The Cal Golden Bears appeared loose at Sunday evening's brief conditioning practice at Memorial Stadium, even in the wake of a bitter 31-28 loss to Oregon State that dropped Cal from a potential leader of the first Bowl Championship Series rankings to a debut at No. 12. Nor did the Bears seem overly concerned that Saturday's loss dropped them from No. 2 to No. 10 in the Associated Press top 25. "If we would have come out here all dragging and sluggish, that would make (the coaches') job harder to motivate us," Cal middle linebacker Worrell Williams said. "It's a loss. It's a minor setback. It's not something we can't bounce back from." A day after the top two teams in the nation lost, Ohio State jumped to No. 1 in the first BCS poll and the AP Top 25 and South Florida - which had never been ranked before this season - followed suit at No. 2 in both.
The Bulls received 11 first-place votes after a 64-12 victory over Central Florida. The last year three teams held the No. 1 spot in the AP poll during the regular season was 2000, when Nebraska started No. 1, Florida State was top-ranked for a week and Oklahoma took over late in the season. As for Cal, the Bears were poised to move up to No. 1 after top-ranked LSU's loss earlier in the day. But turnovers, defensive breakdowns and one memorable mistake on the game's final play doomed Cal (5-1, 2-1 Pac-10). Now hopes turn from an undefeated season and a national championship to ending a Rose Bowl drought that dates back to the 1959 season.
"It hurts," said backup quarterback Kevin Riley, whose failure to throw the ball away on the last play cost Cal a chance at overtime. "I'm hurting and the team is hurting right now, but we can still win the rest of our games. In this college football season, you don't know what the hell is going to happen." Cal became the 10th team ranked in the Top 10 this season to lose to an unranked team, joining the likes of USC to Stanford and Michigan to Appalachian State. Coupled with LSU's 43-37 loss, it marked the first time in 11 years that the top two teams lost on the same day. The biggest play was the last. After Riley drove Cal from its 5 to the Oregon State 12 in the final 1:27, the Bears looked poised to send the game into overtime or even possibly win it. With 14 seconds left and no timeouts, coach Jeff Tedford chose to take a shot at the end zone instead of kicking the potential game-tying field goal. "Maybe you win the game," Tedford said. "A lot of times you second guess yourself, but I don't second guess this one. We just didn't make the play."
Riley dropped back, and with no receivers open, he decided to run for it instead of throwing the ball away. He was tackled at the 10 and there was no time to spike the ball or get the field goal unit on the field, providing a crushing ending to his first start. Riley got the start in place of Nate Longshore, who has a sprained right ankle. Admittedly nervous at the start, Riley played well down the stretch and finished 20-for-34 for 294 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears may have lost their goal of going undefeated this season, but the uncertain nature of the 2007 version of college football still has them believing. Cal is very much alive in the Pac-10 race, and with no team across the country looking invincible, climbing back up the national ladder is a possibility. "The best teams in the country have all lost a game so far," Cal cornerback Brandon Hampton said. "We're still in it. All we can do is just win and put ourselves in a good position. That's the best you can do." The Bears now face a challenging stretch of their schedule - road games at UCLA and Arizona State, which is ranked No. 8 by the BCS. Cal also knows the games are opportunities to get right back in the national race and strengthen their pursuit of the Pac-10 crown.