For most of fall camp, the California players pointed to the season opener against Maryland as a chance to avenge last season's loss and to open this season on a bright note. With that goal accomplished, the task for the 10th-ranked Golden Bears this week is avoiding a letdown against Eastern Washington of the lower Football Championship Subdivision. "We're mature enough, we've been down this road before and there's enough examples out there of, when you're not ready to play, what can happen," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "I told our team that we need to understand that it's not who we play, it's how we play. We have to go out every day, every week to play our best."
The Bears (1-0) were close to doing that in the opener, when they put up 52 points, had more than 240 yards on the ground and in the air, didn't turn the ball over once, recorded six sacks and held Maryland to one touchdown. With a trip to Big Ten country to play Minnesota next week followed by Pac-10 games against Oregon and No. 3 Southern California, it might be easy to look ahead. But the Bears insist that won't be the case. "They are not crummy players. In no way, shape or form will Cal even look at them like they're not a good team," offensive lineman Mike Tepper said. "You can't overlook anybody." The Eagles, who are ranked 18th in the FCS, have had experience against major teams in recent years, even putting a scare into Colorado last season. Eastern Washington led 24-17 before allowing two touchdowns in a 21-second span in the final 2:05 to lose 31-24.
"The good thing is you won't have a bunch of guys who will get that awe factor and take a while to figure it out it's still a football game and a 100-yard field," coach Beau Baldwin said. "They're treating it as business as usual as far as preparation during the week. They just understand that they are playing the best team on our schedule without a doubt. We'll have to be very sharp in every aspect."
The Eagles (1-0) also lost 49-24 to No. 12 Texas Tech last year in one of just two games they have played against ranked opponents since 1991. The other one came in 2006, when they fell 52-3 to No. 6 West Virginia. In all, the Eagles have lost seven straight games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents since beating Idaho 8-5 in 2003. "This is their biggest game of the year," Cal quarterback Kevin Riley said. "They'll come out in our stadium with 60,000 fans and it's a huge game, like their bowl game. They're going to come out with everything they've got and we have to be ready to play."
The game should have special meaning for Eagles running back Taiwan Jones, who grew up in nearby Antioch. Jones, who played cornerback last season, scored on an 87-yard run on his first career carry last week against Western Oregon. Jones finished with 12 carries for 122 yards and two touchdowns in the 35-14 victory. "Everybody at this level thinks of themselves as great athletes, but we are going to get put to the test against Cal," Jones said. "I'm excited for the game because I'm going back to my hometown. We'll try to put on a show." Jones has a history with Cal star running back Jahvid Best. As seniors in high school in 2007, the two competed in the 100-meter state title in California. They posted the two best times in preliminaries and Best won the race with a wind-aided time of 10.31 seconds. Jones finished fourth at 10.58.
Best opened his Heisman Trophy campaign by running 10 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns against Maryland, including a 73-yarder for his ninth career run of at least 60 yards. But if defenses think they can just stack the line against the Bears again this season, Kevin Riley and the passing game showed that will be a riskier move this season. Riley was 17-for-26 for 298 yards and a career-high four touchdowns, spreading the ball out to nine receivers. "I don't think anyone they play the entire year will shut that offense down," Baldwin said. "I believe they are that good. It's just a matter of making them work for things."