Bears enjoy recognition but know there's a long way to go in the season
By Jonathan Okanes
BERKELEY -- There may have been some pundits who rolled their eyes when wide receiver DeSean Jackson predicted that Cal would win the national championship this season.
But after what transpired last weekend in college football, all eyes are now on Cal. The Bears established themselves as legitimate players in the national title race by beating Oregon on the road while a handful of other powers went down. Cal has ascended to No. 3 in the national polls and has quality wins over Tennessee and the Ducks on its resume.
The first Bowl Championship Series standings won't be released until Oct. 14, the day after the Bears' next game against Oregon State. Assuming they beat the Beavers, count on the Bears being near the top. "Everything kind of fell into place nicely," Cal center Alex Mack said. "But it's early in the season, so it doesn't mean as much. We have to win so many more games for these rankings to really matter." To a man, the Bears seem to be balancing enjoyment of their lofty status with the reality that it doesn't really mean anything until the end of the season. Cal's players realize their ranking will bring a lot more attention, and even though this is the highest the program has been ranked in 55 years, they're used to being visible on the national scene. The Bears have been ranked in the top 25 in 49 of the past 53 weeks, including four weeks at No. 4 near the end of the 2004 season.
"It's exciting, but it really doesn't mean anything right now," Cal running back Justin Forsett said. "It will be really great if we're ranked this high late in December. That would be really nice. We'd like to be a couple spots higher." The Bears still have 27 players who were on the 2004 team, so they know what it's like to be near the top of the national elite. That should help the team cope with the expectations that now are firmly in place. "I'd rather be No. 1," Cal senior cornerback Brandon Hampton said. "Obviously, it doesn't mean too much because we haven't become 13-0 yet. It's cool to be up there, but obviously with a loss you can fall right back down like a lot of teams did. It's just a number now."
The attention Cal is receiving may be substantially more than the end of the 2004 season because of the timing of its win over Oregon coupled with the upset losses by Oklahoma, Florida, West Virginia and Texas. "I don't think we had much light on us that year because we were still trying to build respect, which we still are," Forsett said. "But the light is on us more than ever, since I've been here." As coaches do, Cal's Jeff Tedford downplayed the Bears' high perch but did admit that it helps recruiting. But he said the ranking should have no effect on the current team, at least not until the end of the season.
"We will talk about it only because it's going to get so much attention," Tedford said. "I'm not going to just bury my head in the sand and think they're not going to be asked about it. But it really doesn't matter until the end of the season. "I don't get a feeling of giddiness from our players. The good thing is we've been in this arena before. We've been ranked over the past few years. I don't really think the rankings have any bearing on how our players act day-to-day."