By Ray Ratto
Jeff Tedford used to be such a Luddite when it came to California football's national reputation. He hated grand expectations for his football team, and year after year he begged, cajoled, even occasionally ordered his players to ignore what other people said about them. Yet every year, his wife brought home the college football magazines from the odd trip to the supermarket, bookstore and/or smoke shop. And while he said he read them mostly to learn about other teams, the tentacles were already winding about him, a hellish wisteria from the outside world to which everyone around him paid extraordinary attention.
So he gave up and embraced the guesswork, just in time to find out that the guesses for the '09 Ursines are all over the lot. "I've had to take a different approach to all that," he said, half-resigned and half-intrigued by the half-informed world of college football. "I always told the players not to let anyone else put expectations on them, not to listen to what was said about them, that it was up to us and how we practice and prepare and execute, all that.
"But you know they're going to hear about where they're ranked here, where they're ranked there, what people say about them. That's just natural." Especially when he is getting all the material himself at home.
"I don't know which one it was she brought home, Street and Smith's, Lindy's, I don't know, pick one," he said with a laugh, "and I guess it just started me thinking eventually about the way we approach all the talk and the expectations. And we're ranked pretty much every year, so we shouldn't be trying to hide what that means from the players. We're trying to get them to understand what it takes to live up to the expectations, how to realize the potential that other people see in them."
Only this year the potential sits firmly between seven and 11 wins, an awfully broad spectrum indeed. Cal, which hosts Maryland on Saturday night, has a far more diffuse set of expectations than almost any other team. Some people have ranked them as high as ninth in the country, others barely among the top 35. They have been forecast as prominently as the Sugar Bowl and as modestly as the Sun Bowl.