NCF Nation: Kevin Riley

Pressure mounts on Tedford, Cal

October, 3, 2012
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Jeff TedfordHarry How/Getty ImagesJeff Tedford brought a moribund Cal program to life, but things have soured in recent seasons.


No one argues that Jeff Tedford hasn't done a lot for California. He took over a team that went 1-10 in 2001 and played its football in a half-empty stadium and built a winning program from scratch that played in a full one.

As a business decision, the hiring of Tedford in 2002 has more than paid off. His winning 28 games from 2004-06 created an enlarged fan base. That fan base, enlivened by winning, developed expectations.

And no one argues that those expectations have not being met over the past two-plus seasons. Not by a 1-4 mark at present, nor a 13-17 record -- 7-13 in Pac-12 play -- since going 8-5 in 2009.

Not anyone, including Tedford.

"We're definitely not where we want to be," he said. "We're not going to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. We're going to attack this and work hard at it and stay together."

In August, athletic director Sandy Barbour told CBS Sports that "Jeff Tedford is not on the hot seat."

That might have been true then, but that was before the Bears opened the stadium that had just undergone $330 million in renovations with a loss to Nevada. That was before USC handed Cal its 12th defeat by at least 17 points over the past three-plus seasons. That was before the Bears were beaten by 10 at home by Arizona State, a team they defeated on the road last year and which fired its coach shortly thereafter.

It's not difficult to defend the big picture of Tedford's 11-year tenure, the longest continuous employment of any Pac-12 coach. As we've previously noted, in 24 seasons before he arrived in Berkeley -- 1978-2004 -- Cal won three or fewer games 10 times while winning seven or more games four times. Tedford has suffered one losing season -- 5-7 in 2010 -- and has won 10 games twice and nine games once. Before he took over, Cal's last winning season came in 1993. Finally, Tedford is 7-3 in the Big Game against rival Stanford.

Yet, again, the focus isn't on the big picture. It's the recent history. Cal hasn't finished a season nationally ranked since 2008. There are two Big Game losses in a row and a rising Stanford playing in consecutive BCS bowl games.

Further, there are four new coaches in the Pac-12 who have boosted their programs to varying degrees. The Bears host No. 25 UCLA and Jim Mora on Saturday. Todd Graham has the Sun Devils on the cusp of a national ranking. Arizona's Rich Rodriguez led the Wildcats to a victory over Oklahoma State. And Mike Leach provided a boost of enthusiasm among Washington State fans in the off-season.

Many Old Blues -- and young ones -- feel a sense of stagnation and malaise. And, with five of the next seven games against teams that are currently ranked with no off week, there's not a lot of hope the Bears can rally for a winning record and earn a bowl berth, as they did after an 0-3 start to Pac-12 play last year.

So what went wrong?

The obvious answer is quarterback play, which is where Tedford built a sterling reputation.

In 2004, Aaron Rodgers finished ranked eighth in the nation in passing efficiency and the Bears went 10-2. In 2006, after struggles the previous season with Joe Ayoob, sophomore Nate Longshore ranked 28th in the nation in passing efficiency, led the Bears to a 10-3 finish and was widely hailed as a future early NFL draft pick.

In 2007 -- Cal fans might recall some of this -- the Bears won a thriller at Oregon, 31-24, and rose to No. 2 in the nation behind LSU. In fact, LSU opened Week 8 with a loss to Kentucky. Cal was poised to rise to No. 1.

But Longshore had hurt his ankle at Oregon. He was replaced by Kevin Riley against Oregon State. No need to rehash what happened next.

[+] EnlargeZach Maynard, Jeff Tedford
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMIZach Maynard hasn't borne out promises by coach Jeff Tedford, right, that Cal's quarterback was much improved entering his senior season.
Quarterback play at Cal would never be the same. Longshore's career never delivered on early promise, and Cal quarterbacks haven't ranked higher than 61st in passing efficiency since 2006.

As for the present, senior Zach Maynard, who was touted by Tedford as vastly improved in the preseason, is 94th in the nation in passing efficiency. He's been sacked 25 times, most in the nation, so that doesn't help, but he has not seemed to rise to the occasion as a player or leader. He was suspended for the early portion of the opening loss to Nevada, had a heated sideline exchange with Tedford during the Southern Utah game and, last weekend, was caught on camera yelling at his offensive linemen.

But it's not just the offense by any stretch. The defense is giving up 30.2 points per game, which ranks 10th in the Pac-12. It's last in the conference in rushing defense, 11th in pass-efficiency defense and 11th on third down.

All of this has led to plenty of negativity around the program, which makes life difficult for Tedford. While Tedford said he doesn't "read it or get into" the speculation about his job status, he can't ignore the topic in the locker room.

"It's important to address it with the team," Tedford said. "They do live in it and around it."

If the negative chatter -- and losing -- eventually makes Tedford's position untenable, it will be costly to fire him. Tedford is paid privately and not with state money, and, as Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News has pointed out, there is no buyout in his contract.

Writes Wilner:
[Tedford] is signed through the 2015 season, and the Bears would owe him his annual salary ($2.3 million) for each year left on the deal if he’s terminated.

So a change this winter would cost nearly $7 million, and that’s only for Tedford.

Add the expenses involved in turning over the coaching staff -- approx $1.5 million for Tedford’s assistants and at least that for a new group -- and we’re talking $10 million for a complete overhaul.

That means several wealthy folks would have to be highly motivated to get rid of Tedford.

Still, there are plenty of folks who are on Tedford's side. He's run a clean program, has graduated players and has built a program that justified massive facilities upgrades, which he was promised upon his hiring and has patiently waited for. And he's been loyal to Cal, turning down several suitors in both the NFL and college ranks through the years.

Entering the season, it seemed that Tedford still had some leeway. If he produced another winning season, the odds were he would be safe.

Few entertained the idea of the team cratering. Few imagined a season that could be Tedford's worst.

No one argues that Tedford hash't earned patience. A program's winningest coach deserves that. Plenty of it.

The question for the powers that be at Cal, however, is when that patience runs out. It's not a question anyone in Berkeley wants to entertain -- everyone wanted to win in 2012 -- but it's clearly out there looming, unwanted yet real.

Quick look at week 10 games

November, 1, 2011
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Here's a quick look at Week 10 in the Pac-12.

All times are ET.

Friday

USC (6-2, 3-2) at Colorado (1-8, 0-5) 9 p.m. ESPN: USC leads the series 5-0, winning the most recent meeting in 2002 40-3. Trojans QB Matt Barkley needs just 108 yards of total offense to move into third on the school's all-time total offense list. Colorado QB Tyler Hansen moved into fifth place on the Buffaloes' all-time passing yards list with 4,851. The Buffs rank 11th or 12th in the conference in 16 of 33 team statistical categories listed on the Pac-12's official release, including ranking last in scoring offense, scoring defense, rushing offense, rushing defense, pass-efficiency defense, sacks against, red zone offense and red zone defense.

Saturday

No. 4 Stanford (8-0, 6-0) at Oregon State (2-6, 2-3) 3:30 p.m. ABC: Stanford is riding a 16-game winning streak, longest in the nation. The Cardinal leads its series with Oregon State 49-25-3, including a 38-0 win last year. The Cardinal, however, lost its previous visit to Corvallis, 38-28 in 2009. The Cardinal trailed for the first time this season in its 56-48, triple-overtime win over USC last weekend. Last week, Oregon State receiver James Rodgers became the third Beaver to eclipse 200 career receptions. The Beavers are last in the conference in turnover margin (minus-5). Stanford is second (plus-7). The Cardinal have turned it over just six times, the Beavers 21.

Washington State (3-5, 1-4) at California (4-4, 1-4) 6:30 p.m. CSNCA: California leads the series 42-25-5. The Bears won last season in Pullman 20-13, a game that was notable because it was the Cal's first without QB Kevin Riley. Cougars QB Marshall Lobbestael, formerly Jeff Tuel's backup before Tuel got hurt, has eclipsed 300 yards in four games. Only Arizona's Nick Foles has more 300-yard games (six). The Cougars have scored 266 points this year (33.2 points per game). They scored 235 points in all of 2010 (19.6 ppg). Cal receiver Keenan Allen needs 11 yards to eclipse 1,000 receiving this season.

Utah (4-4, 1-4) at Arizona (2-6, 1-5) 7 p.m. FSAZ-KJZZ: Utah leads the series 19-15-2, last beating the Wildcats 27-24 in 2005. Before scoring 27 points in their first Pac-12 victory, the Utes had averaged just 13 points per game in their previous four conference games. The Utes lead the conference in total defense (325.6 yards per game). When Utes running back John White rushed for a career-high 205 yards in the win over Oregon State, it was Utah's first 200-yard rushing game in nine years. Wildcats QB Nick Foles leads the conference with 366.1 yards passing per game, which is on pace to eclipse the conference record of 342.9 yards passing per game set by Washington's Cody Pickett in 2002.

No. 19 Arizona State (6-2, 4-1) at UCLA (4-4, 3-2) 7:30 p.m. Versus: UCLA leads the series 16-10-1, but the Sun Devils won 55-34 in Tempe last year. Sun Devils running back Cameron Marshall is first in the conference with 12 rushing TDs. Bruins QB Kevin Prince rushed for 163 yards in the win over Cal. It was the first time since 1976 (Jeff Dankworth vs. Cal) that a Bruins QB eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark. ASU has forced 25 turnovers, five more than any other Pac-12 team. The Sun Devils are first in the conference in turnover margin (plus-12). UCLA is tied for sixth with just as many giveaways as takeaways.

No. 8 Oregon (7-1, 5-0) at Washington (6-2, 4-1) 10:30 p.m. FSN: Washington leads the series 58-40-5, but the Ducks have won seven in a row, each by at least 20 points. The Ducks have scored 40 or more points in each of their past seven games, averaging 50.4 points during the winning streak. Running back LaMichael James and QB Darron Thomas both started for Oregon against Washington State after missing action due to injuries. Thomas was yanked at halftime, however, so it's unclear if he or backup Bryan Bennett will start Saturday. Washington has scored 30 or more points in seven games this season, which hasn't happened since the 2000 Rose Bowl team scored more than 30 in nine games. Huskies running back Chris Polk's 3,577 career rushing yards ranks 14th in conference history and second all-time for the Huskies, only behind Napoleon Kaufman (4,106 yards). This will be the final game in Husky Stadium before it undergoes major renovations. The Apple Cup on Nov. 26 and the 2012 season will be played in the Seattle Seahawks home stadium, CenturyLink Field.

Cal hoping to avoid repeat vs. USC

October, 11, 2011
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Sometimes a football team so sparkles that a description of its performance should be inscribed with gold leaf on granite tablets. Other times a football team steps on a rake, falls into oncoming traffic and ends up face down in the sewer.

And sometimes the twain shall meet on the field of play, which is what happened in the first half of California's visit to USC last season.

USC rolled to a 42-0 halftime lead over the Golden Bears on Oct. 16, 2010. It piled up 372 yards and 20 first downs. Cal had 65 yards and three first downs.

[+] EnlargeCalifornia Bears
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonCal is looking to avoid another blowout loss to USC.
Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley completed 20 of 29 passes for 257 yards with five touchdowns -- tying a school record before halftime -- and no interceptions. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley completed 3-of-12 for 51 yards with two interceptions.

"We didn't make any plays and they made every play," Cal coach Jeff Tedford recalled. "I thought Barkley played about as well as he could play. He was on big time. They had everything going and we didn't make plays."

USC coach Lane Kiffin, who was a reserve quarterback for Tedford at Fresno State, took his foot off the gas in the second half, and USC only ended up winning 48-14. Cal, however, didn't score until late in the third quarter.

"Everything just went right for us and went wrong for them," Kiffin said. "Everybody has those games every year or two. Even when you call a play that's not supposed to work, somebody makes a great play. It was just one of those games."

The Bears will get a chance for redemption Thursday night in AT&T Park when the Trojans visit (ESPN, 9 ET).

How things went down last season was unexpected (the Pac-10 blog -- cough, cough -- picked Cal to win). Cal was coming off a blowout win over UCLA, while USC had suffered consecutive defeats to Washington and Stanford. It was reasonable to wonder then if the wheels were coming off for the Trojans, who were in the first year of a postseason bowl ban and perhaps lacking motivation.

Further, USC's defense had been terrible. It came into the game ranked 100th in the FBS after giving up 69 points in those losses. Cal's defense, other than a big hiccup at Nevada, had given up just 27 points in its other four games.

This year, the USC and Cal defenses have been mostly mediocre, and the offenses have been inconsistent. The Trojans are coming off a bye following a win over Arizona, while Cal is riding a two-game Pac-12 losing streak after falling at Washington and Oregon.

What remains the same from last year is Barkley and his favorite target, receiver Robert Woods. Woods, who caught seven passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns in last season's match, presently ranks second in the nation with 149.4 yards receiving per game, while Barkley ranks 14th in passing efficiency.

"Barkley, when he's on, he can make you pay because he's got a lot of weapons around him," Tedford said.

USC is again banned from the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. Kiffin said he has tried to loosen things up this year and make things fun to keep his players motivated. But a second loss in three games might make the atmosphere around Heritage Hall less than jovial.

For Tedford, a three-game losing streak would have fans grumbling -- again -- and a repeat of last season's blowout might cause some to question his job security. While there are plenty of winnable games ahead, the Bears can't afford to lose their confidence at midseason.

As for last season's disaster, Tedford said revenge isn't big motivation.

"Of course, they remember it," he said. "But this is about this year's team. All that stuff goes out the window after about the first play."

Then it just becomes a football game, and the expectation is that both teams will be closer to their mean this go-around. What that means on the scoreboard remains to be seen.

Maynard the key piece for Cal

September, 2, 2011
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Our oversimplification of the day is this: If QB Zach Maynard plays well this year, California has a successful season.

But more than a few Cal fans would nod their heads.

The Bears are solid to good at just about every position, starting with both lines. There's intriguing young talent to fortify the depth, particularly on defense. While the Pac-12 North Division looks rugged, there's enough here for the Bears to bounce back from a hugely disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2010, the first losing season in nine years under Jeff Tedford, the dean of conference coaches.

[+] EnlargeCal's Zach Maynard
AP Photo/Ben MargotNew Cal quarterback Zach Maynard passed for 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns during his 2009 season with the University of Buffalo.
But Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo who'll make his debut against Fresno State on Saturday at Candlestick Park, said he doesn't feel any pressure. In fact, he kicks that line of questioning to the curb and segues into what he wants to talk about: How many are discounting the Bears.

"We're the underdogs right now," he said. "Nobody is saying anything about us. There's a lot of hype about other teams. Everybody's wondering what we're going to bring to the table. Everybody is going to find out when we start our first game and get into the season."

Here's what we're saying about Cal: It has to pass better. It ranked 89th in the nation in passing efficiency in 2010 and 94th in passing, with just 175 yards per game. That ain't going to cut it, particularly in the Pac-12, where superior QB play is required.

Tedford's reputation as a quarterbacks guru has taken some hits of late, but he seems to feel he's found his man. Tedford named Maynard the starter at the end of spring practices after he outplayed Brock Mansion and Allan Bridgford, who won the No. 2 spot, and part of that was so Maynard could start winning over the locker room as a leader.

"He's really stepped up and earned the team's respect," Tedford said.

Maynard passed for 2,694 yards with 18 TDs and 15 interception in 2009 for Buffalo and also rushed for 300 yards. Tedford likes his arm and his quick release, but he particularly likes his athletic ability.

"He has an escape dimension that we haven't had here in a while," Tedford said.

But it's not only an ability to escape pressure and scramble. It's an ability to create -- "Manufacture," Tedford says -- plays. There was a seeming tendency to panic that made Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley often throw the ball into the wrong place at the wrong time. Maynard has a bit of the cool-cat artist to him.

And if he's looking for a go-to guy, he's got one in true sophomore receiver Keenan Allen, and not just because Allen is super-talented. Allen is Maynard's half-brother and they are tight.

"It's like throwing in your backyard really," Maynard said. "You have a connection. You always know where he's going to be."

Maynard could be the key piece that gets Bears back into contention, and thereby mutes the increasingly vocal Tedford critics. But that's another topic Maynard kicks to the curb.

"I don't really hear anything about that," he said. "I don't get involved in the politics. I just go out and play ball and go to class."

But if he plays well, folks will start talking about Cal and Tedford (again), and they'll probably be saying nice things (again).

UCLA is only Pac-12 QB battle

August, 9, 2011
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Typically, every preseason features a handful of quarterback competitions, even if we sort of feel like we know who will ultimately emerge.

Last fall, there was uncertainty at Arizona State, Colorado and Oregon.

At the end of the 2010 season, it looked like there would be plenty of ongoing quarterback intrigue. Arizona State was expected to feature another showdown with Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler. California was completely wide open with the departure of Kevin Riley. There was a new coach at Colorado, Jon Embree, who said every job was open. UCLA clearly had no clear No. 1. Washington had to replace Jake Locker.

But most of the mysteries were solved by the end of spring practices.

Threet was forced to retire because of multiple concussions, thereby handing the job to Osweiler. Cal coach Jeff Tedford surprised a few folks when he announced Zach Maynard had eclipsed Allan Bridgford and Brock Mansion. It was clear throughout spring drills that Tyler Hansen was the Buffaloes' best option. And Steve Sarkisian tapped Keith Price over Nick Montana before the spring game.

If you're looking for a potential source for making quarterback decisions before preseason camp, consider former USC coach Pete Carroll. He believed in "anointing" a starter after spring practices because he believed it helped them become leaders over the summer -- see Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez. Notably, Sarkisian chatted with Carroll before tapping Price.

While coaches will still talk about competition, and it wouldn't be wise for any of these guys to take their job for granted, the only team with remaining uncertainty behind center is UCLA, and even then most would project a healthy Kevin Prince -- the incumbent starter who suffered a season-ending knee injury that also knocked him out of spring practice -- is the likely choice.

Still, let's look at where the Bruins' competition stands.

The candidates:

[+] EnlargeKevin Prince
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireKevin Prince seems the likely choice to enter the season as UCLA's starting quarterback.
Kevin Prince: While Prince's passing numbers were horrid in his five 2010 games before getting hurt, he showed in 2009 that he can be a capable passer. And last fall, he showed he could do a pretty good job running a pistol offense. But Prince had suffered myriad injuries even before he hurt his knee last fall, and while he enters the preseason reportedly at 100 percent, keeping him healthy is the critical element for him to become a reliable starter. Recall that the Bruins' ragged start on offense in 2010 could be attributed to Prince not practicing until the week before the season opener -- an embarrassing loss to a Kansas State team the Bruins pushed around the previous season. So it's fair to expect less running -- or at least more running out of bounds -- for Prince. He will be given every opportunity to win the job.

Richard Brehaut: There's no other way to say it: While Brehaut didn't play terribly well after replacing Prince, his passing numbers were better than what Prince did in 2010. That fact has engendered some not unreasonable sentiments that coach Rick Neuheisel has some sort of issue with Brehaut, a summary of which is provided here by Adam Maya (by the way, former offensive coordinator Norm Chow doggedly believed Prince was a better option than Brehaut). While Neuheisel said it was "nothing personal," it is fairly clear that Neuheisel questions Brehaut's complete commitment, which is reflected in Brehaut's apparently incomplete absorption of the offense. Further, knowing Neuheisel and how he works with quarterbacks, I can tell you that those little tirades he seems to have with his quarterbacks after a bad play mostly amounts to Neuheisel asking the quarterback to explain what he was thinking. And if the player doesn't have an answer, it drives Neuheisel crazy. A bad explanation -- "I didn't see the safety cheating over" -- is way, way better than "I don't know."

Brett Hundley: Hundley is the hotshot incoming freshman -- one of the nation's top dual-threat prep quarterbacks during the 2010-11 recruiting season -- whom many fans have been making googly-eyes at. But it ain't easy going from high school quarterback to college quarterback, and it was clear during spring practices that Hundley had a ways to go (though he also had some "wow" moments, too). Hundley was a bit of a long shot in any event, but after he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and will be out most of camp, his chances of redshirting are now higher than of him winning the starting job. Still, if he comes back strong, he could earn playing time. And if the situation gets desperate, Neuheisel, under pressure to win now, might roll the dice with a true freshman.

Nick Crissman and Darius Bell: These are the two long shots. Crissman's career has been riddled by shoulder injuries, but he had a fairly good spring and he's got some skills. Bell, a JC transfer, is a far better runner than passer. Many Bruins fans probably recall his regrettable debut in relief of Brehaut during a loss at Washington: 0-for-3 with an interception and a tongue-lashing from Neuheisel.
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Quarterbacks are always a big story. Quarterback competitions are typically bigger stories. But quarterback is an almost singular story this spring at California.

For one, no one has any idea who the 2011 starter will be, an uncertainty that has been rare since coach Jeff Tedford took over in 2002. Tedford announced last week that he'd reduced the candidates list from five to three -- senior Brock Mansion, junior Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard and sophomore Allan Bridgford -- but it's unlikely that troika will be winnowed to one until late in preseason camp.

[+] EnlargeBrock Mansion
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezBrock Mansion threw for 646 yards and a pair of TDs last season.
Finally, more than a few critics are questioning Tedford's once impeccable bona fides for developing quarterbacks. Sure, Tedford has mentored six who became first-round NFL draft picks: Kyle Boller, David Carr, Trent Dilfer, Joey Harrington, Aaron Rodgers and Akili Smith. But in our "what-has-he-done-lately?" world, folks are asking, well, what has Tedford done lately with quarterbacks, with an incriminating finger-pointing at the less-than-stellar production from Joe Ayoob, Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley.

Tedford will call plays this fall and he has been heavily involved with the quarterbacks this spring. He attends all position meetings and spends plenty of practice time with the QBs and new assistant Marcus Arroyo.

Tedford is as aware as anyone that bouncing back from a down campaign -- his first losing season in nine years in Berkeley -- will require at least solid play at quarterback.

"For us to get back to 10- or 11-win seasons, we have to have better play at the quarterback position," he said.

So far, no quarterback has asserted himself.

Mansion, due to experience, would in most situations be considered the front-runner. But he didn't do well in four starts after replacing Riley. His efficiency rating ranked last in the Pac-10 by a wide margin, and he threw five interceptions with just two TDs.

Said Tedford: "You can tell that Brock is better because of the experience he had last year. He's more comfortable. And he's even learned some things physically. You can see the maturity there a little bit. Still not where we need to be."

More than a few folks believe Maynard, the best athlete of the three and half-brother to standout receiver Keenan Allen, to be the front-runner. As a sophomore starter at Buffalo in 2009, he completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns with 15 interceptions and added 455 yards rushing and one TD.

Said Tedford: "He does have some athleticism. He can make plays with his legs. He throws the ball accurately. He can throw all the balls on the field. He's a lefty. He can throw the deep ball. He's got zip on the ball. His main thing is just going to be the mental part of understanding our offense and understanding what we're looking for."

Tedford also said that the Bears' offense has some spread-option elements it could adapt for Maynard.

Bridgford is reputed to be a strong pure passer, but he's coming back from shoulder surgery and his mobility also is an issue. The scuttlebutt is he's presently in third place and could be challenged by redshirt freshman Austin Hinder, who Tedford said was a strong No. 4.

Said Tedford of Bridgford: "Smart guy. Can throw the ball. He can throw all the balls on the field. Escape dimension? Haven't seen that yet. That's a concern, but he's not a lead foot by any means."

Trying to figure out where things stand isn't easy. Even Allen clings to neutrality, at least publicly. And players appear to be as in the dark as fans about who will prevail.

"I know you guys all want to know that -- we all want to know as well," offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "I have a lot of confidence in the coaching staff. They are going to put the right guy on the field."

It's been a while since Tedford and Cal found the "right" guy to put behind center. The Bears' success in 2011 probably hangs on Tedford rediscovering his inner QB Yoda.

California spring notes

April, 11, 2011
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BERKELEY, Calif. -- California has something sort of old and something sort of new this spring on both sides of the ball.

On defense, Clancy Pendergast is back for his second season coordinating the Bears defense. On offense, Jim Michalczik is back in town after spending a couple of years with the Oakland Raiders. Pendergast turned in a successful first campaign, with his more aggressive version of a 3-4 scheme ending up ranked third in the Pac-10 in scoring and first in total defense. And from 2002-2008, Michalczik might have been the best offensive line coach in the conference.

Here are some notes from chats with both coordinators as well as head coach Jeff Tedford.

  • Other than a blowout loss to Stanford, the Bears defense turned in its best work in November, most notably holding Oregon to just one offensive touchdown in a 15-13 Ducks win. Pendergast didn't think that was a coincidence: "I think our guys trusted the system, trusted each other. Had better eyes. All those things." As for year two, the longtime NFL coach, probably has a better grasp on some of the quirky offenses he'll face in the conference. "Anytime you go into a second year, you're going to be more comfortable," he said.
  • Pendergast on former defensive end Cameron Jordan, who is expected to be a first-round NFL draft pick on April 28: "He'll be solid, consistent player at next level who can do a lot of different things."
  • [+] EnlargeCal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast
    Chris Morrison/US PRESSWIRECal's Clancy Pendergast expects to be more comfortable coaching against Pac-12 offenses in his second season.

  • Pendergast is clearly high on the incoming freshmen. He repeatedly mentions them -- first and last names -- when talking about his potential depth chart. When asked if he expects a handful to play, he said, "No question." Names he -- and later Tedford -- mention: defensive tackle Todd Barr, defensive tackle Viliami Moala, defensive end Brennan Scarlett, and cornerbacks Stefan McClure, Joel Willis and Kameron Jackson.
  • The top three defensive ends are Trevor Guyton, Deandre Coleman and Ernest Owusu. At nose tackle, both Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne are out with shoulder injuries. Guyton has had a good spring, while Tedford said, Coleman "should be much better this year."
  • The inside 'backers are Mychal Kendricks, who put up huge numbers last fall playing outside, and D.J. Holt, also a returning starter. As for Kendricks move inside, Pendergast said, "He's probably a better fit as a stack inside linebacker than an outside linebacker."
  • There will be two new starters at outside linebacker. At present, Ryan Davis and David Wilkerson (strongside) are with the ones, with Chris McCain, Cecil Whiteside and Lucas King providing depth.
  • In the secondary, Marc Anthony and Steve Williams are the corners. The depth appears unsettled -- see Pendergast and Tedford both listing three freshmen who are not on campus yet as being in the mix. Pendergast seemed most pleased with Anthony, whom he said was playing physically and with a lot of confidence. At safety, there's Sean Cattouse and D.J. Campbell, with Adrian Lee, C.J. Moncrease, Alex Logan and Michael Coley earning note. It's hard to say if true freshman Avery Walls, who's participating in spring practices, will get into the mix.
  • On offense, Michalczik is mostly focused on the offensive line. Tedford will call plays this fall and is working with the quarterbacks as well, while receivers coach Eric Kiesau is the passing game coordinator and running backs coach Ron Gould is the running game coordinator. So there will be plenty of input on offense.
  • Michalczik wouldn't commit too much on the offensive line: "We've got some young guys and we've got some time," he said. Left tackle Mitchell Schwartz and center Dominic Galas are likely starters, but both are sitting out with injuries. Matt Summers-Gavin has bounced from guard to right tackle. Brian Schwenke and Justin Cheadle are the No. 1 guards at present. Youngsters to watch include Chris Adcock and Mark Brazinski at center, as well as Alejandro Crosthwaite, Bill Tyndall and Tyler Rigsbee.
  • Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen are set at receiver, but the No. 3, 4 and 5 options are not. Michael Calvin -- yes, him again -- Coleman Edmond and Kaelin Clay earned note from Tedford, who said of Clay, "He's been very good, very fast, brings big-play potential."
  • Tedford isn't very happy at running back behind Isi Sofele. His highest praise goes to walk-on Mike Manuel, who was impressive in the scrimmage Saturday. Injuries are a big issue at the position, but it seems as though Tedford isn't happy with the group, which includes a number of touted recruits. "As of right now, it looks like to me we are going to have to rely on younger guys who are coming in," he said.
  • Quarterbacks? It's still wide open, but it shows how serious Zach Maynard's candidacy is that Tedford said he doesn't expect to announce a starter until well into fall camp, specifically because he wants to give Maynard, who transferred from Buffalo last year, as much time as possible to digest the offense. Said Tedford, "He does have some athleticism. He can make plays with his legs. He throws the ball accurately. He can throw all the balls on the field. He's a lefty. He can throw the deep ball. He's got zip on the ball. His main thing is just going to be the mental part of understanding our offense and understanding what we're looking for."
  • As for Brock Mansion, who started the final four games after Kevin Riley went down, Tedford said, "You can tell that Brock is better because of the experience he had last year. He's more comfortable. And he's even learned some things physically. You can see the maturity there a little bit. Still not where we need to be."
  • As for Allan Bridgford, the question might be athleticism. Said Tedford, "Smart guy. Can throw the ball. He can throw all the balls on the field. Escape dimension? Haven't seen that yet. That's a concern, but he's not a led-foot by any means."
  • One problem for the Bears this spring is injuries. There are a lot of them, which makes it more difficult to give the QBs full-tilt, looks. "That's a challenge, to get QB's enought reps without beating up the whole team," Tedford said.
BERKELEY, Calif. -- California lost a receiver and cut its quarterback competition from five candidates to three Thursday.

Tedford
Tedford
Coach Jeff Tedford said that that senior Brock Mansion, junior Zach Maynard and sophomore Allan Bridgford are the finalist for the starting job. He said redshirt freshman Austin Hinder was fourth and had impressed him but his chances were hurt by his youth. Junior Beau Sweeney, who was Kevin Riley's backup over the early portion of the 2010 season, ended up No. 5.

"We're really going to find with those practice reps if somebody can separate themselves," Tedford said.

Tedford, however, said the competition figures to continue well into preseason camp.

Whoever wins the job will have one less speedy receiver. Tevin Carter, a redshirt freshman from Los Angeles, has quit the team. Carter didn't ask for a release so he could transfer.

"He's finished here, which is unfortunate," Tedford said. "I don't know if he had a passion to play football anymore... he doesn't know if he wants to play football."

Will have a lot more from my visits to to Stanford and Cal over the next week. So stay tuned.

What's your quarterback's 'score'?

February, 25, 2011
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An interesting post here from the California Golden Blogs on a different way to calculate quarterback efficiency.

It's worth it to read the whole story because it breaks down every FBS conference and has a bunch of cool graphics, but I'm just going to steal borrow the part that focuses on the Pac-12.

The writer, Berkelium97 (is he a Klingon?), feeds numbers into Utah State sports economist David Berri's "more intuitive formula that addresses some of the common criticisms lobbed at the passer efficiency rating." Berri calls his formula the "QB Score" and it looks like this: QB Score = Total Yards - (3 x Plays) - (50 x Turnovers).

The difference in QB Score and college efficiency rating is this:
The traditional passer efficiency rating tends to take on a "more is better" approach: if players throw a bunch of TDs and hundreds of yards, they can get away with a fairly high turnover rate. Berri's measure has a different philosophy: if you generate yards and avoid turnovers, you will be rewarded.

So here's the list of Pac-12 quarterbacks, ranked by their "QB score," which you can compare to their efficiency rating.


You can see one reason folks at Arizona State believed that Osweiler would have beaten Threet out this spring, even before Threet opted to retire due to recurrent concussions.

No surprises with Mansion and Prince ranking toward the bottom -- they also did for efficiency rating. No surprise at the very top either, with Luck and Thomas. And the Locker critics probably will enjoy his mediocre tally.

It's surprising that Scott is ahead of Foles and that Cain is ahead of Wynn, though both the Arizona and Utah backups put their numbers up with a far smaller sample size. Further, guess here is that Colorado fans probably didn't expect Hawkins to rate so highly -- ahead of Locker and Barkley!

Barkley's number is surprising, particularly considering he ranked third in the conference in passing efficiency and threw 26 TD passes, but the Golden Blogs' analysis says this: "he finished in the bottom half because he does not generate that much yardage and he throws a fair number of interceptions. He's much improved over last year, but he still has work to do."

Jeff Tedford faces tough choices

December, 3, 2010
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Jeff Tedford is smarter than I am. He's a standup guy. And he has a moral compass in a business where you do better when you don't.

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
AP Photo/Paul SakumaCalifornia coach Jeff Tedford faces an important offseason following a disappointing 5-7 season.
I can't recall him throwing a player or coach under the bus for shortcomings or gameday failure. My impression is Tedford values loyalty -- among his players and assistants -- above anything else. To a fault perhaps, because that value might come before winning. And Tedford needs to start doing that again.

There is something wrong at Cal. The Bears have too many good players to finish 5-7. Yet there's also abundant evidence that Tedford is a good coach.

That means that he needs to take a long, hard and coldly objective look at his staff this month.

Why has his offensive line play slipped since Jim Michalczik left in 2008? Why has the performance at quarterback cratered? Does he have enough fire in the locker room? Does he have enough discipline? Why does his team show up and fight some weeks and seem completely flat others?

"It’s very important to evaluate everything that we do," Tedford said. "Obviously, we need to improve. There were games that were close and games that weren’t. Schematics, offseason work — whatever it is -- my job as head coach is to go back and evaluate everything we do. I’m going to gather information."

Gathering is good. I do not have answers. I am not in the locker room. I don't watch practices. And I won't use hearsay to judge a program. But let there be no doubt: Just going into 2011 with everything the same will not only signify inertia, it will inevitably lead to failure.

My impression is defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast did a solid job this season, and the long-time NFL coach will have a far better feel for the Pac-12 and the college game next fall. Still, is each defensive position coach the right fit? Does he get the most out of his players?

As for the offense: What is a fair and reasonable judgment of coordinator Andy Ludwig after two seasons? Should the Bears offense be better? Does it consistently out-scheme and outflank opposing defenses? Does it make successful, in-game adjustments? Is it fulfilling its potential based on available talent? Are players getting better as they get older?

Then comes quarterback. The Nate Longshore-Kevin Riley years ruined Tedford's reputation as a quarterback guru, and after a few games with Brock Mansion, well, let's just say Bears fans aren't confident that the lackluster play at the position will get better next fall.

Tedford needs to find a mentally tough swashbuckler who demonstrates that mistakes and setbacks won't shake his confidence and make him tentative. And some consistent accuracy would be nice, too.

“It’s going to be wide open [at quarterback]," Tedford said. "We have some candidates there. We have some young guys that haven’t gotten an opportunity because of injuries and youth. There are going to be five or six guys in the competition. Our challenge will be trying to evaluate that many guys with the practice time. It’s not just a two-man race. It’s everybody. Brock got some invaluable experience down the stretch. Obviously, we have to play better at that position. And we need to do a better job of putting them in position to be successful as well."

Cal fans have been obsessed for the past few years over the question of whether Tedford is the guy to get the Bears to the proverbial "next level." Has Tedford plateaued? Or have Cal fans just become too greedy? Berkeley, after all, is not Tuscaloosa or Columbus. It's an elite university that's known more for its counterculture than its football culture.

And you know what? Our country needs a Berkeley more than it needs another win-at-all-cost institution. Of that I am 100 percent certain.

When Cal fans ask about Tedford, you almost feel they are as much asking about themselves and their university: Should I not care this much? Am I keeping this football stuff in perspective? Or should I be more even critical because Tedford is paid a whole bunch of money when world-class professors are not?

Two years ago, the questions were unfair and premature. Tedford had transformed a program and made it a cash cow. But this fall, they became fair and relevant. And it's clear Tedford knows that.

His job this offseason is to make changes that right the program and redirect it toward the trajectory it had during his first five seasons.

The Bears roster doesn't look like one that will win nine or 10 games in 2011. That's not the real issue. It's more about putting forward a consistent product that performs to its capabilities.

You know: One that lays a tangible foundation to again start winning nine or 10 (or 11) games on a regular basis in the future.

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 12

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
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Issues to consider heading into the 12th week of games.

Building a Mansion in the Big Game: In big games, such as a rivalry game, you often get special performances that you don't see coming that go down in rivalry lore. For example, if California QB Brock Mansion were to outplay Stanford's Andrew Luck in Saturday's big game; wouldn't that be something? I know: It sounds crazy. Luck is the likely top pick in the NFL draft this spring. Mansion is making his third career start after Kevin Riley went down with a career-ending knee injury, and he's completed less than 50 percent of his throws with just one TD. But that's just my point. Sometimes you can envision the truly unexpected, and if the Bears are going to notch the upset and win their eighth Big Game in nine years, Mansion is going to have to come up big.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonJake Locker will play his final home game Thursday night.
Locker's final home game: Jake Locker has not had the season anyone envisioned he would when he opted to return for his senior season at Washington instead of grabbing his millions in the NFL draft -- even his critics, who have an odd obsession with calling a humble, classy young man overrated and relishing in his failure to live up to stratospheric expectations. UCLA's visit Thursday is his final game in Husky Stadium. He will get big cheers when he's introduced with his senior class. Will he also inspire them with his play?

Big day for Barkley: Oregon State ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency defense. Opponents are completing 63.5 percent of their passes and the Beavers have yielded 17 TD throws. USC QB Matt Barkley is third in the conference in passing efficiency and leads the conference with 25 TD passes. Toss in a solid Trojans run game, which the Beavers' struggling front needs to account for first, and you have a recipe for Barkley to put up big numbers.

Can Cal's defense duplicate Oregon effort? The Bears held Oregon to just one offensive touchdown and a season-low 317 total yards. It was an inspired effort. But Stanford's offense is pretty salty, too, ranking in the nation's top 15 in both scoring and total offense. And it's a more downhill, punch-you-in-the mouth approach. Cal will need the same kind of consistent effort and focus against the Cardinal because its offense has been struggling and may not be able to score much against an improved Stanford defense.

Bruins run, run, run: Washington ranks 118th in the nation in run defense. The Bruins rank a solid fourth in the Pac-10 with 194.4 yards rushing per game, and their one-two punch of Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman is an effective lightning and thunder combo. It's expected to be cold, wet and rainy in Seattle tonight, which are not ideal conditions for the passing game, particularly for UCLA QB Richard Brehaut, who's never played in them. That means the Bruins should stick to the run and try to wear down a Huskies defense that tends to do just that.

Can Katz attack the Trojans' poor pass defense? Oregon State's offensive line has struggled all year, particularly in the running game, and RB Jacquizz Rodgers has vented his frustration a few times. The strength of the USC defense is up front, but it is vulnerable in the secondary, which has surrendered 284 yards passing per game, which ranks 116th in the nation, as well as 25 TD passes, most in the conference. Ryan Katz has struggled of late, and coach Mike Riley even briefly yanked him against Washington State. But Katz showed against Arizona that he can make plays downfield in the passing game. He's going to need to against the Trojans because the game could become a high-scoring affair.

Stanford ranked, but Cal owns the Big Game

November, 17, 2010
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Does Jim Harbaugh need a hug? Sure sounds like it. His poor, old Stanford team: How can it possibly survive this weekend at California in the Big Game?

Sure, Stanford is ranked sixth in the nation, and many educated eyes deem the Cardinal the nation's best one-loss team. Sure, Stanford's offense is among the most potent in the country. Sure, it's led by the likely top overall pick in this spring's NFL draft, quarterback Andrew Luck. Sure, the Cardinal are still in the running for the Rose Bowl, which Cal last played in 457 years ago.

Shane Vereen
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezCalifornia's Shane Vereen racked up 193 yards on 42 carries in the Bears' win over Stanford last season.
But Cal has won seven out of eight Big Games, including a surprising 34-28 upset last year at Stanford.

"You mentioned last year, but you could really go back the last eight years," Harbaugh said. "We're trying to make this rivalry game a rivalry. But you can't really call it a rivalry when you've lost seven out of the last eight games."

Poor, old Stanford.

California darn near beat top-ranked Oregon last weekend before succumbing 15-13. The Bears' defense only allowed one offensive touchdown against the high-powered Ducks. Oregon rolled over Stanford 52-31. So what is the poor old Cardinal to do?

"It's the best defense we've played by far," Harbaugh said. "They really look like the best team in the Pac-10, especially at home."

Cal, by the way, is 5-5. It lost by 21 at Nevada, 34 at USC and 28 at Oregon State, which just lost to Washington State.

Ah, but the Big Game, which ninth-year Bears coach Jeff Tedford seemingly owns, will be played inside Strawberry Canyon, where Cal's only loss this season is the nail-biter to the Ducks.

On the road, the Bears might play like Elmer Fudd but at home they transform into Wolverine. Why? No one knows. It's a mystery on par with Kim Kardashian's celebrity.

"I've been asked that enough times, so I should have analyzed it," Tedford said. "If I had the magical answer it would have been taken care of a long time ago."

What we can understand with metaphysical certainty is that Cal is going to need to score to beat Stanford, and it hasn't done much of that since quarterback Kevin Riley went down with a season-ending knee injury and was replaced by Brock Mansion. In the 11-plus quarters since Mansion has been running the offense -- including starts against Washington State and Oregon -- the Bears have scored just five touchdowns. Mansion has just one TD pass with two interceptions and is completing just 46.8 percent of his throws.

Seeing that Bears running back Shane Vereen gashed Stanford for 193 yards and three scores on 42 carries -- 42! -- in last year's Big Game, you can imagine the basics of the Cardinal's defensive plan: Gang up on Vereen, force Mansion to make plays in the passing game.

"It's going to be very important for him to keep his composure and for him just to play within himself and not try to do too much," Tedford said. "He's still learning, there's no doubt about it."

So Cal's challenge is to figure out creative ways to move the ball and keep the dramatically improved Stanford defense honest.

But that's nothing compared to poor, old Stanford.

"We're really trying to figure out how we can move the ball against them," Harbaugh said. "This week preparing for Cal's defense is pretty much like preparing for an NFL team."

The matchup of Stanford's physical offensive line and the Cal front seven will be interesting. The Bears lead the Pac-10 in total defense and sacks (30). Stanford is 14th in the nation in total offense and has yielded just four sacks, which is tied for fewest in the nation.

When asked about last year's game, Harbaugh said the Cardinal "got the fuzzy end of the popsicle." After purchasing hundreds of different brands of popsicles, the Pac-10 blog was unable to find one with a fuzzy end, but Harbaugh provided clarity by noting that the problem for Stanford in the 2009 Big Game was "we didn't score as many points as the Bears did."

Nothing like cutting to the chase. And in Saturday's game, while there will be an intriguing strength-on-strength battle between the Cal defense and the Stanford offense, this one really comes down to whether Mansion and the Cal offense can rise to the occasion and score more points than poor, old Stanford.

Oregon drives, survives to beat Cal

November, 14, 2010
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BERKELEY, Calif. -- The narrative trajectory of a national championship run is rarely a straight line. There are zigs and zags even during an undefeated season. Some games are prettier than others. Sometimes the biggest statements are made in unexpected ways. It's just the way college football is.

So perhaps it's fitting that the offensive juggernaut that is top-ranked Oregon made its most powerful statement on its worst night of the season by not scoring. The flashy Ducks, who are all about hanging half-a-hundred on foes with lightning-quick drives that make bathroom breaks risky for fans, became yeomanlike in their final possession of a 15-13 victory over California, slowing the pace, grinding out first downs and burning the clock.

Oregon, clinging to a two-point lead, took over at its 20-yard line with 9:25 left in the game, and 18 plays later -- 17 runs -- quarterback Darron Thomas took a knee at the Bears’ 15-yard line. Game over. Ducks survive.

It was the Ducks’ only drive of the night of more than 46 yards. But somewhere Woody Hayes is smiling.

"Coach [Chip] Kelly told us in the huddle before we went out there that this was going to be the drive of the year; this was going to be the drive we remember," Thomas said. "Exactly what he told us was, 'This is going to be the drive you tell your family about 30 years from now.'"

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks cornerback Cliff Harris
Kyle Terada/US PresswireOregon found a way to win without its high-scoring offense against Cal. Cliff Harris scored the Ducks' first touchdown on a 64-yard punt return.
Oregon is 10-0. If they win three more games -- two regular season and the national title game -- they will have plenty to tell their children and grandchildren about.

But this was not the Ducks we've seen this season, at least offensively. They looked vulnerable. They were getting whipped at the line of scrimmage. California was penetrating up front and blanketing Ducks' receivers in the secondary with man-coverage -- even after losing starting cornerbacks Darian Hagan and Marc Anthony to injury.

"It was ripe for the upset," Cal safety Chris Conte said. "We knew that if we came out and executed, this team was very beatable. Watching film,we saw their people making mistakes. We knew if we held them to no big plays, we'd be right in this game. We should have won."

That was a popular theme among the Cal players. But it also is curious that a team that can play with top-ranked Oregon can lose by 28 to Oregon State, the Beavers' only win in their past four games.

Oregon was held to a season-low 317 yards. But it made four of its eight successful third-down conversions on the final drive.

And after 400 words, perhaps we should take note of the Ducks' defense. It held the Bears to just 193 yards, 49 of which came on their first possession, when they took a 7-0 lead after the Ducks failed on one of their six fourth-down conversion attempts (they made four).

"You see the true character of a team when it's not 50-7 or whatever," defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. "It's awesome to see that if our offense struggles, our defense can step up."

The Ducks' defense was certainly helped by the absence of a Cal passing game. Quarterback Brock Mansion, making his second start since Kevin Riley went down with a season-ending knee injury, completed 10 of 28 passes for 69 yards. He didn't throw an interception, and he made a couple of nice passes, but it was clear that running back Shane Vereen, who rushed for 112 yards on 26 carries, was the Bears' only offensive weapon.

Oregon didn't help itself much. It missed two field goals; the first kicker Rob Beard has missed this season. It had eight penalties for 62 yards. And Thomas gifted the Bears a TD when he fumbled into the end zone in the third quarter while cocking to throw, and nose tackle Derrick Hill recovered for a touchdown.

For the first time this year, Oregon was challenged well into the fourth quarter. It was a new experience. Kelly, however, said his team never showed any signs of tightness, and his players agreed.

"We were never worried or thinking about losing," Thomas said. "We never thought about losing."

As for style points, none of the Ducks seemed too concerned that the judges -- the pollsters, the computers, the BCS standings -- might dock them for failing to win in their typical fancypants manner.

"At the end of the season, they are not going to say, 'How many points did they beat Cal by?'" said running back LaMichael James, who finished with 91 yards on 29 carries.

This week, though, they are going to ask about James. The Heisman Trophy candidate had to be helped off the field in the game's waning moments. Afterward, he was wearing a boot on his left foot and was on crutches.

"I'm good," he said. "I'll be at practice next week."

The Ducks are off until Arizona visits Autzen Stadium on Nov. 26. They are moving into territory that the program and long-suffering fan base have never experienced before.

So forgive Kelly and his players for not beating themselves up for winning ugly.

"A win's a win," Kelly said. "We're happy. We're 10-0."

Mansion takes over for Cal

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
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It hasn't been easy for Brock Mansion to be patient. He's been thinking about being California's quarterback since his redshirt freshman season. He's seen the Bears' offense frequently struggle with Kevin Riley running things, and he's heard fans griping and wanting a change at the position. But he never got the call from coach Jeff Tedford.

Until now.

Now the junior has been handed the keys to the offense. Riley's career is done after a knee injury suffered last weekend at Oregon State. Mansion can practically end a spring QB competition before it begins by salvaging the Bears' season with strong performances that produce some wins down the season's final stretch.

[+] EnlargeBrock Mansion
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesBrock Mansion will take over at quarterback for the injured Kevin Riley.
What does Mansion want to accomplish? Seemingly everything.

"I want to cut it loose and play football," he said. "I want to put some points on the board. I want to be consistent through every single series. I don't want to have any three-and-outs. I want to move the ball down the field, and I want a lot of first downs."

If he does that, Cal will win Saturday at Washington State and probably win a few more, or at least enough -- two of the final four -- required to become bowl eligible.

The first task is avoiding making big mistakes that could cause the Bears to become the first Pac-10 team to lose to the Cougars in 16 games. If Mansion is nervous or uncomfortable making his first start on the road, early mistakes could be catastrophic, particularly in view of Cal's poor performances on the road this season.

"Well, he better be comfortable," running back Shane Vereen said. "He better be ready to go. I know he will be. I have full, complete confidence."

Mansion is a big, strapping Texan -- 6-foot-5, 232 pounds -- with good athletic ability. He can move in the pocket. Two years ago in spring practice, he was expected to challenge Riley for the starting job. But he lost out, and then went back-and-forth with Beau Sweeney for the backup job before re-taking it this fall.

If Mansion struggles, however, it's not likely that Tedford would wait long to go with Sweeney.

"Anytime you go into a game, and it's your first start, there's going to be the natural anxiety of starting your first college football game," Tedford said. "But Brock has a very good mindset. He's confident. He'll be prepared to play."

Mansion said he's kept "grinding and grinding" believing there would be a payoff at the end. And so here it is. What happens going forward is up to him.

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 10

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
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Issues to consider heading into the 10th week of games.

Is Foles in sync early? Nick Foles is expected to return to his starting spot at quarterback after missing two games with a dislocated knee cap. Foles is one of the best QBs in the nation, no doubt. But this is not just another start. For one, he'll be thinking about his knee early, no matter how hard he tries to block it out. That might affect his performance. And rust might be an issue -- Foles hasn't been at game-speed since going down at Washington State on Oct. 16. Moreover, if Foles isn't in-sync and, say, throws an early interception, how quickly might Mike Stoops go with Matt Scott, who was outstanding filling in for Foles? In a big game, when the stakes are high, it might be hard to be patient.

[+] EnlargeUSC V. Oregon
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillUSC will have to rebound after getting crushed by Oregon in its "bowl game" last week.
Fight still on for USC? USC can't play in a bowl game this season, so a few Trojans called last week's game with No. 1 Oregon their bowl game. Well, they lost their bowl game by three TDs; does that mean the season is over? Does the cumulative effect of two last-second losses and that blowout defeat -- not to mention what figures to be a small crowd in the Coliseum -- leave the Trojans unfocused and unmotivated with Arizona State in town fighting for its bowl life?

"Tavita" Price? Washington would have had no chance at Oregon even with Jake Locker. It will have even less of no chance without him. Right? Redshirt freshman Keith Price surely will wilt under the pressure of boisterous Autzen Stadium and relentless blitzing from mean-old Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. Right? Well, Duck fans, let's not forget that in 2007 a Stanford team with no chance that also was starting a backup QB who made things even no-chancer entered the Coliseum -- where USC had won 35 in a row -- and beat the No. 2 Trojans, 24-23, on a 10-yard TD pass on fourth down from Tavita Pritchard. But lightning won't strike again. Right?

Lots of Jacquizz: Jacquizz Rodgers and the Oregon State running game broke through last weekend versus a good California run defense. So what will it do against a struggling UCLA run defense, which is yielding more than 200 yards per game? The guess here is Mike Riley will be eager to test the fortitude of the Bruins, whose season is teetering on the brink.

Building a Mansion on the road: Cal has been a complete disaster on the road this year, at least other than a tight game at Arizona. That makes even a trip to Washington State ominous. Further, after QB Kevin Riley suffered a season-ending knee injury during a blowout loss at Oregon State, junior Brock Mansion now will be making his first career start. Crowd noise won't be an issue -- Martin Stadium won't be full. And, while there might be some rain, the elements won't be a factor, as they sometimes are in Pullman. For Mansion, it will be all about staying focused and poised and making plays against perhaps the worst defense in the nation. Is Mansion -- and his supporting cast -- up to that, even if they aren't playing inside the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium?

Make Luck un-Lucky: The challenge for Arizona's defense is to get the Pac-10's most talented and efficient passer, Stanford's Andrew Luck, out of his comfort zone. That won't be easy. The Cardinal again has a great running game -- 224 yards per game -- and it protects Luck well, with just three sack surrendered. And even if you pressure Luck, he's such a good runner that he can make a big play with his legs just after you think a sack dance is coming. The Wildcats lead the conference in sacks, with 3.38 per game, and Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed are the best defensive end combo in the conference. But the Wildcats will have to give Luck lots of different looks, and hope that a few of them cause him a bit of angst. And provoke a mistake (or two).

A Threet to the Trojans' secondary: Arizona State QB Steven Threet leads the Pac-10 in passing yards per game. USC ranks last in passing yards surrendered. That would seem to favor Threet and the Sun Devils. At the same time, Threet has hurled 13 interceptions, most in the conference. Threet has proven he can make plays in the passing game, and USC has proven vulnerable to passers. But Threet sometimes is his own worst enemy. Can the Trojans -- and coordinator Monte Kiffin -- rattle Threet into making mistakes?

James makes more Heisman noise (and maybe Thomas, too): My Mama always said if you can't say something nice, don't say anything. But then I wouldn't be able to do my job, which is at this moment to observe that the Washington defense is lousy. The Huskies are particularly bad versus the run. Oh, by the way, Oregon rushes for 309 yards per game. So expect Ducks running back LaMichael James to get another 200-yard performance and then sit out the fourth quarter. And when the Huskies become addled trying to stop James, Thomas will find plenty of opportunities downfield. Count on both putting up numbers that are noted in next week's review of Heisman Trophy candidates.

Just when you count the Bruins out...: Seems like we've already written off UCLA about five times this year. And folks are always trying to write of Rick Neuheisel. But it also seems like, just when things are darkness for Neuheisel ... sunrise! Mike Riley seemed to be aware of that this week; he seemed genuinely concerned about how his team might view UCLA's vulnerability. Not sure how the Bruins would beat the surging Beavers, but stranger things certainly have happened. Recall that the Beavers didn't exactly shine the last time they were on the road at Washington.

Breakthrough for the Cougs? Speaking of strange things: The Cougars last Pac-10 win came in the 2008 Apple Cup against the winless Huskies. So Cal comes to Pullman looking to hand the Cougs a 16th consecutive conference defeat. If Washington State had played Arizona State tougher last weekend -- instead of, say, losing 42-0 -- then it would be easier to project an upset. Still, you'd think that, based on some of the competitive performances this year, the Cougs are going to surprise someone and get a win at some point. Cal, with a new starting QB and a tendency to throw up on itself on the road, seems like a legitimate potential victim.

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