The Pac-10 has put two surprising teams into contention for a national championship, but Cal has become a mere spectator after its 31-20 loss to Arizona State on Saturday dropped the Bears completely out of the top 25 in all four rankings (Associated Press, USA Today, Harris, BCS). Just 16 days ago, Cal was ranked No. 2, and during the first half of Cal's game against Oregon State on Oct. 13, word came down that No. 1 LSU had lost, putting the Bears in line to rise to No. 1 for the first time since 1951. Today, however, Cal is trying to salvage the season after losing three straight for the first time since Jeff Tedford arrived as coach in 2002. The Bears' run of 26 consecutive weeks in the top 25 has ended, as Cal fell out of the rankings for the first time since the late stages of the 2005 season. "It's kind of unbelievable," Cal offensive lineman Mike Gibson said after Saturday's loss in Tempe, Ariz. "I'm just speechless." A win Saturday would have kept Cal very much in the Rose Bowl picture, and the Bears held a 20-7 lead in the first half as they dominated the early going. But ASU scored the final 24 points of the game, and Cal's final seven possessions resulted in five punts and two turnovers. For the second straight week, Bears quarterback Nate Longshore, still limping from a sprained ankle, threw two second-half interceptions. "Down the stretch it looked like they wore us down a little," Tedford said. "In the second half we couldn't protect the passer and Nate was hurrying some things." Cal led at halftime in all three of its losses, but could not put the hammer down, and now the Bears are in danger of not getting into any bowl. Cal (5-3) needs to win two of its final four games to guarantee a bowl berth, and with games against three of the Pac-10's weakest teams - Stanford, Washington State and Washington - as well as the Nov. 10 home game against USC, the Bears remain in position to get at least the 7-5 record needed to assure postseason play. Even a 6-6 record might get Cal into a bowl, but it looks like it will be the Las Vegas Bowl or Emerald Bowl in San Francisco rather than the Rose Bowl.
Meanwhile, Arizona State remains one of just five unbeaten teams and is alone in first place in the Pac-10. The Sun Devils are No. 4 in this week's BCS standings, putting them within reach of a berth in the national championship game. Much of the credit goes to first-year ASU coach Dennis Erickson, whose team was unranked in preseason. ASU is one spot ahead of Oregon in the BCS standings, and the Ducks host Arizona State in a game on Saturday that will define one of them as a national-title contender. Either Oregon or ASU could become the first team that was unranked in preseason to get to the BCS championship game.