Wednesday, September 05, 2007

San Jose Mercury News: The road is paved golden for Golden Bears

Ann Killion

Now it's all downhill until the USC game, right?  Cal is over the hump, beating big dog Tennessee on Saturday, moving up to No. 10 in the rankings on Tuesday and proving to be the most put-together and exciting sports team in the Bay Area (and that includes all our teams and recent seasons). So the Bears should be 9-0 when the evil Trojans come to town on Nov. 10, right? Right, Jeff Tedford?  "We cover that every week in practice," the coach said Tuesday, with a grimace. "That they've really got to temper what they hear, about `great job, great job, great job.' "  The high fives are being handed out in Sproul Plaza. The congratulatory e-mails have swamped Tedford's inbox. The Cal community has good reason to be excited. The team was dazzling in its opener against Tennessee, showing toughness and flash and phenomenal team speed. DeSean Jackson - who already impressed Heisman Trophy voters with that 77-yard punt return - has gotten almost as much ESPN air time so far this month as Michael Vick got last month.

"I've seen the highlight a lot," said senior receiver Robert Jordan, no slouch himself. "And I'm going to go look at it in the film room again right now. He wasn't even running as fast as he can." The Bears have tons of weapons and loads of experience. In Nate Longshore, they have a quarterback who has matured and looks comfortable. They have one heck of a good coach who is back to calling the plays. In a week of morale-shaking disasters at legendary programs like Michigan, Notre Dame and Florida State, the Bears are confident - finally winning the high-profile game that had eluded them.  What's not to get giddy about after Week 1?  Fortunately for Tedford, his team also has some perspective. Within moments after the Bears had secured their 45-31 victory over the Volunteers, Tedford handed out a warning: "Enjoy the night and tomorrow wake up with Colorado State on your mind," he told his players.

That's the Colorado State Rams. Not the USC Trojans. No looking ahead. "We made that mistake last year," Jordan said. "In the Arizona game." You Old Blues might remember that, much as you'd like to block it out. Having recovered from the Tennessee opening debacle, Cal had climbed all the way to No. 8 in the rankings and the Bears were looking forward to a big showdown for the Pac-10 title with USC. One little problem. Before the big showdown the Bears had a game against Arizona. And they lost to the unranked Wildcats 24-20. "We won't let that happen again," Jordan said. "That was a big letdown for us." Though last year's Tennessee loss was hyped as the point where the season went wrong - because of the way the Bears were shellacked in Knoxville - the Arizona loss provided a much bigger lesson: Forget about USC until it's USC week. Focus on the opponent at hand, whether it's Colorado State, Arizona or Bellarmine. And ignore your ecstatic classmates. "We don't listen," Jordan said. "We keep it in house and we know what it takes."

But the high expectations and celebratory atmosphere keep Tedford on edge, even after winning a high-profile game he described as "a heavyweight fight." Last week Tedford said that he was a wreck before every game and that he got a knot in his stomach. He still has it, for Colorado State. Is there any situation that would ease the knot? "I don't know," Tedford said. "I've never not had it." So Tedford will be popping the Tums while trying to keep his team contained in a week-to-week bubble. But with a team that looks this good - in a market that has been short on good-looking teams lately - that's going to be a challenge.


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