Friday, December 30, 2005

KUTV Salt Lake: Why BYU should have won the MWC and beaten Cal

A brutal travel schedule and the Christmas weekend slowed down my review of the Las Vegas Bowl. But better late than never, here are three big reasons why BYU lost to Cal and why, for the 4th straight year, the Cougars don’t have a winning season.  The short version: This is the last Cougar loss that can be blamed on Gary Crowton.

The long version:


The Bears scored on their first possession. The Cougars had an illegal substitution penalty and raced the 11th player on to the field at the last second on two other other plays. One was defensive, the other special teams. Cal was focused and ready, BYU was unfocused and distracted. BYU gave away the first quarter, trailed 7-0, played an even 28-28 game over the last three quarters and lost by seven. The slow start was a crucial difference in the game. That is on Bronco Mendenhall and his staff, but more importantly…


The Cougars secondary was decimated by two honor code incidents. Gary Crowton brought in athletes who had no intention of even TRYING to keep the honor code. Booze, porn and group sex (or gang rape) the night before practice starts qualifies as not even trying to keep the honor code. The secondary lost a lot of guys, maybe one of whom wouldn’t have spent three and a half hours lunging at receivers ankles and taking horrible angles. Plus, you don’t need this blog to know that the TD with :03 left in the first half was horrendous. A spectacularly inept performance by defensive backs who weren’t overmatched this year, unless you count the TCU collapse, AFA’s near comeback, and a 4th straight loss to the Utes (and their back-up quarterback). The good news for the secondary, they weren’t the worst phase of the game.


All you need to know about BYU’s special teams’ performance: the opening kick-off went out-of-bounds. After BYU tied the game at 7-7, Cal returned the kick-off to the 32 and a personal foul moved it out to the 47. After BYU tied the game at 14-14 with :25 left in the half, Cal was able to return the kick-off to the 42. If BYU’s coverage does what it is supposed to, Cal is probably kneeling down at the 20. BYU’s special teams need more athletes and defensive backs make good cover guys, but we know why BYU doesn’t have enough good DB’s. BYU has a senior QB next year. They are set up for a big year, if they get JC help in the secondary and on special teams. Otherwise, Cougars fans can gear up for more 51-50 OT losses, more 41-34 OT losses and more 35-28 bowl game losses. The guys involved in the two honor code debacles not only embarrassed the school, they were the difference between a 6-6 team and a 9-3 team that should have shared the MWC conference title.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

AP: Golden Bears thinking big for 2006

By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer

When Brandon Mebane seized the championship trophy and the microphone on the podium in Las Vegas last week, the California defensive lineman also seized the moment to make a bold prediction. "Next year, national championship!" Mebane yelled to the fans who cheered the Golden Bears' 35-28 victory over Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl on Thursday night. It was an audacious statement by one of the best players on a team that had just finished a somewhat disappointing season at 8-4, winning its final two games after losing four of five to fall out of the national rankings. But there's ample reason to believe the Bears will be among the West's best teams next year, with even a shot at reaching Mebane's goal. That's because many of Cal's most talented players will be back next season with a year of valuable experience and a newfound determination after the disappointments of 2005. "There's a lot of potential there," acknowledged coach Jeff Tedford, who has reached three straight bowl games in his four seasons at Cal. "There's no question we have skill. Spring is going to be very important for our young offensive line to mature ... Everything we did at the end of this season is hopefully a springboard to next spring and next fall." Cal finished off the Cougars with a pounding running game that could get even better next year. Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett both will return for their junior seasons, hoping to reprise their campaign as one of the nation's top rushing tandems. Lynch, the Las Vegas Bowl MVP with career highs of 194 yards rushing and three touchdowns, ran for 1,246 yards despite missing most of three games with a broken finger and a benching for fumbles. Forsett finished with 999 yards — averaging nearly 7.8 yards per attempt — and six touchdowns. That's not bad for an ostensible backup with just 11 carries before this season.

"This win really meant a lot to us to get ready for next season, but also to send our seniors out with a bowl victory," Lynch said in Las Vegas. "We've just got to continue to get better every day in the offseason." The receiving corps also should be strong, with standouts DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan returning along with Lavelle Hawkins. Jackson's freshman season was a thriller, culminating with six catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns against BYU. "I looked at this game as the start of my sophomore year," Jackson said. "A lot of players on this team had a bad taste in their mouths after last season, and we didn't want to go into this offseason with a negative." There should be a lively competition to decide just who will be throwing and handing off to these elite playmakers. Tedford will have all spring and summer to decide among longtime backup Steve Levy, who beat Stanford and BYU in his first two college starts; Nate Longshore, who won the starting job last fall before breaking his ankle in the season opener; Joe Ayoob, the junior-college transfer who lost the starting job to Levy after throwing 11 interceptions in his final four starts; and even Kyle Reed, the touted Oakland freshman who redshirted this season. The offensive line must be patched, with seniors Ryan O'Callaghan, Marvin Philip and Aaron Merz moving on to probable NFL careers. But Cal's lines have been strong annually under Tedford and coach Jim Michalczik, and several capable replacements got playing time this season when all five starters were briefly sidelined by injuries. Coordinator Bob Gregory's defense also looks strong around Mebane, another juco transfer who might have been an all-American with a few breaks. He had 6 1/2 sacks and was a disruptive run-stopper despite missing two games with injuries and drawing constant double-teams. Starting linemen Philip Mbakogu, Abu Ma'afala and Nu'u Tafisi all return, as do linebackers Desmond Bishop, Mickey Pimentel, Zack Follett and Anthony Felder. The secondary loses big hitter Donnie McCleskey, but should get back cornerbacks Tim Mixon and Daymeion Hughes.

With such a roster of returning talent, combined with what's expected to be another landmark recruiting class for Tedford and his aggressive assistant coaches, there seems to be no limit on the Bears' potential for next season. The players aren't shy to acknowledge their lofty goals, as Mebane proved on the podium. Cal should find out early whether its championship dreams are real: The Bears open the season Sept. 2 at Tennessee. "It's way early, but that's definitely our goal," Jackson said. "We think we can compete at the highest level next year. We know we're good enough to do that."



Tuesday, December 27, 2005

SF Chronicle: OUTLOOK FOR '06

Cal to bring back plenty of skill-position players

Expectations already high for next year

Bruce Adams, Chronicle Staff Writer

Senior rover Donnie McCleskey said the state of Cal football can be measured by expectations.  "It's great to see our program is at that level that we get criticized for four losses," McCleskey said.  Many fans, as did McCleskey, thought the record this year -- the Bears finished 8-4 after beating BYU 35-28 Thursday in the Las Vegas Bowl -- was a commendable achievement. Others have come to expect more from the program that has been aspiring to the elite ranks of college football since Jeff Tedford became head coach four years ago and recorded four winning seasons.  Expectations are already high for next year, with senior center Marvin Philip, among others, saying the Bears could compete for a national championship.  That optimistic declaration is probably premature, but it is certainly more than a flight of fancy. The 2006 team has great promise and will return several players with big-play potential.  The strength of Cal's team in 2005, the run game, looks solid again for next year.  Starting tailback Marshawn Lynch and backup Justin Forsett both will be juniors in '06. Lynch gained 1,246 yards this season even though he missed 21/2 games because of a finger injury. Forsett was just one yard short of the 1,000-yard mark.

The offensive line loses Philip and his fellow seniors, tackle Ryan O'Callaghan and guard Aaron Merz. Plus, junior tackle Andrew Cameron, who missed much of the year with a knee injury, might not return. That could leave guard Erik Robertson as the only returning starter. But because of a rash of injuries, the Bears will enter next season with a great deal of unanticipated experience along the line.  The key on offense is at quarterback, an issue much of this year.  Nate Longshore, the starter going into the season, could put that issue to rest. Even though he was lost for the year with a severe ankle injury in the first half of the season opener, Longshore remained close to the team and worked hard to increase his understanding of Tedford's complex offense. Plus, Tedford has praised Longshore for his technical skills and his arm strength.  Joe Ayoob, who started nine games, faces an offseason in which he'll try to regain the confidence that he admitted (after the USC game) he had lost. Ayoob, who threw only three interceptions in his first six games (135 attempts), threw 11 in his final four starts (119 attempts).  Steve Levy, who started the Big Game and the Las Vegas Bowl, also will be a factor after going 2-0 as a starter while completing 63.4 percent of his passes (26-for-41) for 353 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception. And Kyle Reed, who redshirted this season as a freshman, should be in the mix although coaches say he has a way to go in grasping the offense.  Whoever plays quarterback will have a group of talented -- and now tested -- wide receivers highlighted by DeSean Jackson and Robert Jordan. Jackson, a freshman in 2005, led the team with 38 receptions and seven touchdowns -- two of them in the win over BYU. Jordan, completing his second year as a starter, had 34 catches and four touchdowns.  The defense, which began this year with only three returning starters, will have the look of an experienced unit.

Linebacker Desmond Bishop, who led the Bears with 62 tackles as a junior in 2005, will return on a unit that will include 2005 freshmen Anthony Felder and Zack Follett, along with Mickey Pimentel -- all key contributors this year. Both starting cornerbacks, Tim Mixon and Daymeion Hughes, were juniors in '05. And the line should be solid, led once again by tackle Brandon Mebane, who will be entering his senior season.  This was the Bears' third straight postseason appearance, and in college football, success does tend to breed success.  "We have a very young team and we've learned a lot this year," Tedford said. "Anytime you can win a bowl game, it really gives you some momentum."


Monday, December 26, 2005

Oregonian: Cal players see big 2006 after bowl win

Pac-10 notebook


It might be a reach to call a seven-point victory over a .500 Mountain West Conference team in a bottom-tier bowl game a springboard to a national championship, but that didn't stop the optimism from bubbling out of the California locker room.

The Golden Bears held off Brigham Young 35-28 Thursday in the Las Vegas Bowl, then pronounced themselves one of the teams to beat in 2006.  "Next year, I think we will be competing for a national championship," quarterback Steve Levy told the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times.  Levy, a fullback last season, has had exactly two starts.  But he did throw for three touchdowns against BYU. And, if he hangs onto the job in the face of competition from the likes of nine-game starter Joe Ayoob, Nate Longshore, who won the job in September before a season-ending injury, and incoming Beaverton High School freshman Kevin Riley, he will have weapons to work with.  For instance, tailback Marshawn Lynch ran for 194 yards en route to the Las Vegas Bowl's most valuable player award. And there is change-of-pace running back Justin Forsett, who carried for 999 yards this season.  Don't forget wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who capped his freshman season by catching six passes for 130 yards and a pair of touchdowns against BYU.  "We have a lot of ability," Jackson told the Contra Costa Times. "And we want to get back into the national rankings."  Coach Jeff Tedford does have holes to fill on the offensive line. Senior starters Ryan O'Callaghan, Marvin Philip and Aaron Merz are through. But Philip expects the Bears to pick up where they left off.  "This team is coming together," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "This team is going to compete for the national championship next year."  Even the usually low-key Tedford was swept up in the moment. "There is a lot of potential here," he told reporters.  Coaching merry-go-round: Before Tedford gets too wrapped up in the national title talk, he might have to plug a significant hole on his coaching staff.  Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory, who had previous coaching stops at Willamette and Oregon, keeps turning up in speculation about the defensive coordinator position on the staff Dan Hawkins is putting together at Colorado.  Gregory refused to discuss his candidacy during the Bears' bowl preparation, although he did acknowledge that since he coached under Hawkins at Willamette and Boise State, it is only natural for him to be considered at Colorado.


Oakland Tribune: Levy a proven winner, leader, should get shot

Play in Big Game, bowl should earn chance to start'06 as No.1 Cal QB

By Dave Newhouse

BERKELEY — There are no absolutes in sports. Things don't always turn out the way they appear, therefore the element of surprise is ever-present.  Take the quarterback position at Cal. No Old Blue in his right mind would have believed at the start of this season that Cal would win a bowl game with Steve Levy at quarterback.   Coach Jeff Tedford wouldn't have believed it, either. Otherwise, why has Levy been mothballed during Tedford's four years in Berkeley?  This is why. Tedford is a quarterback guru, but he's like every other football coach in that he wants a quarterback who is, at least, 6-2 and weighs 225 pounds.  Levy is 6-1, 215, but coaches can't stereotype quarterbacks, because the good ones come in all shapes and sizes. Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia are just two cases in point.  What Tedford should be asking himself is how did Levy overcome all that inactivity to win his first two starts in critical situations — Cal had to win the Big Game to get the Las Vegas Bowl bid — and also pull off managing the game so expertly each time?  Every Bears backer should be asking himself the same question. That a rusty Levy had only one turnover in those starts — an interception against Stanford — is not only noteworthy, but it's also remarkable.  Tedford won't say it, but he wasn't ever thinking of entrusting his offense to Levy. Not until Nate Longshore broke his leg and Joe Ayoob didn't live up to his junior college reputation his first year at Cal.

So Levy was thrown a bone — a start by elimination — and he came through. Big time. If he hadn't, Cal might be 6-6 now instead of 8-4.  Once again, there are no absolutes. Levy, the team clown, has emerged as Levy, the team leader. For that reason, plus his 2-0 record as a starter, he must be Cal's No.1 quarterback next season.  He certainly hasn't done anything to lose the job he wasn't supposed to have in the first place. On the contrary, he played better against BYU in Las Vegas than he did at Stanford.  Forget size. The kid is a winner as well as a leader, and Tedford will need those qualities in 2006.  Cal loses considerable leadership with Donnie McCleskey, Harrison Smith and Marvin Philip having used up their eligibility. Replacing what they brought to the team will be difficult because Cal will be a young team next season, except for Levy, a fifth-year senior.

Levy brings a spark, a toughness and a charisma at quarterback that hasn't been seen at Cal since Mike Pawlawski and Joe Kapp. Teammates play well behind a storm-the-beach kind of quarterback.  Longshore and Ayoob will return. Redshirt freshman Kyle Reed, who has the strongest arm and the quickest release among Cal quarterbacks, will be active for the first time. Kevin Riley, from Beaverton, Ore., will enroll next fall as a freshman, but he will be redshirted.  Levy, however, deserves to be the starter at Tennessee on Sept.2. Then it's up to him to hold onto that role. Don't bet against him.  Cal is thinking national championship, and it could even happen during these next two years, especially if running back Marshawn Lynch returns for his senior season in 2007. Lynch and freshman wide receiver DeSean Jackson showed in Las Vegas how they can take over a game. Tedford must replace McCleskey and Smith at safeties, Chris Manderino at fullback, Ryan O'Callaghan and Andrew Cameron at offensive tackle, Aaron Merz at guard and Philip at center. Cameron has a year of eligibility remaining, but three major surgeries and a concussion in the past 10 months have convinced him it's time to give up football. There is depth in the offensive line, although there is no O'Callaghan in ability. Still, Cal will have a ton of returning players, unlike this year, with the best linebacker corps in the Pac-10 and possibly the nation. Remember the names Mickey Pimentel, Zack Follett and Anthony Felder. Sophomore defensive end Phillip Mbakogu, who jarred BYU's John Beck into throwing the game-ending interception (by Daymeion Hughes), improved his pass rush this fall and could be another Andre Carter. Cal will be loaded with receivers. And redshirt freshman Cameron Morrah has size and speed not seen with recent Cal tight ends. The Bears are envisioning something like a 10-2 regular season in 2006 and something even better in 2007, if Lynch hangs around.


Contra Costa Times: Bears have QB options in '06


By Jay Heater

Late in the first quarter of the Las Vegas Bowl on Thursday, Cal freshman wide receiver DeSean Jackson sprinted past his defender. He was 5 yards clear and headed toward the end zone. All he needed was the ball. Junior Steve Levy, efficient for most of the game, heaved a pass that was badly underthrown, leading to an incompletion and a missed opportunity. As Cal heads into the 2006 season, Coach Jeff Tedford will attempt to choose a quarterback who will routinely complete that throw. Levy showed he is a capable leader and an excellent guardian of the football. He led the Bears to a victory over Stanford in the Big Game, along with the 35-28 victory over Brigham Young on Thursday. He performed well in front of huge crowds in pressure situations. He finished 16 of 23 for 228 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against BYU.  But is he the man to lead Cal, which finished 8-4, to a Bowl Championship Series game in 2006? Tedford was asked before the Las Vegas Bowl if Levy was going through an audition. ``An audition for what?'' Tedford asked.  An audition for a starting role in 2006.  ``We're just trying to win a bowl game,'' Tedford said.  After the game, Tedford praised Levy's play and even questioned his own play-calling late in the fourth quarter. Tedford put the shackles on Levy and tried to run out the clock by rushing the ball.  Tedford wondered whether he should have given Levy an opportunity to throw another pass or two to make an additional first down.  Levy is doing what he can to impress his coach, but he said he understands that he doesn't have the arm strength of Kyle Boller (Cal's starter in 1999-2002) or the accuracy of Aaron Rodgers (Cal's starter in 2003-04).  ``All I did was lead the team and take care of the football,'' Levy said following the bowl victory.  Of course, Cal fans have seen what happens when a quarterback doesn't take care of the ball. Junior Joe Ayoob had interception problems (seven in losses to USC and Oregon alone) in the second half of the season as the Bears lost four of five games heading into the Big Game.

Levy righted the ship, throwing just one interception in two starts.  ``Steve has been very efficient,'' Tedford said. ``He has run the huddle well, and he brings confidence to the table.''  Against the best teams in 2006, Cal will have to be more like . . . well . . . Cal. In Tedford's first three seasons with Boller and then Rodgers running the show, opponents had to guess where the ball might be going.  But both Boller and Rodgers could hit the long pass, an element largely missing from Cal's offense in 2005. Jackson and sophomore wide receiver Robert Jordan, both deep threats, averaged less than 16 yards per catch.  Tedford will have to decide which of his quarterbacks -- Levy, Ayoob, Nate Longshore or Kyle Reed -- can make those throws and stretch the field. Imagine what tailback Marshawn Lynch (1,281 yards rushing, 7.6 yards per carry in 2005) would be able to do if defenses didn't crowd the line of scrimmage.  Longshore was clearly the best of the group heading into the 2005 season, but he broke his leg against Sacramento State in the opener.  Longshore, 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, has a strong arm, and Tedford also has praised his ability to read defenses and react at the line of scrimmage. Those factors probably make him the favorite to win back the job even though Levy finished well.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Oakland Tribune: Reed gives Bears higher hopes

CONGRATULATIONS TO the Cal football team and Steve Levy for an entertaining performance at the Las Vegas Bowl, one that leaves me wondering: What if Jeff Tedford had gone with his third-string quarterback from Day 1? You'd think Levy, who was incredibly effective after taking over for Joe Ayoob, would have given the Bears enough of a boost to overturn narrow losses to UCLA, Oregon and Oregon State. Chances are Cal still would have gotten rolled by USC, but a 10-1 regular season and subsequent Holiday Bowl romp over Oklahoma would have shed a whole new outlook on 2006, when Marshawn Lynch and DeSean Jackson will give the Bears a 1-2 punch even the Trojans can't match. Now imagine if a quarterback better than Levy is ready to elevate the team even higher next season. It could be something special, starting with the types of early-season tests (Tennessee and Minnesota) that could have exposed Ayoob this fall and resulted in the best possible year. Here's hoping Kyle Reed is as good as everyone thinks.

DATELINE: Outside the computer. ESPN analyst Mike Gottfried, who worked the Cal game Thursday night, shed some light on college football's polls when discussing how he'd rate the Bears to start the 2006 season. The longtime coach admitted he'd planned to start the Bears off at No.20. But after seeing them play, he was so impressed, he was vaulting them up to No.10. After seeing them play? Uh, this was their 12th game. Hadn't he seen any of the other 11? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Let's get rid of the human polls in college football. AP or no AP, they remain an embarrassment. DATELINE: Behind the frown. The only negative I took from Thursday's game was Tedford's all-business demeanor. It wasn't the "we're-having-fun" message I'd try to send in a four-hour national advertisement otherwise known as a meaningless bowl game. Hey, I'm all for trying to win the game. No doubt, the Cal program came out of Vegas more highly regarded than it had been before the telecast started. But, c'mon, lighten up a bit. Give me something that prompts a 17-year-old to stand up and scream: "I want to play for this guy!" Thirty-two runs up the middle just doesn't do it for me, although I guess a Jim Otto wannabe would be impressed. Even when informed Justin Forsett needed just 1 more yard to reach 1,000 for the season, Tedford instructed Levy to fall on the ball three times to assure the victory. In the Rose Bowl, OK. But 250 miles to the east, fun should have been the name of the game.



Oakland Tribune: Cal's bowl win a recruiting plus

By Dave Newhouse, STAFF WRITER 

The day before the Las Vegas Bowl, Cal coach Jeff Tedford was multitasking — his mind was on the present, but his eye was on the future. "Every time you play in a bowl game you want to send your seniors off on a positive note," he said. "And it has an impact on recruiting. Beating Virginia Tech was a huge boost in recruiting." That was two years ago at the Insight Bowl. Well, Cal's 35-28 victory over BYU on Thursday made some seniors very happy and just might be a boost to that recruiting push. Tedford acknowledged having had more early verbal commitments this season than any time since he rejuvenated Cal football in 2002. And Thursday's exciting victory might persuade others to join the fold. The national letter-of-intent signing period for high school football players begins Feb. 1. Cal has signed three junior college players — offensive linemen Mark Gray (6-1, 280) from El Camino and Mike Gibson (6-5, 305) from Solano, and defensive end Rulon Davis (6-6, 275) from Mt. San Antonio. Thirteen preps have told Tedford they're coming to Cal, including three out-of-staters: quarterback Kevin Riley (6-2, 185) from Beaverton, Ore., offensive lineman Chris Guarnero (6-21/2, 266) from Denver, and cornerback Brandon Jones (5-10, 160) from Seattle. Defensive tackle Mike Costanzo (6-21/2, 296) from Monte Vista High in Danville has agreed verbally to wearing the blue and gold. Others who've committed verbally: defensive ends Keith Browner (6-6, 240) from Los Angeles and Levirt Griffin (6-4, 235) from Modesto, defensive tackle Isaac Leatiota (6-4, 290) from Wilcox High in Santa Clara, and linebacker Mike Mohamed (6-3, 195) from Brawley; offensive lineman Justin Prueitt (6-5, 275) from Clovis, wide receivers Jeremy Ross (6-0, 190) from Elk Grove and Daniel Lofton (6-11/2, 190) from San Diego, and running back R.J. Garrett (6-0, 230) from Los Angeles. Lofton is the son of James Lofton, former Stanford wide receiver and Pro Football Hall of Fame member.

Other prep stars considering Cal: defensive tackle Derrick Hill (6-31/2, 280) from Oakland's McClymonds, cornerback Darian Hagan (5-11, 175) from Los Angeles, and running backs C.J. Gable (6-1, 190) from Sylmar, Stafon Johnson (6-0, 200) from Los Angeles and James Montgomery (5-10, 195) from Rancho Cordova. After Cal's win over BYU, Tedford multitasked again. "With the victories that we've had," he said of Cal's 2-1 bowl record the past three seasons, "it always gives you momentum not only in the recruiting season but also in the strength and conditioning program. It always gets you motivated for next season." But Feb. 1 comes first.


Friday, December 23, 2005

LA Times: Cal Defense Inadvertently Tipped off USC

Squad Serves Them Well

For some far down on depth chart, pretending to be foes in practice is their main contribution, as chances of playing in actual game are remote.

By David Wharton, Times Staff Writer

Practice is barely half an hour old and, already, John Griffin, running up the middle, has taken hard hits. He is not especially big, not especially shifty, so tangling with linebackers can be a painful proposition. Still, he takes another handoff and charges into the line. "Every day is a constant battle to dig down," Griffin says. "My job is to give it my best."  No one on the USC football team is working harder to prepare for Texas in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4. Yet Griffin knows he stands only a slim chance of getting on the field against the Longhorns.  The sophomore tailback plays on the "service" squad, a group of underclassmen and veterans far down the depth chart who devote themselves to helping the starters get ready. Their main job is mimicry. All this month they are pretending to be Longhorns, running plays that Texas runs, wearing tattered black jerseys that bear the numbers worn by key Texas players. "You don't get to play on Saturdays, but when you see the team tearing it up [in games], you know some of it has to do with the service team and how hard we worked," freshman Jim Abbott says. "You know that you're helping out."

The effort begins with assistants such as linebacker coach Rocky Seto and David Watson, a graduate assistant working with the offensive line. They have broken down Texas film, noted details and tendencies, then sketched hundreds of Longhorn plays and defensive calls onto cheat sheets the service team uses during drills. This is how detailed it can be: If the other team has a tall pass rusher, or perhaps a short running back, the coaches pick service team members with similar body types for those roles.


Before the game against California, coaches noticed that the Golden Bears' defensive line tipped off a certain kind of rush. So they pointed it out on film, then had the service team act accordingly in practice.


Before the Notre Dame game, freshman quarterback Mark Sanchez watched film of Irish quarterback Brady Quinn, "just so I could get his footwork down." For Texas, tight end Fred Davis — a regular in games — has been tabbed to stand in at quarterback because of his physical resemblance to the Longhorns' Vince Young. "He's giving our starters some great looks," Seto says. Practices are structured so that the service team faces the first- and second-string units during the first hour. This stretch can be grueling for the black-shirted players, who must be ready to go 30 or more plays with little break. The service team includes some potential stars, such as Sanchez and tailback Michael Coleman, but there are plenty of fourth- and fifth-stringers getting knocked around by more-experienced teammates. "It's tough," Sanchez says. "Completions are hard to get." Sanchez still talks about a shot he took from his roommate, linebacker Brian Cushing, on a blitz this season. His tooth was chipped by another linebacker, Collin Ashton. "After that, I started wearing a mouthpiece," he says. When USC goes on the road, taking a limited travel squad, service team players often stay home. They watch on television, like anyone else. Why do they put up with it?

Note From Blog Editor

With the conclusion of the Las Vegas Bowl, it is likely that articles about Cal football will become less frequent for the next few months.  I will, however, update this blog every time an article mentions Cal football, so be sure to check back in frequently.  Thanks for reading, and GO BEARS!

Los Angeles Times: Cal Makes the Most Noise When It Counts

By Lonnie White, Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — Brigham Young's fan support was as good as advertised, but it wasn't enough to help the Cougars overcome California on the field in the Las Vegas Bowl on Thursday night at Sam Boyd Stadium.  The attendance broke the previous Las Vegas Bowl record of 30,894 set in 2001 when Utah defeated USC. "BYU's crowd is ridiculous," said Jackson, who finished with six receptions for 130 yards, including a key 42-yard score at the end of the first half. "They were out here the whole game making a lot of noise and doing whatever they had to do to assist their team. I think that kept us energized to make more plays." With junior quarterback Steve Levy getting his second start of the season, Cal (8-4) featured a short passing attack and game MVP Lynch to hand the Cougars their fourth consecutive bowl defeat. "The end result is that we played good enough to lose by seven," BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "The disappointing aspect is it was a loss. The positive aspect is that we exhibited resiliency." The Cougars (6-6), who finished tied for second in the Mountain West Conference, made the game interesting behind quarterback John Beck, who established Las Vegas Bowl records for completions (35) and passing yards (352). After Cal took a 35-14 lead late in the third quarter, Beck rallied BYU with two of his three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. But his final pass was intercepted by Cal's Daymeion Hughes with 1:28 remaining. "They got us a couple of times with bubble pass plays," Cal defensive back Donnie McCleskey said about BYU's spread shotgun-based offense. " … But for the most part, once we got familiar with the stuff they ran, we did a good job against them."

California, which finished tied for fourth in the Pacific 10 Conference, controlled most of the first half, thanks to two touchdown runs by Lynch. But the Bears found themselves tied, 14-14, late in the half when BYU's Naufahu Tahi scored on a three-yard run with 38 seconds remaining in the second quarter. That set the stage for Jackson, who turned a short catch into a 42-yard touchdown to give Cal a 21-14 lead three seconds left before halftime. "I was getting anxious because I wanted the ball so badly," Jackson said. "We tried a couple of plays on that drive before the ball came to me. I turned out of my break and didn't feel anyone on me. Once I caught it, I just turned upfield and no one touched me." Jackson's touchdown gave Cal momentum into the second half and the Bears dominated the third quarter. Lynch reversed field and scored on a 35-yard run and Jackson made a diving catch for a 22-yard touchdown to give Cal a 21-point lead heading into the fourth. In the final quarter, Beck completed touchdown passes to Jonny Harline and Todd Watkins, but it wasn't enough. "I really thought that we were going to go down and score a touchdown on our final drive," Beck said. "We've been in two-minute drives before, but stuff happens. It didn't go our way this time."

Deseret Morning News: Loss Vegas: California 35, Brigham Young 28

Bears' speed kills Cougars in bowl game

By Jeff Call

LAS VEGAS — In a city known for fast-living, California had its vast array of fast athletes on display Thursday night in the Las Vegas Bowl.  Ultimately, that speed killed BYU as the Golden Bears ran past the slower, mistake-prone Cougars, 35-28, before a bowl-record crowd of 40,053 at Sam Boyd Stadium.  Cal sophomore running back Marshawn Lynch earned bowl MVP honors after rushing for 194 yards and three touchdowns. "Cal's running backs are exceptional," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "They have great athletes. They're fast and athletic."  Lynch praised his offensive line, which opened holes for him. "They put it out there, and I just ran with it," he said. "It wasn't me. I was just running behind the front five up there."  "We knew he was a good back," Cougar linebacker Cameron Jensen said of Lynch. "He was hard to bring down."   Freshman wide receiver DeShawn Jackson added a pair of touchdowns for the Bears, hauling in six passes for 120 yards, including a 42-yard catch-and-run just before halftime when he broke a few tackles and raced into the end zone. The play swung the momentum back in Cal's favor at intermission. The Cougars trailed by as many as 21 points, 35-14, in the second half before cutting the deficit to seven at 35-28 with 5:35 remaining in the game.  In the waning moments, BYU was driving for the potential game-winning touchdown when quarterback John Beck was picked off by Bear cornerback Daymeion Hughes with 1:28 left.  "Coming back is something we've been doing all year long," said Beck, who completed 35 of 53 passes for 352 yards — all were Las Vegas Bowl records. "On that final drive, I thought we were going to win it. But stuff happens. It didn't go our way."  The Cougars finished the season with a 6-6 record. They haven't won a bowl game in nine years.

Cougar running back Curtis Brown is dejected after Las Vegas Bowl loss. He rushed for only 28 yards on 12 carries.  BYU looked overmatched from the outset as Cal took the opening kickoff and promptly — not to mention effortlessly — marched 65 yards for a touchdown as Lynch scored on a 3-yard run.  The Cougars got on the scoreboard early in the second quarter on a 92-yard drive. BYU's offense started clicking, methodically moving the ball downfield, capped by a 19-yard touchdown pass from Beck to Curtis Brown, tying the score.   The Bears retook the lead on their next possession as Lynch scampered 23 yards for a touchdown — his second of the game.  Three plays after that, Beck was hit by Nu'u Tafisi in the backfield as he attempted a pass to tight end Jonny Harline. The ball fluttered in the air and was intercepted by Bear defensive back Harrison Smith at the BYU 43.  The Cougar defense forced a three-and-out by Cal, giving the BYU offense the ball back. During that ensuing drive, Beck threw a pass toward the sideline to Harline, who juggled the ball while he was stripped by Smith. The ball came loose and Harline recovered it before it went out of bounds. At first, the officials ruled the play a catch, but after a review, the call was reversed, forcing the Cougars to punt.   The two teams traded punts before BYU embarked on an 89-yard drive highlighted by a leaping, 52-yard catch by wide receiver Todd Watkins, who caught five passes for 93 yards in his final game as a Cougar. That long play set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Fahu Tahi that knotted the score at 14 with 38 seconds remaining.  Cal didn't waste any time responding, however, scoring in 27 seconds on a 42-yard TD pass from Steve Levy to Jackson to put the Bears ahead 21-14 at the half.  After stopping BYU on its first drive of the second half, Lynch struck again, scoring on a 35-yard run to lift Cal to a 28-14 advantage.

The Bears increased their lead on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Levy to Jackson that gave them a 21-point lead.  BYU didn't go away, however. The Cougars scored on a touchdown pass from Beck to Harline to cut the deficit to 35-21, then, on fourth-and-goal from the nine, Beck hit Watkins for a touchdown to make it 35-28.  "I felt they recovered just fine," Mendenhall said of his players' second-half rally. "They played like they've been taught to play and how they've been trained."  After Cal drove into BYU territory and missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt, Beck and the Cougars received one more chance to complete the comeback. But Beck was hit as he threw down field and Hughes cradled the ball.     Mendenhall credited the Bears' play and lamented his team's 12 penalties for 103 yards. Eleven of those penalties came in the first half. He added that he didn't emphasize special-teams enough during bowl preparation as Cal won the field-position battle.  "The end result is we played good enough to lose by seven," Mendenhall said. "The disappointing aspect is it was a loss. The positive aspect is that we exhibited resiliency. We know we could have won that game, and, again, we played good enough that we knew we could have beaten this team and lost by seven. Cal was a great measure for us."

COUGAR STATS: John Beck's interception in the second quarter against Cal was his first pick since the first quarter of the Air Force game. Beck had attempted 157 passes in 16 quarters during that stretch. Beck's 352 yards was his 11th 300-yard passing game in his career and the eighth in BYU history.  Nathan Meikle set a career high with 12 receptions for 93 yards against the Bears and had a 25-yard punt return nullified by a penalty. Meikle's 12 catches were the most by a BYU player this season.

Salt Lake Tribune: Cougars lose to California in Las Vegas heartbreak

California 35, BYU 28

By Patrick Kinahan

The Salt Lake Tribune

LAS VEGAS - Most of Brigham Young's football contingent was not disgusted with the team's performance in the Las Vegas Bowl.  It was the outcome that irked the Cougars. Even though California won 35-28, BYU had reason for optimism after the season ended Thursday. Coaches and players often play the what-if game, many times when it's nothing more than a false belief they should have won, but in case it's legitimate.  Not that it takes away the sting. To a large degree, the way BYU lost is more difficult to accept than if Cal had won easily.  "It hurts," said receiver Nate Meikle. "Our goal was not just to come to a bowl game. We've been working for this since December. It's about as bad as it gets in the world of athletics."  As well as the Bears played - and make no mistake, they deserved to win - BYU was right there with the Pac-10 team. It all boiled down to series of horrendous attempts at tackling and poor special teams play.    BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall sidestepped the tackling issue, deflecting the problem by praising Cal's elusiveness. But he had no qualms criticizing the miserable special teams effort.

"I think the most signficant factor that changed the outcome of the game is the special teams play," he said. "Cal's special teams out-executed ours." The difference was obvious right from the start. On the opening kickoff, Jared McLauglin barely got the ball off the ground before it dribbled out of bounds. Cal's three touchdown drives in the first half all started with great field position. Against BYU's defense, it was like handing the Bears a loaded gun. And when they pulled the

trigger, Brigham Young tight end Jonny Harline fumbles the ball out of bounds after a 10-yard reception. The Cougars later scored a touchdown on the drive. "It was everything we could do to contain them and to tackle them and pursue them all over the football field," Mendenhall said. "The end result was good enough to lose by seven."  BYU often got to running back Marshawn Lynch and receiver DeSean Jackson, but bringing them down was another story. Lynch gained 194 yards, averaging 8.1 yards a carry, and scored three touchdowns.

Lynch was named the game's MVP. Only a first-year freshman, Jackson had six receptions for 130 yards and two touchdowns. He had the game's biggest play, catching a 42-yard touchdown pass in the final seconds of the first half. Jackson eluded three BYU defenders to give Cal a 21-14 lead.  "He made some guys miss," said coach Jeff Tedford. "And anytime you can make a play like that in a two-minute drill, it gives you a little bit of momentum going in at halftime." Penalties also killed BYU. In the first half, the Cougars had 11 penalties for 93 yards. They finished with 12 penalties for 103 yards, including an illegal block on their final drive. Mendenhall took the blame, saying his team wasn't prepared well enough to start the game. He compared the problem to BYU's last game, when Utah jumped out to a 24-3 lead before winning in overtime.  "Any time there's that many penalties, that's on me," the first-year coach said. "That's a hard lesson to learn."

For the second consecutive game, the Cougars staged an impressive rally in the second half.Trailing 34-14 entering the fourth quarter, they responded with two touchdowns. BYU's offense was at its best in both drives, flawlessly executing in crucial situations. The 14-play, 96-yard scoring drive midway through the quarter was a thing of beauty. The Cougars converted twice on a fourth down, with the second ending in John Beck's 9-yard touchdown pass to Todd Watkins.

"We were never worried how far we were down at halftime or in the second half," Beck said. "Our team was very confident. "We've been in this situation before, been in enough close games before and once again we showed resiliency."

But they didn't show enough to win. After the defense stopped Cal in the final three minutes, BYU's possession ended in an interception. Beck, who passed for bowl-record 352 yards, got hit before throwing both of his interceptions.

"We fell short for a number of reasons, but I believe it was a solid beginning of what's to come for this program," Mendenhall said. "And I look forward to getting right back to it after Christmas."

Contra Costa Times: Bears win with style

By Jay Heater


LAS VEGAS - As the 2005 season slipped into history here in Sin City, Cal's football team sent its seniors away in style and also served notice that 2006 could be something special. The Bears' 35-28 win over a gritty BYU team at Sam Boyd Stadium was accomplished with a flair that should help springboard Jeff Tedford's young team into bigger and better things. Heading the highlight reel was Bears sophomore tailback Marshawn Lynch, who turned the heads of the 40,053 fans in attendance with a 194-yard rushing day that included a career-high three touchdowns. It was the first time in Cal history that a player rushed for three touchdowns in a bowl game. Lynch received the Most Valuable Player award for his effort.

"I didn't know I was going to have to lift weights today," said Lynch, as he carried the hefty MVP trophy out of the interview room. "I am going to give this to my mother (Delisa Lynch). These trophies always have meant more to her than they do to me." Led by an offensive line that constantly knocked the Cougars off the line of scrimmage, Lynch moved the pile in battering-ram style. Several times during the game, it appeared the two teams were involved in a slow-moving rugby scrum, a huddled mass that always moved in a positive direction for Cal. "It was just our offensive line," Lynch said of his huge day. "They just put it out there and I ran with it." Cal's coming-of-age party had other featured performers as well. Cal freshman wide receiver DeSean Jackson (6 catches, 130 yards) scored a pair of lightning-bolt type touchdowns that sucked the life out of a BYU defense that simply couldn't match Cal's athleticism.

Jackson's 42-yard touchdown catch with just three seconds remaining in the first half was a crushing blow to a Cougars' squad that had worked hard to knot the score at 14-14 just before intermission. BYU's momentum fizzled when Jackson split a pair of defenders and sprinted clean to the end zone for a 21-14 Cal halftime lead. "That was a big lift for us," Jackson said. "I came into this game wanting to turn it up a notch. I considered this game to be the start of my sophomore year. I was going to dedicate whatever I could do to this victory." In the third quarter, Jackson stuck a dagger into BYU with a tremendous diving catch in the back corner of the end zone. Jackson's 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Steve Levy gave the Bears a 35-14 lead and came a play after he turned a near-disastrous interception along the left sideline into a 24-yard gain that included a tour of the entire width of the field. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall didn't like what he was seeing. "We did everything we could do to contain them," Mendenhall said of his efforts to stop Lynch and Jackson. "We did everything we could do to tackle them, to pursue them all over the field. In the end, it resulted in a seven-point loss." Of course, Jackson couldn't have had a big day without the help of junior quarterback Steve Levy, who moved his record to 2-0 as a starter with a 16-of-23 for 228 yards outing that was efficient, and even more important, didn't produce a turnover. "I had a couple of balls that I underthrew early," Levy said. "But I settled in. All I did was lead the team and take care of the football." Defensively, Cal had many solid performers, including junior defensive end Nu'u Tafisi, who picked up a sack and also had two huge hits on BYU quarterback John Beck, one that produced an interception by Harrison Smith in the second quarter. Tafisi had plenty of help as Cal handed out an enormous amount of punishment. It was clear Cal was the more physical team. "We came into the game with the mentality that we just wanted to hit somebody," Tafisi said. "I think we had a different attitude because it was a bowl game." Despite some fine play by the Bears, BYU's spread offense pecked away, keeping the game interesting into the final minutes. With his team trailing 35-21, Mendenhall went for a fourth-and-10 play from Cal's 49-yard line with just under eight minutes remaining. Beck (35-of-53 for 352 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions) completed an 18-yard pass to wide receiver Matt Allen to keep the drive alive. That became critical when Beck found wide receiver Todd Watkins with a 6-yard touchdown pass with 5:35 remaining to close the Bears' lead to 35-28. Cal took the ball back at its 20-yard line with 5:35 in the game and set out to eat up the clock. After eight plays accounted for three plays and ran the clock down to the 3:10 mark, Cal had third-and-eight at the Cougars' 35. The Cougars stopped the clock at that point with their final time out.

Bears tailback Justin Forsett managed just two yards on the next play, setting up a fourth-and-6 from BYU's 33. Tedford called time out to consider his options, then sent out place-kicker Tom Schneider to attempt a 50-yard field goal. Schneider didn't kick the ball cleanly and it landed well short, giving the Cougars another opportunity with a first down at the 33 with 2:20 left. But that chance was wiped out when Cal sophomore defensive end Phillip Mbakogu hit Beck just as he was releasing his pass, the ball floating to Cal cornerback Daymeion Hughes, who made the interception with 1:28 remaining. The Bears then ran out the clock.

Sports Illustrated Bowl Blog

Las Vegas rolls out red carpet for best game in years's Arash Markazi will be on the road for the next two weeks, hitting up five bowl games -- the Las Vegas, Insight, Holiday, Fiesta and Rose -- and chronicling his journey in a daily Bowl Blog. His first stop was in Sin City for Cal-BYU on Thursday night.

There's something about being in Las Vegas for the holidays that just isn't right. I'm not sure whether it's the constant sound of ringing slot machines, the scantily clad cocktail waitresses offering up free booze or the sleazy dudes lining the streets passing out smut flyers. All I know is it just doesn't fit, even if the casinos are piping in Christmas carols. Despite lacking the holiday charm of Rockefeller Center or the Magnificent Mile, Sin City has something New York and Chicago don't have -- a bowl game, and this year's matchup between BYU and Cal was probably the best they've had in years. It was also the first stop in my journey to five bowls in two weeks. I arrived in Vegas around noon on Thursday without a place to stay knowing that in a city built around hotels, I'd be able to find a place fairly easily. I ended up lucking out when an old friend was gracious enough to hook me up with a room at the Bellagio for a couple of nights at the last minute. After all, what's a trip to Vegas without a comp here and there? The room wasn't exactly the "Rain Man Suite" but at a nightly rate of "nothing" I wasn't about to complain about the canopy-covered king-size bed and the Jacuzzi in the bathroom.

Some of my friends at Cal insisted I stay at the Hard Rock Hotel, where the team, band and most of the school's fans were headquartered, but there were a couple of things wrong with that proposed plan. First, I have no problem with Cal fans, but there's nothing worse than walking into a casino and being surrounded by a horde of super fans, frat dudes and old alums wearing their school's colors. That was basically the blue-and-gold scene at the Hard Rock this week. Second, the Hard Rock is about two miles from the Strip, which means you have to cab it to any other hotel unless you want to try to navigate your way there on foot after a few Dewar's on the rocks. No thank you. Then again, that's not nearly as bad as the Golden Nugget, where BYU and its fans were headquartered. That place is located downtown, five miles from the Strip, and its clientele is older than cash. Need proof? Its next headline act is Regis and Joy Philbin "singing songs from the American classics" on Jan. 20. Seriously. But as any cabbie in the city will tell you, there's no worse drive in Vegas than the one from the Strip to Sam Boyd Stadium -- which is practically in Henderson -- on gameday. Although UNLV and the Thomas & Mack Center are within walking distance from some hotels, Sam Boyd, site of the Las Vegas Bowl, is a good 10 miles away and a half-hour drive with traffic. "I spent $40 getting a cab over here from the Mirage," said one late-arriving reporter. "I thought the stadium was on campus." Nope, the stadium is literally in the middle of nowhere, with only the desert and a few barren mountains visible from the press box.

Its odd location notwithstanding, there's a certain charm about the venue formally known as the Silver Bowl. The home and visiting locker rooms are located in two small brick buildings -- which are not connected to the horseshoe-shaped stadium -- and have grass front yards and walkways that lead to the field. The only thing missing is a white picket fence. It's actually pretty cute. Not as cute as the grade schoolers who line the walkways before the game and give the players high-fives as they walk onto the field, but cute nonetheless.

Notes on a Scorecard

• Adam Duritz from Counting Crows has to be the best celebrity college fan, beating out Ashley Judd and Nick Lachey for the prestigious honor. Duritz was on the field two hours before kickoff, chilling on the bench with Cal offensive lineman Mike Tepper and nervously pacing the sideline as the team warmed up. He stood around the 50-yard line, within earshot of coach Jeff Tedford for much of the game. "I wouldn't miss a game like this," said Duritz, who doesn't miss much of what Cal does as he also makes time to attend football practices as well as men's and women's basketball games.

• You know you are at the Vegas Bowl when two feather-headed showgirls accompany the officials to midfield for the coin toss and legendary lounge lizard Clint Holmes croons both God Bless America and The Star-Spangled Banner back-to-back, finishing off the latter with "Don't forget to tip your waiters and waitresses. Good night everybody!" OK, I made that last part up, but it would have fit the mood perfectly.

• The crowd of 40,053 was the first sellout in the Las Vegas Bowl's 14-year history and a big increase from last season, when 27,784 watched Wyoming beat UCLA, 24-21. Yeah, that's right, 27,784 for a bowl game. No wonder the NCAA was ready to revoke the bowl's certification before organizers lucked into a Cal-BYU matchup that attracted more Mormons and liberals than the Strip could handle.

• Just wondering, but are we required to say "ESPNU signature anchor" every time we say Mike Hall's name? The former Dream Job winner was introduced that way every time he spoke at the Las Vegas Bowl luncheon Wednesday. Hall was also promoting a one-hour all-access show about the Vegas Bowl that will air on ESPNU at 8 p.m. EST on Dec. 31, which raises a pressing question: Why would anyone want to watch a show about the Las Vegas Bowl nine days after the game and four hours before New Year's?

• Pioneer PureVision might not roll off your tongue like Tostitos, FedEx or Nokia, but give the electronics giant credit. It supplied the press box with a couple of sweet HDTV big screens that attracted a crowd before and after the game. For the record, ESPN sideline reporter Alex Flanagan looks just as amazing in person as she does on TV.

• Although bowl organizers provided participating players with a gift bag that included an iPod Nano and an Oakley watch, they also stuck them with tickets to the Blue Man Group at the Venetian Hotel on Monday night, a show they were basically required to attend as part of the welcome reception. Luckily they were spared from having to watch Carrot Top at the MGM Grand as well.

• No matter how big the Las Vegas Bowl gets -- and I seriously doubt it will get bigger than this -- I will always remember Sam Boyd Stadium as the birthplace of the XFL in 2001, when the Las Vegas Outlaws beat the New York/New Jersey Hitmen as WWE owner Vince McMahon ushered in a football revolution that would grip the sports world for all of three months. My favorite XFL moment actually came this summer when I asked then-Cowboys kicker Jose Cortez if he ever got his championship ring for being the kicker of the first and only XFL champion, the Los Angeles Xtreme. "I would have," he said. "But they wanted me to pay for it."

Contra Costa Times: Bears' '06 goal: national title


By Jay Heater

LAS VEGAS - Although Cal's football players were looking forward to celebrating on the Strip after their 35-28 victory over Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl on Thursday, they have a different destination in mind for next season. ``I think we will be competing for a national championship,'' said junior quarterback Steve Levy, who threw two touchdown passes against the Cougars. Levy's opinion was shared by most of the Bears, who talked about how they endured some rough times this season on their way to an 8-4 record. Included were close losses to UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon. ``We're just going to continue to get better,'' said tailback Marshawn Lynch, who was the game's most valuable player after gaining 194 yards rushing and scoring three touchdowns. ``Some teams have to go through what we went through this season. But I think we went through it and came out like champions.'' With playmakers like Lynch and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who caught two touchdown passes against BYU, Cal is bound to get some serious attention as it heads into 2006. ``We have a lot of ability,'' Jackson said. ``And we want to get back into the national rankings.''

Cal senior offensive linemen Ryan O'Callaghan, Aaron Merz and Marvin Philip played in their final game. O'Callaghan played despite a sprained ankle that kept him out of practice all week. ``I can't put into words what these guys have meant to the program,'' Coach Jeff Tedford said. Philip walked toward Cal's team bus after the game saying, ``I'm done. I'm done. I'm done.''

• Tedford announced the signing of El Camino Community College center Mark Gray and Mt. San Antonio College defensive end Rulon Davis. Gray is a 6-foot-2, 280-pounder who was named All-California by Davis (6-5, 275) was rated the 21st-best junior college recruit in the nation by Both will enroll at Cal in January.

• Lynch rushed for 1,244 yards this season, third-best in Cal history. He recorded his seventh 100-yard rushing game against BYU. Cal narrowly missed having two 1,000-yard rushers. Sophomore Justin Forsett gained 37 yards Thursday to finish with 999.

SF Chronicle: Forsett comes up a yard short of a grand season


Bruce Adams, Chronicle Staff Writer

Las Vegas -- Near the end of Cal's win in the Las Vegas Bowl, tailback Marshawn Lynch began pestering coach Jeff Tedford. The Bears were running the clock out, with quarterback Steve Levy kneeling with the ball. Lynch wanted to see his backup, Justin Forsett, carry the ball. Tedford said he thought the win was more important. And as a result Forsett finished the game with 37 yards -- one yard short of achieving a 1,000-yard season. "It's a little disappointing," Forsett said. "But my team goals go way beyond my individual goals." As for the support from Lynch, who crested the 1,000-yard season mark in the Big Game, Forsett said, "We're like brothers." Lynch, meanwhile, was low key in accepting the trophy as the game's Most Valuable Player. "I'll give it to my mom," he said. "I feel they (his trophies) mean a lot more to her than they do to me." And as for his own 194-yard rushing performance, he gave all credit to the offensive line. "I was just running behind the front five," he said.

Levy souvenir: At the end of the game, Levy ran off the field with the ball in his hands. Outside the locker room he was mobbed by three high school teammates from Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey. He gave one of them the ball and told him to find his mother, Angela, and give it to her.

Record crowd: Attendance was announced at 40,053, easily the largest crowd ever at a Las Vegas Bowl. The previous high was 27,784 set last year when Wyoming beat UCLA. Overall, it was the third largest crowd ever at Sam Boy Stadium, home to UNLV.

Mendenall's perspective: BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall was proud of his team's second-half comeback, overcoming a 21-point deficit to still be a threat in the closing minutes. "The end result is we played good enough to lose by seven," he said. "The disappointing aspect is it was a loss. The positive aspect is that we exhibited resiliency."

JC transfers: Two junior college transfers have signed letters of intent to play at Cal -- defensive end Rulon David, from Mt. San Antonio College, and center Mark Gray, from El Camino Community College. Both will begin classes in January and be eligible to join the team at spring practice. High school recruits can sign letters of intent until Feb. 1.

Briefly: Lynch's season rushing total of 1,244 is third best in Cal history. ... Rover Donnie McCleskey finishes his career with 258 tackles, eighth on the Bears' all-time list. ... Cal's 96-yard scoring drive in the third quarter was the longest of the season.

Oakland Tribune: Cal Signs Two Players

NEWEST BEARS: Before the game, Cal announced two junior college national letter-of-intent signees in center Mark Gray and defensive end Rulon Davis. Both will enter Cal in January. The 6-foot-2, 280-pound Gray, an All-State community college selection at El Camino, will have two years of eligibility left. The 6-5, 275-pound Davis, a military veteran, played at Mt. San Antonio his freshman year but sat out this season. Thus he will have three years of eligibility remaining.

High school players can begin signing national letters Feb.1.


Oakland Tribune: Forsett falls yard short of 1,000

By Dave Newhouse, STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — One more yard. That's all Justin Forsett needed to join Cal teammate Marshawn Lynch as a 1,000-yard rusher this season. But Forsett rushed for 37 yards in Thursday's Las Vegas Bowl to finish the season with 999 yards.  "It's a little disappointing," he said, "but my team goals are more important than my individual goals. If it's 1,000 yards or winning a bowl game, I'll take a bowl win any time." Forsett had only eight carries for a 4.6 per-carry average. Coach Jeff Tedford said he expected a physical battle with BYU's defense and felt the more powerful Lynch would be better-suited for that kind of competition. Tedford said that with the clock winding down on Cal's 35-28 victory, Lynch approached him about giving Forsett another carry to reach 1,000. Tedford replied that he couldn't take that chance, and so quarterback Steve Levy kneeled to run out the clock. "But that's the kind of guy Marshawn is," Tedford said of Lynch, who finished the year with 1,246 rushing yards.

BYU'S PERSPECTIVE: Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall spoke with admiration about Lynch and DeSean Jackson, the two Cal players who hurt his team the most. "They're fast, they're athletic, they're talented, and they're confident," he said. "It was everything we could do to try to contain them." But Mendenhall felt the difference in the desert was Cal's special teams. "What changed the game was special teams," he said. "Cal's special teams out-executed ours ... and that's on me. I didn't emphasize special teams enough." Tedford offered special praise for punter-kickoff man David Lonie, who averaged 41.3 yards a punt, including three inside the 10. And Lonie's kickoffs were so deep, only one was returned.

Las Vegas Sun: On the importance of the Cougars' following, especially at Sam Boyd Stadium

Marshawn, Marshawn, Marshawn!  Wasn't that what Jan Brady used to say every time somebody fawned over her older sister in those "Brady Bunch" reruns? Well, close enough. The Brigham Young defense thought it was close enough to Marshawn Lynch, Cal's 215-pound sophomore battering ram, during Thursday night's Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. But that was only half the battle. The other half was tackling him, and the Cougars couldn't do it. Lynch rushed for 194 yards on 24 carries and scored three touchdowns, two coming on tackle-shredding runs of 23 and 35 yards, to power the Golden Bears to a 35-28 victory over the not-quite-as-golden Cougars before a Las Vegas Bowl-record crowd of 40,053. But outside of the Lynch household and the college towns of Provo and Berkeley and their concentric circles, none of that probably matters a whole heck of a lot. What does/should matter to local fans is that it took two out-of-state teams to fill Sam Boyd Stadium to its modest 40,000-seat capacity. The place was absolutely packed, which is only the sixth time in my 18 years driving out here that I've been able to report that. But once was for a U2 concert and once was for a Supercross motorcycle race, and those don't really count because that's not the purpose for which the stadium was built. That, of course, was football, or whatever you call the game that UNLV tries so hard to play on Saturdays.

So if history has proven anything, it's that you can't have a football sellout around these parts without Wisconsin or BYU. The only other times I had to leave home three hours early so I wouldn't miss the press box meal were the 2002 and 1996 Wisconsin-UNLV games -- when 42,075 and 40,091, respectively, poured through the turnstiles and ate all of the bratwurst -- and the 1996 Western Athletic Conference championship game, when 41,238 Wyoming and BYU fans drank all of the Budweiser and 7-Up. If everybody in the stadium that morning had burped in unison, they would have heard it in Tibet. If you were keeping score, it would have been Budweiser 56, The Uncola 14. Nobody can drink beer like a Wyoming fan, even if he's outnumbered 3-1.

That was about the same margin by which the BYU fans outnumbered Cal's on Thursday. So while the founding fathers thought it a good idea to separate church and state, church and private school are another matter, at least when you've got football tickets to sell. That's why Mountain West fans should embrace the Cougars' faithful (and that's putting it literally) rather than poke fun at its holier-than-thou attitude and tailgate party sponsored by O'Doul's. I can't believe I just said that. I'll never be able to pass "Go" in Fort Collins again. I won't be able to collect $200 in Albuquerque. More importantly, I won't be able to use my "Get Out of Jail Free" card in Laramie as I'm sure it already has been revoked. But watching those seats fill up Saturday night, even the ones in the upper crust of the pie sections in the corners of the end zone, I had an epiphany. It suddenly became more obvious than the nose tackle in BYU quarterback John Beck's face. That regardless of how many running backs Utah sends to the NFL, or minor bowl games that Colorado State wins, or how often former New Mexico Lobo Brian Urlacher is romantically linked with one of the Hilton sisters, that the flagship program of the Mountain West was, is and forever will be the one with the big "Y" on its helmets. Not that there's anything wrong with that. BYU is to the Mountain West what Notre Dame is to everybody else, with the exception that Cougars fans spend a little more time in church on Sunday. You either love 'em or hate 'em. Sometimes at the same time. Take Tina Kunzer-Murphy, the Las Vegas Bowl executive director. As predicted, BYU fans filled the stadium Thursday, getting the bowl accreditation watchdogs and critics who chided her for choosing the 6-5 Cougars instead of conference-champion TCU off her back. So she loves BYU. But then she had to hire a helicopter to get an aerial shot of the sold-out stadium for posterity's sake, and that will cost ESPN, which owns the game, some petty cash. So she loves BYU not. Actually, you can't blame Kunzer-Murphy for spending some of Stuart Scott's Christmas bonus to get that rarest of photographs because who knows when it might happen again? Actually, I think I know the answer. The next time BYU goes 6-5, it will probably be back. And so will its fans.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

SF Chronicle: A legend is born -- and his name is Levy

Scott Ostler

Las Vegas, Nev. -- When it comes to entertaining, heroic, improbable, emergency fill-ins, you've got a short list. There's Rudolph, of course. And you've got Ted Striker, the troubled dude in the movie "Airplane" who lands the big jet when the two pilots fall ill. Add to that list Steve Levy, instant legend.  Levy, Cal's who-dat quarterback, produced his second huge game in his second start, leading the way to a 35-28 win over BYU in Thursday night's Las Vegas Bowl.  If this is all there is to Levy's college quarterbacking career -- he's a junior but the job will be up for grabs next season -- it's been a good one.  Beat Stanford in the Big Game, going long? Check.  Beat BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, going long? Check.  Wherever great Cal quarterbacks of the ages meet to hoist a beverage and relive the memories, be the place real or mythical, Levy now has a chair with his name on it. "Two-game Steve," they might call him, but they'll say it with respect.

Winning two big games with a guy like Levy at quarterback is like winning the Indy 500 in your family minivan.  This was the perfect spot for a choke job, a return to reality for Levy after that big Big Game. But Levy once again seemed oblivious to the pressure.  Coach Jeff Tedford has been saying he's not sure if Levy is cool because he hasn't fully grasped the gravity of the situation, or because he's just that confident.  On Wednesday, Tedford said, maybe hopefully, "I'm leaning toward confident."  Levy says he's been amped up for the last three weeks, telling his teammates, "Let's go, let's go!"  Three of Levy's high school teammates from New Jersey were at the game.

"He phoned us when he found out he'd be starting (against Stanford)," Matt Handy said. "He was freakin' out! He was freakin' out!"  Like, scared freakin' out?  "No!' Handy said, "He was ecstatic!"  "I'm just excited all the time," Levy said.

And, apparently, ready to roll. Levy way-underthrew his first long pass; on his second long try, the ball slipped in his hand and he underthrew again. But his third bomb, just before halftime, was a dead-on 42-yard strike to DeSean Jackson in the corner of the end zone, good for a 21-14 halftime lead.  Levy, like Rudolph and Striker, had considerable help from a supporting cast.  "It's all about the team," Levy said. "I didn't do anything special tonight. I just put the ball in our athletes' hands and let 'em fly." In fact it was the dazzling speed of running back Marshawn Lynch and wideout Jackson that prevented BYU from finding, attacking and destroying what figured to be Cal's weak spot -- Levy.  Lynch was the MVP, running for 199 yards and three touchdowns. He set the tone with a 22-yard gain on a swing pass on the first play of the game, and simply scared the Cougars to death.  This might not have been a storybook season for Cal, but they took a mediocre season and tacked on a storybook ending.  Thursday's game capped an interesting week, which started with several of the team's players taking finals in a ballroom of the Hard Rock Hotel.

S'cuse me, could you ask 'em to turn down Hendrix so I can concentrate on my molecular biology?  The Bears ran the standard Vegas gauntlet of slot machines, Elvis impersonators and chorus girls, and finally got to the entertainment -- a football game. Cal was favored by a touchdown over the 6-5 Cougars, but the equalizer figured to be the quarterbacks.  BYU featured junior John Beck, a classic rifle-armed, swift-footed quarterback running amok in a legendary passing system. Man, would this guy look good in a 49ers or Raiders uniform. Thursday he completed 35-of-53 passes for 352 yards.   Cal featured Levy, who looks like what he is, a quarterback who became a fullback who was converted back to quarterback as an emergency quick-fix.  For BYU, Job One was rattling Levy, upsetting what's left of the dangerous offense and sending Cal to its second straight bowl humiliation.  Levy said he knew BYU would be coming, and, "They had a lot of shots at me. I got rocked pretty hard early three or four times."  But he threw for 228 yards, hitting 16-of-23 passes, and two touchdowns.  It's been a crazy month for the kid who happened to be standing there when Tedford ran out of quarterbacks and started looking, saying or thinking, "Anybody? Anybody?"  Before Thursday night Levy probably would have been a longshot to win the starting job next season, when he'll be a senior. Just not enough true quarterback pedigree for the sophisticated Cal system.  But this game might have changed that picture.  Maybe what goes on in Las Vegas doesn't always stay in Las Vegas.  It's not like this guy is operating in a real world anyway.