Monday, August 27, 2007

Charlotte Observer: Cal awaits Vols, redemption

Tennessee ruined Cal's title hopes last season; now, game in Berkeley


A year ago, Cal ventured to Knoxville, Tenn., to kick-start a football season of promise. The Bears collectively gulped when they had to inhale the heat and humidity, and to comprehend just how rabid 102,038 orange-clad fanatics packed into Neyland Stadium can be. By the time it was 35-0 in a game that finished 35-18 for the Volunteers, Cal's national championship picture had been hopelessly smeared. Bears coach Jeff Tedford has maintained this offseason that it took the rest of the country a full two months to recognize the Bears again as something more than just a bunch best known for receiving a Rocky Top throttling. Now Cal braces for Tennessee again, only this opener will be Saturday in Berkeley. "It's not about revenge," Tedford said. "It's about redemption." It's still very much about the Bowl Championship Series big picture. Cal tied for a Pac-10 title last fall for the first time since the famed 1975 team, but the Bears wound up back in the Holiday Bowl. After Cal trounced Texas A&M 45-10 -- its biggest bowl rout ever -- to finish 10-3, star receiver DeSean Jackson proclaimed his crew as legitimate BCS contenders in 2007.

"I still believe that," he said. "We can be that good." To be sure, he's plenty good. It's a short list when one ponders the most dazzling, effective players in the country. Tedford says so, and Cal is touting the junior from Long Beach as a Heisman Trophy candidate. That Jackson is in Cal colors is testament to the Tedford touch. Jackson grew up in Southern Cal country, and the Trojans pride themselves in securing every five-star recruit in the land. They didn't get this one. Jackson has been one of Tedford's marquee finds, and the recruits keep pouring in for a program that is in the midst of its best run since the storied Pappy Waldorf days of the 1940s and '50s. "I came to Cal for the opportunity and because of coach Tedford," Jackson said.


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