, but I'd like the chance to bounce back in a bowl game," senior free safety Thomas DeCoud said. "We could find some redemption and finish the season the right way." The new low includes Cal's first Big Game loss since 2001, the inability to have yet locked up a sixth consecutive winning season and confusion about why it can't close out games.  "We've had an opportunity to win every game we've played," Tedford said. "That's probably the most frustrating thing. We haven't been able to find a way to win. That's something that needs to be addressed." It's a season that is very reminiscent of the 1996 season, which was Steve Mariucci's only year in Berkeley. Cal started that year 5-0 and lost six of the final seven, including a , 42-38 loss to Navy in the Aloha Bowl. "It hurts that there is nothing I can do about it anymore," Hawkins said.


Friday, November 30, 2007

SF Chronicle: Tedford says everything's fine, even though it's obviously not

Rusty Simmons

It's usually monotonous.  Each Tuesday afternoon, Cal coach Jeff Tedford saunters into a scheduled news luncheon, greets a few media types on his way to the podium where he pauses and says, "Questions?" The monotony ended Oct. 2, when before opening the floor to questions, Tedford coughed into the microphone. Four weeks and three losses later, the Bears had fallen from the pinnacle of the college football world to irrelevant and unranked. The cough remained. A reporter asked, "You've still got that cough?" Tedford responded, "Everything will be OK." That's the public image Tedford has put on during this, his most trying season in Strawberry Canyon. Asked Tuesday about the personal effects of the current 6-5 season, Tedford said, "I would prefer to comment on that after the year, when it's all finally finished." But everything is not OK.  It's conveyed in Tedford's actions and his words. Usually reserved and ever-aware of the media, Tedford blew a gasket, tossing his headset and play card after losing 31-28 to Oregon State on Oct. 13, and verbally let loose on his players after an uninspired, 37-23 loss to Washington on Nov. 17.

"I was not proud of my actions" after the Oregon State loss, Tedford said. "That was in the heat of the moment. I was pretty wound up about what was going on, but you won't ever see me do that again." As for the Washington postgame? "After the season, I'd be glad to talk about all of that. I'll get specific after the season," Tedford said. Here's what we know:

Cal has played in bowl games for a school-record four-consecutive seasons (and is eligible for a fifth bid). Cal is one win away from 50 victories in a six-year period for the first time in more than half a century. Cal is back on the national landscape of college football. Here's what we won't know until the season ends: What effect does Tedford's new contract, which is through 2013, play into the pressure he feels? How annoying is it to work in the shadow of the tree-sitters outside Memorial Stadium who are stalling proposed facility improvements? When will the threatening phone calls and e-mails finally be enough? "When adversity hits, it brings out your true character," free safety Thomas DeCoud said. "Coach Tedford is a really passionate person, and he spends his life devoted to helping us get better. That's shown through all of these struggles."

Tedford averaged 8.6 wins a season in his first five years and has never won fewer than seven games. In his rookie year, 2002, he was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year for going 7-5 with essentially the same team that had gone 1-10 the year before.  This year, there are no excuses. Tedford had a talented quarterback returning for the first time, more than enough weapons on offense and more than enough athletes on defense. Still, the Bears erased a 5-0 start by losing five of the next six games. "He's been pretty consistent, but you can see it weighing on him," tailback Justin Forsett said. Tedford was already known for his work ethic and schedule, which includes an often-used air mattress in his office. Losses have changed nothing. "There are many nights when we don't see him go home," left tackle Mike Gibson said. "His love for the game is more than anyone I've ever known." But during a 6-5 season is there more to be done? Should things be done differently? "It's impossible to do that," Tedford said. "We work and sleep here. Nothing has changed that." Not even a perpetual cough.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

SF Chronicle: With Jackson hurting, Hawkins has swooped in

DeSean Jackson spent Tuesday's practice on the sideline, limping through drills at a startlingly fast speed and effortlessly riding a stationary bike at an alarmingly quick rate.  Lavelle Hawkins spent Tuesday's practice on the field, perfecting his pass routes and dominating the scout team defense.  For the most part, that's been the story of the season for the Cal receivers. Jackson hasn't been able to live up to unattainable preseason hype, and Hawkins has been a pleasant surprise.

Both Cal receivers are projected as first-round NFL draft picks and both could secure those opinions Saturday against Stanford, which ranks last in the conference in passing yards allowed and total defense. "This year has been a long year and things haven't happened the way I wanted them to happen, personally," Jackson said. "When teams double- and triple-team me, Lavelle has found a way to make big plays. When you're number is called, you have to find a way to make plays.

"Lavelle has done that. I haven't gotten many (chances)." Jackson, a receiving/returning dynamo who is day-to-day with a thigh contusion close to his knee, was heralded as a Heisman candidate. Despite a weak start, he remained in the conversation with a career-high 11-catch, 161-yard performance in a Week 5 win over then-No. 11 Oregon.

Opponents haven't let Jackson continue the campaign. Since he returned a punt 77 yards for a score in the season-opening win over Tennessee, he has gotten only 11 chances in 10 weeks. He's averaging 10.8 yards a return on 12 opportunities.

The same is true of the passing game. Opponents have consistently double-teamed and bracketed Jackson, forcing quarterback Nate Longshore to look for other options. Jackson has 60 receptions for 681 yards and five touchdowns after going for 1,060 yards and nine scores last year. He has been limited to less than 50 receiving yards in six games, including a career-low 5-yard effort against Oregon State. He missed the second-half of last week's Washington loss with a thigh contusion and hasn't practiced much since.

"It would be good to keep the tradition going, but I want to protect my knee from whatever it is," Jackson said. "It's nothing that serious, but I need to get it back to where it needs to be to play."  Despite the numbers, Jackson remains a lock for the first round of the draft because of his skills set. If he decides to enter the draft early, he's expected to be a combine wonder, thrilling scouts with his 4.2-seconds 40-yard dash, explosive vertical leap and agility in the cone drills.

Jackson is listed as the No. 11 overall draft prospect by Todd McShay, director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. doesn't include the junior on his big board, but rates Jackson as the No. 1 junior receiver.

Hawkins has needed more than "measurables" to get that kind of notice. For most of his career, he has been the Afterthought to Jackson and, at times, Robert Jordan. "If DeSean doesn't play then Robert's the man," Hawkins said. "I'm just the man next to the man." The "other guy" is first on the team in catches (62) and yards (792) and is tied with Jackson for the team lead in touchdowns. He also has a team-high 34 kick returns for a team-best 748 yards, including a 90-yard touchdown against Louisiana Tech. Once projected as a fifth-round pick, Hawkins is now listed as the 22nd overall player on by Kiper. "If you came by here in the summer time, there would be nobody on the field except Lavelle," offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik said. "He has always had talent, but he has truly worked his butt off. "I'm not surprised by his production, but I'm really pleased."


AP: WR Jackson misses practice with bruised right leg

BERKELEY, Calif. -- California receiver DeSean Jackson isn't sure he'll play in the 110th Big Game after sitting out of Tuesday night's practice because of a bruised right leg.  Jackson, who has 60 catches for 681 yards and five touchdowns this season, severely bruised his quadriceps during a second-quarter punt return in Cal's loss at Washington on Nov. 17. The junior missed the rest of the game, and a week of rehabilitation hasn't healed him completely before Saturday's meeting with archrival Stanford.

"I'm feeling pretty good, but still not back to where I want to be," Jackson said. "Closer to game time, I'll see how I feel. ... Every year I've played in the Big Game, it's been one of those great years. It would be good to keep that tradition going on. Right now, I just want to protect my knee from whatever it is."

Read the entire article here.

SF Chronicle: Cal assistants candidates for WSU job

Rusty Simmons

Creating a wake that most likely will be felt in Strawberry Canyon soon, Washington State officials announced Monday that coach Bill Doba will not return next season.  The search for Doba's replacement is expected to include Cal coordinators Bob Gregory and Jim Michalczik. Washington State athletic director Jim Sterk identified only one person, former Cougars and current Texas-El Paso coach Mike Price, when discussing his "not very short" list of candidates.

Some of the other logical choices are Washington State offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller, Eastern Washington coach Paul Wulff and Montana coach Bobby Hauck, but many consider Gregory the front-runner. "I would never, ever hold a coach back from looking into an opportunity that they feel could better their career," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. A Spokane native and Washington State graduate, Gregory, 44, went to Gonzaga Prep in Spokane and earned a degree in English at WSU. "It's flattering to be considered. I appreciate it," Gregory said. "Can we talk about Stanford now?"

In 2004, Gregory was a finalist for the Frank Boyles Award, which is given to the nation's top assistant coach, after leading a defense that ranked among the nation's top 25 in three categories. Before coming to Cal in 2002, Gregory was the defensive coordinator at Boise State, the defensive backs coach at Oregon and the defensive coordinator at Willamette in Salem, Ore.Michalczik, 41, is in his first year as offensive coordinator after five flourishing seasons as the Cal offensive line coach. The Bears are one of five teams to rank in the top 25 in both points scored and total yards in each of the last five years. "I want to beat Stanford," Michalczik said. "Those other things will take care of themselves. I kind of nice to be thought of in those terms, but we've got other things to worry about." Michalczik graduated from Port Angeles (Wash.) High and Washington State, where he was an all-conference guard. He was defensive line coach for national champion Miami in 1991. Pritchard will accept role: Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard has been saying it all along, ever since he became the starter back in early October: He'll prepare no differently this week, whether he's the Big Game starter or the back-up to senior T.C. Ostrander, a decision to be made by coach Jim Harbaugh before week's end.

"I'm a competitor and I want to be out there just as much as anybody," Pritchard said. "I'd love to be out there for the opening play come Saturday, but I also have a lot of trust in coach Harbaugh ... a lot of faith in T.C. too." Pritchard said he will be supportive of Ostrander if the fifth-year senior gets the final start of his career. "Mark my words, if T.C. is out there Saturday, I will be his ... biggest supporter, I'll be right in his ear when he gets to the sidelines to tell him what I'm seeing," Pritchard said. "I just want to see us win this game. ... I know what it can do for this program."

Pritchard left Saturday's game against Notre Dame with after a violent helmet-to-helmet collision with Notre Dame's Terrail Lambert. He returned for one series, and then was removed again. Briefly: Sticking with tradition, Cal's scout-team players had white tape on their helmets to look more like Stanford's. Some helmets were completely white, others were adorned with the Stanford S or the tree. ... Stanford practiced with blank jerseys - no numbers and no names. Harbaugh said the gesture represents, "selflessness." ... Cal senior linebackers Greg Van Hoesen and Justin Moye and senior cornerback Brandon Hampton moved into the starting lineup, according to Gregory. "Those guys deserve to start. We didn't play very well, and we had to change something." Stanford receivers Evan Moore and Mark Bradford have accepted invitations to the Hula Bowl. ... Gregory expects defensive end Rulon Davis (knee) to play. ... Neither Stanford center Tim Mattran (ankle) nor tailback Anthony Kimble (shoulder) practiced.

SF Chronicle: Ray Ratto's Look at the Big Game

Cal (6-5, 3-5 Pac-10) at Stanford (3-8, 2-6), 4 p.m. Saturday on Versus, 810, 1050

A lot on the line for two seasons gone awry

Ahh, yes, the Big Game. The pomp! The pageantry! The marching bands! The tradition! The devoted alumni of each school yearning to breathe free and fulfilled, or in some cases, simply to breathe! Yes, the Big Game. One hundred ten years of exciting football, except when it's rugby, and except when it's not very exciting.  This would seem to be one of those years when rugby might be more exciting. Both teams have remarkable momentum - which is to say the gravitational force that is generated from being in full plummet - because of each team having lost five of its previous six games. Such a thing has happened only twice since Franklin Roosevelt could dance, in 1939 and again in 1997, and both the Californii and Stanfords are trying to re-establish the glory days of, well, October, with Saturday's game. You remember October? Cal was 5-0 and ranked first in the nation for about an hour. And Stanford had just polished off an underinspired and surprisingly outplayed USC team. Those were indeed good times.

Since then? Well, er, uhh, ummm ... oh, damn. Two wins (Washington State and Arizona, aggregate record 10-13, total margin of the victories, four points) and 10 losses (two Oregon States, two Washington States, Washington, Notre Dame, USC, UCLA, Arizona State and TCU). Cal's days as a ranked team are well over, and Stanford has lost almost all its momentum since beating the Trojans on Oct. 6. In other words, while you go on about the departing seniors, the alums who live for this game above all others, and the general nostalgia of Bob Murphy's last game behind the Stanford mike (and we continue to offer him $100 if he'll curse the Bears on air as a going-away gift to the rivalry), this game actually matters just as much for everyone coming back to play and coach next year.

Jeff "My Play List Has a Zip Code" Tedford needs the win to get the Bears into a bowl game, even if it is "only" the Emerald Bowl. He and the returners need to leave this bizarre season on an up-note, if only to rinse out the taste of a year that promised much and delivered sixth place. In some college towns we know, Tedford would be a candidate for a new job because he wouldn't have his old one anymore.  On the other hand, there's Stanford, and first-year head coach Wanderin' Jimmy Harbaugh. Other than his occasional postgame walkabouts, in which he does his radio show and then bolts for the first open door he can find, he and the fellows have had enough strange in this year to cover the next decade.

The win over USC speaks for itself and stands on its own ... almost. As six-touchdown underdogs with two wins in two years and a backup sophomore quarterback (Tavita Pritchard) making his starting debut, the Cardinal's victory over the second-ranked Trojans in L.A. was one of the three most extraordinary events of an extraordinary year. It set the nation on its ear and got Stanford more good pub than any football-related event since the '00 Rose Bowl, and perhaps since the first Bill Walsh era.  Then came the loss to TCU, and after a one-point win over the fitful Arizonas, more losses, each more grisly than the last. Oregon State, the two Washingtons and the revoting Notre Dame performance, in which even the Irish played so badly that Touchdown Jesus went Episcopalian. Suddenly, the win over SC, which we all thought would last Harbaugh a lifetime, seems about a lifetime ago.

Wanderin' Jim speaks of changing the culture at Stanford, but the culture at Stanford is five consecutive Big Game losses and a 19-48 aggregate record over that spread. The culture got some change, but it needs a pick-me-up going into a vital offseason.  "The guys who are playing Saturday, that's who this game is for," Harbaugh said, trying to take the deliberately short view. "Next year will be next year." He also admitted, in so many words, that Big Games don't merely float into the ether. "I can't say winning Saturday wouldn't have a very positive impact for us (going into '08)," he said. "But it's a big game for a lot of reasons, and not just for what it means for us next year."

Tedford is no less circumspect about the Big Game's enduring value, especially as a public-relations tool for the already committed. But he also knows that this year was more of a drag than a celebration, and that considerable changes have to take place during the offseason to wipe out the taste of a year that either disappointed or dumbfounded. "I don't know what the Big Game does for us over the summer," he said, "but I know how important it is to win it." He does not know how damaging it is to lose one, though, because he hasn't. And a loss Saturday atop the mess of the last two months would be hard chewing not only for any old, aging or even mostly vibrant Blue, but for himself and his operation. Cal football has structural issue to confront, and though a Big Game win might not change that agenda, a Big Game loss would press its importance.

Thus, as the game approaches - 4 p.m. on Versus - save a thought not only for those who will not play for Stanford or Cal again, but the ones who come back. There is bad karma to be overcome, and someone is going to have to do it Saturday, or pay full retail for the failure.