BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- Jeff Tedford chuckled to himself this summer whenever somebody praised the California coach for bravely choosing to open the Golden Bears' season against mighty Tennessee. That's because Tedford actually didn't choose the path of greatest resistance: This home-and-home series already was on Cal's schedule when he took the job in 2002. If Tedford really had a choice, his club would take the field Saturday at Memorial Stadium with a much lower degree of difficulty. "It's high-risk, and I don't know that there's that much of a reward," Tedford said. "I think the risk probably outweighs it, because it's still a long season there ahead of you. It's a definitely a different approach, playing a team like Tennessee who is a traditional top-10 team. It really tests you right out of the gate."
But there's no getting out of this test for the No. 12 Bears, who flunked the same exam last year in Knoxville with a 35-18 loss. Facing the 15th-ranked Volunteers in Berkeley should help, but the game's high stakes and national audience will magnify everything that happens, good or bad. Tedford's debut with Cal five years ago was a perfect example of his ideal beginning. That 70-22 victory over a miserable Baylor squad began with a trick touchdown pass and ended with everybody talking about the new-look Golden Bears. Even an easy victory over Sacramento State two years ago was more to Tedford's liking -- though quarterback Nate Longshore's season ended with an injury. "If we played a different team, we'd get a little more confidence right off the bat," offensive lineman Mike Tepper said. "But it's not a bad thing. It gives us a good chance to see where we line up against other teams from across the nation." Tedford has built a consistent winner during his first five seasons at Cal, yet the Bears still are a second-tier power. Thanks to a few untimely losses, Cal has been kept out of the upper echelon of national powers, where Southern California is the only West Coast occupant.
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