Cal knows all too well that an opening-game loss can be lethal
By Matt Hayes
The shadow is large, the job tough, the reality bleak. You don't need to be bonked in the head with the Sword of Troy to see this. "If we're not unbeaten," says California wideout DeSean Jackson, "we may as well be playing in one of those conferences everyone makes fun of." Welcome to life in the Pac-10 for anyone not named USC. Win now or never reach your peak. Cal won eight straight games last season, from the second week of September through the first week of November, yet all anyone cared about was a season-opening meltdown at Tennessee. Now you know why Saturday night's season-opening rematch with the Vols is so big. This game is about much more than revenge. It is a game of survival in an opinion poll-based world, a night when one win could be the jolt of confidence needed to kick-start a magical season. "What goes on between the ears," says Cal coach Jeff Tedford, "is as important as anything." Cal isn't alone in its need for an emotional lift to begin the season. The first game is critical to the psyche and chemistry of three other teams with BCS hopes.
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