Monday, October 08, 2007

Contra Costa Times: Don't tell Tedford, but Cal's ranked No. 2

Here is the link.


First of all, pipe down.  Yes, we're all excited. The new Associated Press poll was released Sunday, with California's football team ranked No. 2. Only LSU is ranked higher, and LSU darn near got beat at home Saturday night. A bounce of the ball here, a few ticks of the clock there, and ...  Quiet, people! Quiet!  We're getting ahead of ourselves here. As it is, this is as high as Cal has been ranked since Oct. 16, 1951, when the Golden Bears were No. 1. Almost as amazing as this turn of events is how quickly it has happened. A lot has gone Cal's way in the past six weeks. Ranked 12th coming into the season, the Bears have won all five of their games while nine of the 11 teams once ranked ahead of them have lost at least once.

The Bears had a terrific night Saturday without putting on a uniform. First, Stanford played the game of its (or any) lifetime, beating reigning No. 2 USC in Los Angeles. Inasmuch as a) USC was riding a 35-game home win streak, b) Stanford was a 41-point underdog and c) Tim Donaghy wasn't part of the officiating crew, it pretty much defied everything any of us thought we knew about college football. Then came the LSU-Florida game, when Cal came within 69 seconds of becoming the default No. 1, and ... Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  Here's the thing: Cal coach Jeff Tedford would rather wear red Capri pants and white suspenders to a boosters function than discuss this week's poll, the BCS, the national championship and/or anything that hasn't  happened since Harry Truman was President. If he hears us talking like this, the party's over. Seriously. He'll clear the stadium and have Cal play its final seven games in seclusion.

In fairness, his aversion to all things peripheral is rooted in common sense. There is, he points out, no material payoff for a sweet October ranking. Take 1951. The Bears were voted No. 1 after a 42-35 win at Washington. The next week they lost at home to USC. They finished the season 8-2, ranked No. 12. There was no bowl invitation that year. Probably no Christmas bonus for coach Pappy Waldorf, either.  It's all a matter of perspective. On one hand, national rankings are a relatively novel concept at Cal. When Tedford arrived in 2002, Cal had played 60 consecutive games as an unranked team. On the other hand, being in the Top 25 is a way of life for a guy like running back Justin Forsett. Since he arrived in 2004, Cal has been ranked going into 39 of its 42 games.  There have been times during those 42 games when it seemed Cal was headed for something magical (Old Blue-speak for "Rose Bowl"). In '04, Cal ascended from No. 8 to No. 4 with seven straight wins to close out its regular season. But in a bit BCS skullduggery (yet another reason Tedford prefers not to address that which he cannot control), Texas snagged a Rose Bowl invite, while Cal was shunted off to the Holiday Bowl.

Last season, the Bears were 8-1 and looking good for a BCS game (if they could beat USC in Los Angeles), or the Rose Bowl (if they lost to USC, and USC was siphoned off for the BCS title game). But Cal lost at Arizona the week before the USC game, and for good measure, lost at USC as well. Again the Holiday Bowl was the consolation prize.  But this feels different -- and has since that first Saturday of the season, when Cal beat No. 15 Tennessee while No. 5 Michigan lost to Appalachian State. Since that day, teams Cal has needed to lose have (mostly) lost. Games Cal has needed to win, it has won.  USC, Tedford's glass ceiling during his time at Cal, appears vulnerable. The game at Oregon is in the books. Arizona State, unbeaten and 14th-ranked, hasn't played anybody yet. UCLA lost to Notre Dame, for heck's sake.

This isn't to suggest that fate is obligated to continue throwing rose petals at Cal's feet. This remarkable alignment of planets and stars could be for someone else's benefit (South Florida, for example, a proud member of the Others Receiving Votes brotherhood in the preseason AP poll, is now No. 5). Or, it could be a random series of unrelated events, and we could be wasting valuable time attempting to make sense of the senseless.  On the other hand, senseless chatter beats doing real work. Especially with the season's first BCS standings scheduled to be released this Sunday. In the meantime, let's keep our voices to a dull roar, out of respect for Tedford. The man's got important work to do.

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