Looking for somebody to sideswipe USC and grab control of the Pac-10 this season? Look no farther than California. Why? Two words: Jahvid Best. Best, who rushed for 1,580 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry, gives the Golden Bears an explosion factor nobody else in the conference can match.
Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers was the Pac-10 offense player of the year, and Quizz is a dangerous guy slicing and dicing between the tackles. But Best is a home run threat, from anywhere on the field.
Cal's junior tailback missed part of fall camp with a toe injury. But he's been full-go lately, and should be ready for the Bears' Sept. 5, season-opener against visiting Maryland. Coach Jeff Tedford's teams always have run effectively. The Bears have had an 1,000-yard rusher for seven straight seasons. But Best is special, and he will be operating behind a big, physical, talented offensive line.
If Cal's passing game improves, and the offense is in balance, Best becomes even more dangerous. Junior Kevin Riley has the starting quarterback job all to himself this season, after he and the now-departed Nate Longshore were in and out of the lineup like yo-yos last year.
Riley, who starred at Beaverton High, always has had the guts and the moxie for the position, and he was 7-2 last season as the starter. But Tedford wasn't happy with his inconsistency or his .507 completion percentage. So Riley worked hard on his throwing motion in the offseason, then held off a challenge from 6-foot-5 pocket-passer Brock Mansion in camp by hitting his receivers and demonstrating a firm command of the offense.
The Bears' 3-4 defense returns all three down linemen and all four starters in what might be the conference's best secondary. Cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson is a premier pass defender. The biggest issue on this team is at linebacker. In the 3-4, the linebackers have to be playmakers. Cal will be replacing all four, and the new guys won't have long to get their feet wet. The Bears are at Oregon on Sept. 26, then home the next week for USC. It's a two-game stretch that will define just what kind of title contender Cal will be. If the Bears keep Best healthy, they have a shot.