The only time the Cal football team sets foot on Memorial Stadium turf on Sundays is for a short conditioning session in the afternoon. It's typically a light affair. With the beginning of Pac-10 play just days away, this past Sunday -- which included a brief walkthrough -- felt a little different. "There was a little bit of edge to them," coach Jeff Tedford said during Tuesday's media conference. "It was very serious on Sunday. It was almost like we had lost the game the day before. They were very focused, very serious about what we're getting ready to get into. I think that has a lot to do with the maturity and the experience of guys on the team."
One of the most experienced, senior linebacker Eddie Young, led the players in a chant of "Pac-10 Champs: That's us!" that hadn't been heard since fall camp. Young then walked out into the stretching lines and urged the team that it was time to "not talk about it, but be about it." The words seemed to carry more weight in the aftermath of what happened in Seattle, Wash., last Saturday. With Washington upsetting USC , many experts are now tabbing the Bears as the team to beat in the conference. It's a role that No. 6 Cal will start defending at Autzen Stadium at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, when it opens Pac-10 play against Oregon.
"It feels different," receiver Jeremy Ross said. "Everybody's fired up. These past three games were exciting, we did what we had to do there. But coming into the Pac-10 now, we have (the "Pac-10 Champs" chant), so we really took that to heart. Being that this is the first Pac-10 game, everybody's fired up and ready to live up to that statement."
Overall, the conference had its share of success in nonconference play: USC defeated Ohio State, UCLA beat Tennessee and Oregon rebounded from its debacle against Boise State to win home games against Purdue and then-No. 18 Utah. The Bears, in turn, finished 3-0 out of conference. But Tedford , Ross and quarterback Kevin Riley all stressed that Saturday marks the beginning of an entirely new season, and the three wins could be rendered meaningless by a poor showing in Pac-10 play.