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By Gary Peterson BERKELEY -- California football coach Jeff Tedford spoke Tuesday afternoon of a recent conversation he had with his players. Tedford said he asked his players to visualize the week -- meaning this week -- leading up to Saturday's game at Colorado State. Tedford asked his players to imagine their interactions with people outside the program during this time, and to guess the subject likely to be on everybody's mind. According to Tedford, the conversation went like this: "What's going to be the biggest question?" "Letdown?" "Exactly." So you see, Tedford and his charges already know what you, me and the people in the trees are thinking. Ironically, it's the same thing we were thinking a year ago, when the world was young and the tree-sitters were doing whatever it is tree-sitters do when tree-sitting isn't in season:
We were wondering, in the wake of their highly discouraging season-opening loss to Tennessee, if the Golden Bears could successfully turn their focus to the remainder of the schedule. In the giddy aftermath of Saturday's Redemption Bowl victory over Tennessee, it only seems fair to wonder the same thing. That win was a full calendar year in the making. Can the team quickly shift its focus to Saturday's game in Fort Collins, Colo., and a game unworthy of a vindicative handle? "I think our guys will take confidence from (the Tennessee game), which is a good thing," Tedford said. "But I don't think we'll be overconfident." A small and highly unscientific sampling of Cal players indicated a consensus on this point. "We can't be content with one week and just stop there," center Alex Mack said. "If we don't win this week," receiver Robert Jordan said, "last week means nothing." They make a reasonably compelling argument, starting with the bounce-back from last season's Tennessee game. Granted, a letdown wasn't a concern then, given that the loss in Knoxville left the Bears about as low as they could go.
The concern was whether they had it in them to rise up. Eight consecutive victories by an average score of 39-16 answered that question. In fact, the Bears rebounded so nicely they insinuated themselves into the Pac-10 race and made a bid for a Rose Bowl berth before they, well, let down. One week before meeting USC for all the greater glory a team can eat, Cal lost at Arizona. You can argue that history lesson your way, to the point of questioning whether that team was good enough to entertain legitimate Rose Bowl dreams. But this being a free country and all, the Bears can argue it their way, too. "USC, they're going to come," Jordan said, referring to the Nov. 10 game at Memorial Stadium which, best case scenario, could have tree-sitters scalping their branches for big money. "But we can't look that far ahead. We made that mistake last year with the Arizona game." So you say, "Watch your step," and they say, "Lesson learned." "There's enough leadership on the team to understand that last week is last week," Tedford said. "(Colorado State) is a team that came in here a couple years ago and beat us on our own home turf."
Good point. Or maybe not, considering how that 2003 game turned out for Cal. As for this letdown thing, it's as predictable as it is time-tested. Meaning, it shows itself just often enough (hello, Appalachian State!) for some to embrace the dynamic, but with enough infrequency for others to consider it an overstated observation of the obvious. What Tedford busies his brain with are the things a football coach can control. Making sure his players get up early this week so their circadian clocks are properly set for Saturday's noon (MDT) start, for example. Or practicing smartly this week, so the bumps and bruises from last week's game have a chance to mellow out. What Tedford can only hope to control is human nature. Tennessee was ranked 15th in the country before Saturday's game. Colorado State, which lost in overtime to rival Colorado in its opener, is unranked.
In fact, Colorado State hasn't had a winning record in the past three seasons. However, it has been to eight bowl games in the past 12 years, winning 22 more games than Cal over that period. And the Rams play at altitude, a variable that so concerned Tedford three years ago he took his team to Lake Tahoe to practice before the season opener at Air Force. But he knows this. And he knows that we know this. And none of us will know exactly what it all means until Saturday. Which is why they play the games. Well, that and to keep the tree-sitters off the streets.