Saturday, December 05, 2009

SF Chronicle: Bowled over by scenarios

Confused by the myriad bowl possibilities in the crazy, congested Pac-10? Dizzied by the fact Cal, even on Dec. 5, still doesn't know if it will play in the Sun Bowl, Emerald Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl or Poinsettia Bowl?  Stand in line, then, right alongside Sun Bowl executive director Bernie Olivas.  "Our president did a whole spreadsheet with all the scenarios," Olivas said Thursday, before Oregon simplified things a bit by clinching the Pac-10 title. "I thought he was trying to build the next rocket to the moon."  Cal still must tackle one more challenging assignment before heading to its postseason destination. The Bears complete their regular season today against Washington and quarterback Jake Locker, who offers a stout test for Cal's rejuvenated defense.  The chore could be complicated by chilly weather in Seattle and the typically boisterous atmosphere at Husky Stadium. Washington defeated USC and Arizona earlier this season and played LSU tough, so the Huskies - despite standing 4-7 overall and 3-5 in conference play - are no pushovers at home.  If the Bears (8-3, 5-3) prevail, they will finish in a four-way tie for second place with Stanford, Oregon State and the winner of today's Arizona-USC game. That would set off a flurry of decisions for bowl officials, who can choose the teams they want in the event of ties.   The Holiday Bowl is expected to take the winner of Arizona-USC, leaving the Sun Bowl to choose among Cal, Stanford and Oregon State. OSU is a longshot, given its appearance last year in El Paso, so the decision would come down to Cal (which beat Stanford and is the only Pac-10 school never to play in the game) or Stanford (which boasts Heisman Trophy contender Toby Gerhart).  In this scenario, the Emerald Bowl, with the third choice, happily will take whichever Bay Area school the Sun Bowl bypasses.

But if the Bears lose today, they will tie for fifth place and potentially slide further down the chain. They still could play in the Emerald Bowl if USC beats Arizona, but they also could slip to the Las Vegas Bowl or Poinsettia Bowl if the Trojans are the other team tied for fifth.

As these endless permutations rattle in the background, Cal must first contend with Locker, a 6-foot-3, 226-pound junior with surprising quickness. He averages 232 yards passing per game, second in the Pac-10 behind Oregon State's Sean Canfield, and has good mobility.

Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory compared Locker to Stanford's Andrew Luck, given their size and speed. The Bears mostly contained Luck in the Big Game (he was 10-for-30), but he hurt them with his scrambling ability.  They also must cope with uncommonly cold weather for college kids from California - the forecast calls for a temperature of 41 degrees at kickoff, falling to 37 later in the game (with only a 10 percent chance of rain). That seems reasonable to safety Sean Cattouse, who grew up in Chicago. "I've played in colder," he said, smiling. "I'm not wearing sleeves, a hand warmer, nothing. I want to get back to my roots." The forecast does not sound so reasonable to defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, who grew up in Honolulu. "Woo, it's going to be rough," he said. "I'm not a fan of cold weather, especially playing football. You've got to hit people and your body takes time to warm up, trying to get used to the weather."

Cal today

Who: Cal (8-3, 5-3 Pac-10) vs. Washington (4-7, 3-5)

Where: Seattle. When: 3:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: CSNCA/810

Story line: The Bears will finish in a tie for second place in the Pac-10 if they win, and a tie for fifth if they lose. They take momentum into Husky Stadium, with five wins in their past six games, including victories over Arizona and Stanford. Washington faltered after a strong start this season, but the Huskies and first-year coach Steve Sarkisian are dangerous at home, where they are 4-2 (including wins over USC and Arizona).

Injuries: Cal: TB Jahvid Best (concussion) and G Matt Summers-Gavin (concussion) are out. CB Syd'Quan Thompson (ankle) is expected to play. Washington: LB E.J. Savannah (hand) and C Ryan Tolar (head) are out. DT Cameron Elisara (shoulder) is questionable and S Victor Aiyewa (concussion) and TB Chris Polk (shoulder) will play.

What to watch for

-- Do not underestimate the impact of Summers-Gavin's absence. The Bears struggled to jump-start their running game in the three games he missed because of a shoulder injury (USC, Arizona State and Oregon State). They played significantly better when he returned.

-- Today's game could be the last in a Washington uniform for quarterback Jake Locker. He's contemplating whether to enter the NFL draft in April; most analysts expect Locker to be selected in the upper half of the first round.

-- Cal's defense, after struggling most of the season, hopped to life the past two games. The Bears held Arizona, then the No. 1 offense in the Pac-10, to 16 points and 274 yards; and Stanford, which replaced Arizona as the conference's top-ranked offense, to 28 points, 345 yards.

1 comment:

rakeback said...

Andrew Luck is already one of the best players in college football and if they can keep the backfield together with Toby Gerhart they could contend for the PAC 10 for the next couple years and maybe a national championship.