Monday, October 08, 2007

Sporting News: Cal flying high, staying focused

Here is the link.


These things usually are lively if not raucous. What team doesn't get a little sideways on the flight home after a big road win?  Yet there were the California Bears almost two weeks ago, more than 70 players and coaches barely speaking on the plane after winning college football's best game of the season, at Oregon.  "A lot of tired bodies," says Cal coach Jeff Tedford.  And a lot of focused ones, too.  Five games into its season, it's clear this Cal team is special. This Cal team is the best in Tedford's six seasons in Berkeley.

This Cal team can win it all.  You want an omen? I've got an omen, and it couldn't be more perfect.  There are few straight shooters left in college football. You know, coaches who say what they mean and, for the love of God, don't twist and tie it all into coachspeak. No-frills Tedford is one of them.

Last week, Tedford was talking about the future. About how this team is different than all the others he has coached. About how the talent and the schedule and the unique senior leadership and those confounding BCS numbers may just align and add up to ...  And then it happened.   "I probably don't know enough about (the BCS)," Tedford says. "We have to play every week and whatever happens, happens."  There you have it, everyone. Proof positive that this could be the year everything falls into place -- the year the team that was the laughingstock of the Pac-10 earlier this decade brings it all home. How else do you explain Tedford suddenly morphing into Lou Holtz and Vince Dooley and every other "take it week by week" sound bite?

This much we know: As long as the Bears keep Winning -- including one over You Know Who on November 10 -- they'll be playing for the national title. It's just that simple. When you're No. 2 in a two-team race, it's kind of hard to screw it up.  "Of course," says Cal quarterback Nate Longshore, "we know what's out there for us." But that doesn't mean Tedford has to embrace it. As good as the Bears have been under Tedford, they have a nagging problem of losing games they shouldn't. From Air Force in Year 1 (2002) to Arizona last season -- and a few in between -- Cal hasn't dealt well with success.  In 2004, the Bears were a play away -- a slip on a route by wideout Jonathan Makonnen -- from winning at USC in the closing minute. That Tro- jans team was merely the best in college football over the last decade, and the Bears' reward for a 10-1 regular season was a BCS bowl snub and a spot in the Holiday Bowl -- where they were thumped by underdog Texas Tech.  And that's all anyone remembers of this team since.  But here is Cal again, with a No. 2 ranking that is its highest in 55 years. With the best quarterback- tailback-wideout combination in college football -- Longshore, Justin Forsett and DeSean Jackson -- and a rebuilt defense playing better than anyone could've imagined. And with all the recent bad history in tow.  Who didn't wince two weeks ago when Longshore hurt his right ankle late in the Oregon game?

Two years ago, a broken fibula ended Longshore's season in the first half of the season opener and sent Cal plummeting back under the radar after its breakthrough season in 2004.  As the team boarded the plane two weeks ago, it received the good news: Longshore's ankle injury wasn't a break. He'll be ready for what can only be called a huge game -- really, it is -- this weekend against struggling Oregon State.  "I never chose to believe that our team would look ahead a week and overlook an opponent," Tedford says. "I would think we're smarter than that."  Especially with so much on the line.


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