By Jonathan Okanes
Cal's athletic department has launched a promotional campaign to publicize star tailback Jahvid Best's candidacy for the Heisman Trophy. It's a good thing, too, because apparently the word isn't getting out to some pretty important people in college football. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, for one. At Monday's annual Bay Area College Football Media Day, Harbaugh was busy praising the talents of some local players when he gestured toward the man he thought was San Jose State quarterback Kyle Reed.
"I remember recruiting you. Out of McClymonds, right?" Harbaugh said. "Uh, Kyle is over there," said the supposedly unrecognizable player, who just happened to be Best. Later, when Cal coach Jeff Tedford was introducing the Cal players on hand, he nudged Harbaugh in the arm and pointed at Best. "That's Jahvid Best," he explained. Everybody had a good laugh, and Harbaugh later went over and formally introduced himself to the player many consider to be the nation's top Heisman candidate among those who weren't finalists last year. Best, who finished third nationally in rushing last season (131.7 yards per game), is expected to do big things this year but becoming a legitimate Heisman candidate may be problematic. All three of the 2008 finalists — quarterbacks Sam Bradford (Oklahoma), Colt McCoy (Texas) and Tim Tebow (Florida) — are back for another season. Plus, the West Coast hasn't exactly dominated the award.
USC has produced seven Heisman winners, but there have been only three others from Pac-10 schools, and they were all quarterbacks. Oregon State quarterback Terry Baker won it in 1962, UCLA quarterback Gary Beban in 1967 and Stanford quarterback Jim Plunkett in 1970. "We'd probably have to go undefeated for me to have a legitimate chance, and (the other candidates) would have to mess up," Best said. Still, Best is near the top of virtually every list of Heisman candidates to be found. He is the country's top returning rusher and is electrifying as a kick returner. With the Bears expected to be ranked in the top 15 in the preseason, Cal may just have enough national appeal to keep Best squarely in the Heisman picture.
"Those are great players," Tedford said of the returning Heisman finalists. "They've all been there. All those guys are awesome players. We're not going into this as a competition for the Heisman. We're going into this to win our conference, to win a Pac-10 championship and to play at a national level."
When training camp opens Friday, Best will be back on the field for the first time since the end of last season. He missed spring practice while recovering from elbow and foot surgery. But one player who won't be present is former Compton Community College wide receiver Markish Jones, who signed a letter of intent to play at Cal in February. Jones didn't qualify academically.
That means the Bears won't have a single new scholarship receiver on their roster this fall. Cal struggled to get consistent production from its inexperienced receiving corps last season. "(Jones) would have been a spot player," Tedford said. "I don't know he would have broke in (to the playing rotation). He could have, but I don't know. I feel confident and comfortable with the guys that we have right now. They're more experienced. They were all so young last year. Now they have a year under their belt and they've been working very, very hard. I think there is plenty of talent there. Now it's just a matter of taking the next step."