It's been 51 seasons since California made it to the Rose Bowl. With the amount of talent returning for the Golden Bears in 2009, their thoughts of Pasadena are alive and well. Led by Heisman Trophy hopeful Jahvid Best, No. 12 California opens its season Saturday night at Memorial Stadium looking to avenge last year's loss to Maryland. With 17 returning starters and their highest preseason ranking since they were No. 9 in 2006, the Golden Bears are looking to overtake Southern California's Pac-10 reign. Cal's hopes to reach its first Rose Bowl since 1958 are shouldered largely by Best, who was second in the nation last season in all-purpose yards per game (187.3) and third in rushing (131.7).
Best ran for 1,580 yards last season - second-best in school history - and averaged a program-record 8.1 per carry, but the junior has more than personal goals in mind for 2009. "He realizes that the team's success is first and foremost," said eighth-year Bears coach Jeff Tedford. "If there's any personal accolades that come along with that then so be it, but he is so well-respected by his teammates, and he respects his teammates and knows that the team is No. 1. He is so sincere about it that I don't have any problems with trying to keep it hush-hush with the Heisman or anything like that."
Tedford, who has led Cal to a school-record six straight postseason appearances and four consecutive bowl wins, named junior Kevin Riley as the starting quarterback last week. Riley, 7-2 as a starter in 2008, won a three-way competition for the job with sophomore Brock Mansion and redshirt freshman Beau Sweeney. In last season's 35-27 loss at Maryland on Sept. 13, Riley set a school record with 58 passing attempts while throwing for 423 yards - fourth-best in Cal history. Best had 225 all-purpose yards but a season-low 25 rushing.
The Bears are hoping to benefit from first-year offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who served in that capacity for Utah the past four seasons. Under Ludwig, the Utes were 35th in the nation in yards per game (400.9) in 2008 when they finished 13-0. Cal's defense ranked 26th nationally in 2008 and returns eight starters. Senior Tyson Alualu anchors the defensive line that held opponents to 122.2 rushing yards per game - third-best in the Pac-10. "I know there's going to be high expectations on this team, and it's something we welcome," Tedford said. Defensive back Syd'Quan Thompson returns for his senior season after earning all-conference honors in 2008, finishing with a team-best four interceptions and 70 tackles. He ranked 21st nationally in punt-return average (12.3 ypg). As Cal looks to build off last season's 9-4 mark and a 24-17 victory over Miami in the Emerald Bowl, Maryland is reloading in 2009 after losing 30 seniors from an 8-5 team.
"Every year, I think we get ranked fifth (in the ACC's Atlantic Division)," coach Ralph Friedgen said. "This year, some people ranked us even lower. I always kind of tell everybody it's not where you start, it's where you finish. It's been that way my whole life, so it's nothing new to me. I just keep working and hopefully everything will fall into place." The Terrapins don't have to look much further than their coach to see the value of hard work. Friedgen lost more than 100 pounds from his 300-plus-pound frame over the offseason. "A lot of times coaches expect a lot out of their players, but he's really practicing what he preaches as far as dedication, hard work and doing things right," senior quarterback Chris Turner said.
Turner, a native of Simi Valley, returns to California as the Terrapins' season-opening starter for the first time. He replaced the injured Jordan Steffy in Maryland's second game in 2008, then started the remaining 12 games. Turner threw for 2,516 yards with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. "I feel 100 times better (this season). I'm confident, I'm excited, I'm eager to get out to Cal," he said. "I want to go out the right way in my senior year." Turner was 15 of 19 for 156 yards and two touchdowns in last season's meeting with the Bears. Da'Rel Scott ran for 87 yards and two scores in that win and finished 2008 with 1,133 rushing yards en route to being named a first-team All-ACC selection.
He'll be joined in the backfield by Davin Meggett, son of former NFL player Dave Meggett, following a freshman season in which he was second on the team with 457 rushing yards. With Darrius Heyward-Bey drafted No. 7 overall by the Oakland Raiders, the Terrapins and second-year offensive coordinator James Franklin will look to junior Adrian Cannon and sophomore Torrey Smith to fill the void at wide receiver. Smith had an ACC-record 1,089 kickoff return yards in 2008. Maryland is 6-2 versus Top 25 teams in the last two seasons. Cal is 27-4 in Berkeley since 2004.