By Jon Wilner
Tuesday, August 28th, 2007 at 4:22 pm in Pac 10, USC, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Washington, UCLA. I’m on record (in the Mercury News) picking Cal to reach the Rose Bowl, but I don’t think the Bears will beat USC or go 11-1. Instead, I envision the top-ranked Trojans jumping into the BCS title game, leaving the Rose Bowl with a slot available and first pick of all the BCS-eligible teams. You can bet the college savings fund that the Graddaddy will gobble up Cal, match the Bears against the Big Ten champ — how about Cal vs. Michigan or Penn State? — and enjoy one of the toughest tickets in Rose Bowl history. Picking Cal to make the Rose Bowl as an at-large team means I think the Bears will win at least 10 games. It’s just that they might not be the 10 games you’d expect them to win. Somewhere along the way, Cal will have an unexpected stumble….
SEPT 1: VS. TENNESSEE
ANALYSIS: Was anyone else surprised to see Cal as a 5.5-point favorite? (I figured two or three for the home field and that would be it.) The Vols will come at Cal’s rebuilt defensive line with two tight ends and 225-pound back Arian Foster. I don’t expect the Bears to hold up very well, but the Vols won’t be sharp enough offensively to take consistent advantage. And make no mistake: Nate Longshore, DeSean Jackson, Justin Forsett and Co. will score on Tennessee’s retooled defense.
PREDICTION: Cal (bonus score prediction: 31-23)
CAL RECORD: 1-0
SEPT. 8: AT COLORADO STATE
ANALYSIS: Obviously, a potential letdown game for the Bears whether they beat Tennessee or not. But it’s also something of a letdown game for CSU, coming after its opener against hated Colorado. Cal should have enough talent to win with less than its best effort, but I wouldn’t be shocked if CSU — which has 18 returning starters — pulled the upset.
CAL RECORD: 2-0
SEPT. 15: VS. LOUISIANA TECH
ANALYSIS: Don’t laugh, but this is an important game for the Bears — important in that they take care of business early and pull their starters ASAP to avoid injury and rest up for the conference season. It will also be a big game for Cal’s backup QB (Kevin Riley at this point), because chances are, they’ll need the second stringer to take a few meaningful snaps somewhere down the line.
CAL RECORD: 3-0
SEPT. 22: VS. ARIZONA
ANALYSIS: Cats should be in good shape — possibly even undefeated — entering this one, and they have the defense to give Cal some trouble (as they did last year in Tucson). But by this point, the Bears’ rebuilt defensive line should be rounding into form, and there’s enough talent at linebacker and defensive back to handle Arizona’s spread offense. Bears have outscored Az 122-55 in Berkeley during the Tedford era, although this one could be fairly close.
CAL RECORD: 4-0
SEPT. 29: AT OREGON
ANALYSIS: Here we go … the heart of Cal’s schedule: five big games in seven weeks that will determine everything. Bears haven’t won in Eugene since 1987, although the two games there under Tedford have been close (21-17 and 27-20). Oregon should be well rested coming off a date with Stanford. Expect a close game that will come down to which quarterback makes the big play. In that situation, I like Longshore over Dennis Dixon.
CAL RECORD: 5-0
OCT. 6: BYE
ANALYSIS: Comes at a good spot for the Bears because the Oregon game (win or lose) will require some recovery time.
OCT. 13: VS OREGON STATE
ANALYSIS: Dangerous game for Cal — a very, very dangerous game. If Oregon State had an experience quarterback, I’d be picking the Beavers second in the conference; they have everything else, assuming WR Sammie Stroughter returns from his leave of absence. And by this time, OSU should be getting decent play from its starting QB (probably Sean Canfield). If you think Cal will lose a game that it “shouldn’t” — a home game in which it’s heavily favored — then this one is it. With a top-10 ranking and undefeated record, the Bears just might take OSU a little lightly. And don’t forget, the Beavers have won their last two in Berkeley.
PREDICTION: Oregon State
CAL RECORD: 5-1
OCT. 20: AT UCLA
ANALYSIS: A game some Cal fans have probably IDed as the first loss, and for good reason: UCLA has 20 returning starters and is considered a challenger for the league title. Plus, the Bruins will be coming off a bye. But I like Cal for two reasons: It’s a coaching mismatch, and all those Bears from Southern California will want to put on a good show for their friends and family. Looked for locked-in performances from Longshore and Jackson especially.
CAL RECORD: 6-1
OCT. 27: AT ARIZONA STATE
ANALYSIS: For the second consecutive week, Cal plays a road game against a team coming off a bye. But Cal’s first-class offense should have its way against the skittish ASU defense. (Tedford is 4-0 vs. ASU; total score: 182-82.) Even though this isn’t Dirk Koetter’s team, these are largely Dirk Koetter’s players, and Dennis Erickson isn’t that good a coach.
CAL RECORD: 7-1
NOV. 3: WASHINGTON STATE
ANALYSIS: The only break in Cal’s pressure-packed mid-season run. The Bears would be wise to be as efficient as possible and get out of this game healthy and rested.
CAL RECORD: 8-1
NOV. 10: VS. USC
ANALYSIS: Could well be Cal’s biggest game in half a century, with the Pac-10 title, Rose Bowl and BCS all in the balance. We know the Trojans thrive in big games, but how will Cal react? I see the same problem as last year: Longshore, under constant assault from the nation’s best defense, fails to find his rhythm and the offense sputters. Bottom line: I’m not picking the Bears to beat USC in a big game until the Bears prove they can beat USC in a big game.
CAL RECORD: 8-2
NOV. 17: AT WASHINGTON
ANALYSIS: Emotionally, this will be Cal’s most difficult game of the season, coming, as it does, after USC and against a second-rate team. Plus, you know it’ll be 47 degrees with a steady rain in Husky Stadium. I’d expect the Bears to struggle for three quarters, then make enough plays to survive.
CAL RECORD: 9-2
NOV. 24: BYE
ANALYSIS: Like Cal needs extra time to get ready for ….
DEC. 1: AT STANFORD
ANALYSIS: The schedule favors Cal, which has an extra week to prepare for Stanford while the Cardinal must deal with Notre Dame on Thanksgiving weekend. And even though Cal has no chance to lose, there could be some intrigue. If a Rose Bowl bid hinges on Cal’s position in the final BCS standings, then Tedford could be forced to run up the score.
CAL RECORD: 10-2