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Mapping Cal's path to an upset

11/13/2010

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Let's say California's defense slows down No. 1 Oregon today.

Does that mean the Ducks score just 27 points, which is half their season average?

It's hard to see that happening if you've watched Oregon this year. Teams have slowed them down for quarters. Even halves. But the Ducks seem to always end up turning up the volume to 11 at some point, and that leads to a blowout. There's a reason that Ducks are on track to set a NCAA scoring record for a 13-game season.

But let's just say Oregon ends up with 27 points today.

Can Cal score 28? It averages 30 points per game, and the Ducks have the best defense the Bears have faced. Moreover, Cal is breaking in a new quarterback. This will be Brock Mansion's second-career start. In his first, he and the Bears offense scored 20 at Washington State, the lowest total the Cougars had yielded this year -- including FCS Montana State, which scored 22. Seven of eight FBS foes had scored at least 35 vs. the Cougs.

The point: It's hard to imagine Cal getting the upset.

But, by the same token, inexplicable things happen on an almost weekly basis in college football. So Cal, which has plenty of players who will one day play on Sundays, has a puncher's chance.

So what needs to happen for the planets to align and the Ducks to go down?

Turnovers for one. Maybe a pick-6. Or two. Cal needs to get points and short fields off Ducks mistakes. And the Bears need to respond with seven points -- not three -- when they get breaks.

Then there's the Bears best weapon: running back Shane Vereen.

Vereen almost single-handedly led an upset of Stanford last year in the Big Game, when few gave the Bears a shot against the then-rolling Cardinal.

Vereen having success also means time ticks off the clock, which means fewer opportunities for Oregon.

As for the Bears defense, first-year coordinator Clancy Pendergast is an NFL guy who's just getting used to the funky offenses of college football. His first run at Nevada's pistol went badly, but he solved UCLA's version.

Can he put a plan together that mutes the Ducks spread-option?

Finally, if those pieces come together, Mansion must play mistake-free football and make a few plays downfield in the passing game. If he can get the ball there, his receivers, Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen, can turn short passes into long passes.

That's a lot of stuff that has to go Cal's way.

But, as they often say:"Stuff happens." At least every once and in while