NCF Nation: Nate Longshore

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.

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).
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.

Tedford trying to block out critics

April, 13, 2011
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BERKELEY, Calif. -- California coach Jeff Tedford hears the negative chatter but he's trying not to listen. The operative word there being "trying." He also understands why some Bears fans are grumbling, but such talk nonetheless frustrates him.

Tedford rebuilt a lousy program and created a high standard to which Cal fans happily became accustomed. Yet over the past few seasons, he has not consistently met that high standard.

"All of a sudden, you have an eight-win season and it's not good enough," Tedford said. "Then, all of the sudden, you have a [losing season] and it's, 'Wow, what happened here?'"

[+] EnlargeJeff Tedford
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAn imposing front seven on defense should help coach Jeff Tedford and Cal be competitive against elite teams in 2012.
Things turned sour in Berkeley in 2010, a 5-7 finish that was Tedford's first losing season -- first season with fewer than seven wins -- in nine years leading the program. Meanwhile, on the south side of the Bay Area equation, archrival Stanford won a BCS bowl game and appears poised to start 2011 ranked in the top 10. That juxtaposition doesn't sit well with the Old Blues.

It no longer matters where Tedford started, taking over a 1-10 program in 2002 that won seven or more games just four times in the 24 previous seasons. Forget that from 1978 to 2001, Cal won three or fewer games nine times. Sure, back then, a couple of seven-win seasons -- heck, even 5-7 -- would have seemed pretty nice.

No longer.

But it's more than that, Tedford's critics will tell you.

What happened to Tedford, the quarterback guru? Tedford transformed Kyle Boller from a five-star recruiting bust into a first-round NFL draft pick. He then discovered Aaron Rodgers out of nowhere and made him into a first-round pick. Nate Longshore appeared poised to join them when he led the Bears to a 5-0 start and No. 2 national ranking in 2007. But, really, since Longshore sprained his ankle during a marquee win at Oregon on Sept. 29, 2007 -- Cal fans just fainted recalling the memory of what happened next -- the Bears haven't benefited from consistent play at quarterback.

It's not just losing, either: It's the nature of the defeats. In Tedford's first seven seasons, the Bears suffered only two defeats by more than two touchdowns. Over the past two seasons, they've lost eight games by 17 or more points and six by 27 or more.

Further, the staff turnover, particularly at offensive coordinator, has been notable. Not including himself, Tedford has gone through four offensive coordinators before arriving at his present, complicated configuration, with offensive line coach Jim Michalczik returning as coordinator, running backs coach Ron Gould set as running game coordinator, receivers coach Eric Kiesau set as passing game coordinator and Tedford (again) helping with the quarterbacks and (again) calling plays.

A couple of years ago, Tedford listened to the nattering nabobs of negativism and he wanted to smack them. Now, he's trying to be philosophical about criticism. Trying.

"I have it back in focus now not to worry about the external things," he said. "That one year [2009] we went [8-5] and it felt like we went [5-8], it felt like people were real irritable about that. I was irritable, too. About their reaction to [8-5]. Now, I'm just back to focusing on what it takes to get us back on the upward trend again."

If you're the sort who prefers optimism, there's grounds for that, too. For one, Michalczik and Kiesau were both with Tedford during the "glory years." There's history and comfort there. And Michalczik is widely considered an elite line coach, perhaps the best in the Pac-12. The play of the Bears' O-line hasn't been as good the past two seasons while Michalczik was with the Oakland Raiders.

Further, Tedford is re-engaging on the offensive side, and not only by calling plays, as he did during his early years at Cal. He's also working extensively with the quarterbacks, even to the point of sitting in all QB meetings.

"Consistency at quarterback has been something that has hurt us at times," Tedford said.

Another big-picture item for Cal fans to be upbeat about: An uptick in recruiting that, perhaps not coincidentally, began when stadium and facilities renovation projects began in earnest after protesters -- old school Berkeley! -- were forced out of the trees. The Bears are nomads this spring, traveling from site to site in search of good grass to practice on, and they will play "home" games in AT&T Park this year. But when Memorial Stadium re-opens in 2012, the structure will match the grandeur of its Strawberry Canyon home.

As for hot-seat talk -- it's probably more accurate to call Tedford's chair lukewarm -- the players are aware of said chatter. They don't live in a protective bubble. And they are aware that pointed observations about the blowout defeats also fall on them, whether those embarrassments are about poor preparation, a lack of mental toughness in the face of adversity or -- gulp -- a propensity to quit when an opponent asserts itself.

"We all love Coach," offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "His past record of success, that's why we are all here. There's no grumbling [in the locker room]. We're more disappointed in ourselves. We feel like we let the coaching staff down."

And, of late, Cal fans feel let down. When the Bears were controversially blocked from playing in their first Rose Bowl since 1959 by Texas and the BCS computers following the 2004 season -- Cal fans just fainted for a second time while reading this story -- the consolation was a confident belief that it was just a matter of time before a Tedford squad ended that lengthy, painful Rose-less run.

The clock is still ticking -- 52 years and counting -- on that one, though.

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.

A tip of the cap to Cal's Kevin Riley

November, 2, 2010
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California won't build a statue of Kevin Riley outside of Memorial Stadium. It's unlikely that many Old Blues will demand their children and grandchildren be named "Kevin" or "Riley" in tribute to the now-former Cal quarterback. The Bears have produced many good quarterbacks through the years. Riley will be well down the list when they count off the best ones.

But would it be too much to pause and tip our caps to Riley? To give him -- if not praise -- at least respect?

For whatever reason that Riley never became a "special" quarterback, it wasn't for a lack of trying. You wanted the Bears to win every game and Riley to go all Aaron Rodgers? Trust me: Riley wanted it more. My guess is he had plenty of nights tossing and turning wondering why things couldn't come together.

[+] EnlargeKevin Riley
AP Photo/Rick BowmerCal's Kevin Riley threw for 1,409 yards this season before injuring his left knee.
“It’s upsetting to see Kevin end his collegiate career like that,” Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said in a statement reporting Riley's career-ending knee injury suffered at Oregon State last Saturday.

“He has been a very strong competitor during his time at Cal and has dedicated himself to our program. He’s a great team player and has a lot of passion for Cal football. He’s provided a lot of great moments.”

What a complicated relationship Tedford and Riley have had. Recall their first made-for-TV moment, when Riley's ill-advised scramble in the last seconds against Oregon State in 2007 -- he was filling in for an injured Nate Longshore when Nate Longshore was still Nate Longshore -- probably cost the Bears the No. 1 ranking. The cameras caught Tedford, far from the demonstrative sort on the sideline, jumping into the air and slamming his play sheet to the ground.

Tedford's moving compassion for Riley on Saturday when it was clear the injury was severe is probably being noted by recruits and their parents: This guy cares about his players.

Tedford has benched Riley. He's defended Riley. He tried to get others to beat him out. He spent this past offseason telling anyone who would listen that Riley's numbers ranked him among all the celebrated quarterbacks in the Pac-10.

Those numbers? Riley is among Cal’s all-time leaders in touchdown passes (50, No. 5), total offense (6,136, No. 6), passer efficiency (131.55, No. 7), passing yardage (6,182, No. 8) and 250-yard passing games (7, No. 10). He has completed 55.5 percent of his throws with 50 TDs and 21 interceptions. He has scored another five touchdowns on the ground.

Riley is 19-12 in 31 career starts. He's won more games than any other active Pac-10 quarterback. Riley had a string of 11 straight games with a touchdown pass, spanning the final eight outings of his junior campaign and the first three of this season. In 2010, he completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,409 yards with 13 touchdown and six interceptions. He probably had his strongest performance of the season in his last full game before the injury, completing 19 of 28 passes for 240 yards, with two touchdown tosses and no interceptions in a 50-17 win over Arizona State.

As of today, he's ranked 32nd in the nation in passing efficiency.

There was a time when going 19-12 as Cal's QB would have been pretty darn good. These are not those times. Bears fans engorged themselves on the success of Tedford's early years and are frustrated that the program isn't taking the proverbial next step. Longshore and now Riley are the first two players who fans finger over the recent middling results.

And that frustration is not invalid. In the program's big picture, there are notable trends and patterns that are hard to ignore.

Therein lies something I always liked about Riley: He wasn't a whiner. And he never hid. He admitted his own frustration and shortcomings. Reporters would ask the tough questions, he'd provide the tough answers. Sometimes it was clear he wished his inquisitors knew enough about football to realize a lot of things go into a failed play, but he generally sucked it up.

He tried to get better. He worked on his mechanics. He fought to retain his confidence in a new-media world that makes it impossible to block out criticism.

Riley burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2007, when he entered the Armed Forced Bowl early in the second quarter, trailing 21-0, and directed the Bears to a 42-36 victory over Air Force. He completed 16-of-19 for 269 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

At that point, it was hard to believe his future script wouldn't include championships and postseason honors.

But not everyone gets a storybook ending. At least in sports. Riley's got his whole life ahead in which to write a lasting, more substantive script than the ones recounting the events on fall Saturdays.

But as to that football part of Riley's life, today we tip our cap. Respect.
Breaking down the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl between California (8-4) and No. 23 Utah (9-3).

WHO TO WATCH: Cal quarterback Kevin Riley. Riley stood on the sidelines last year and watched Nate Longshore play terribly in the Bears' Emerald Bowl win over Miami. He was on the bench because of inconsistency, and that's still his biggest problem. Cal averaged 29 points per game this year but only 10 points per game in its four losses. Not all of that, of course, falls on Riley -- heck, the Bears lost those four by an average of nearly 29 points; it wasn't just one guy. But it's hard to imagine that if Riley comes out sharp, the Bears' chances won't be greatly enhanced.

WHAT TO WATCH: The consensus thinking entering the season was that Cal owned one of the nation's best secondaries. The crew didn't live up to the hype, ranking seventh in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency defense, with opponents completing 63 percent of their throws. Utah, however, isn't a great passing team. It decided to make a quarterback switch eight games into the season to true freshman Jordan Wynn, who's done some good things but has completed only 50 percent of his passes over the last three games. It's likely that cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson will see a lot of action opposite the Utes' best receiver, David Reed. It's unlikely the Utes will be able to run all over the Bears' solid rushing defense. They will have to throw, and that's a battle the Bears need to win.

WHY TO WATCH: First off, aren't you curious which Cal team shows up? You might get the one that was once ranked sixth in the country and whipped Arizona and Stanford. Or you might get the one that lost by 32 points at Washington. Second, it's a good matchup. The winner will end up nationally ranked and will feel fairly good about its season. The loser will not.

PREDICTION: California, 28-24. As we've said before: Golden Bears, why can't we quit you? The simple fact is Cal has better players. If they show up with a sound plan and play hard, they should win. The Bears have shown some resilience this year when folks are counting them out, winning five of six after getting bludgeoned on consecutive weekends by Oregon and USC. The humbling debacle at Washington should serve as motivation. Bears, do you really want to go out as losers in 2009?

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller 

We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

It really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either. 'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.

Final Pac-10 power rankings

January, 14, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Sorting out the Pac-10 final pecking order heading into the off-season.

 
  Jody Gomez/US Presswire
  Mark Sanchez and the Trojans rolled to another Rose Bowl win.

1. USC: Led by a defense for the ages, the Trojans won a seventh consecutive Pac-10 title and finished ranked in the top-five for a seventh consecutive season, but the nation's most talented team should have played for -- and likely won -- the third national championship of the Pete Carroll era. Yet after all the debate about the BCS and playoffs and comparing one-loss teams, the Trojans must look in the mirror and recall the debacle at Oregon State.

2. Oregon: The Ducks overcame a bizarre string of injuries at quarterback and became an offensive juggernaut by season's end with Jeremiah Masoli running their spread-option attack. They won their final four games, averaging 49.3 points during the streak, to finish with a 10-3 record, the program's fourth 10-win season over the last nine years.

3. Oregon State: The Beavers began slowly (again) with another 2-3 start (three in a row) but they ended up with another bowl victory (five in a row) and final national ranking (third consecutive season). The highlight, of course, was beating USC (second time in three years) on national television, 27-21. The lowlight was the blowout Civil War defeat to rival Oregon that knocked the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl.

4. California: The Bears were up-and-down much of the season, but they showed a resiliency that surely was re-assuring to their fans after 2007's implosion. A bowl victory, a final 9-4 record and a No. 25 ranking in the coaches' poll in what looked like a rebuilding year is a solid finish. The quarterback carousel was the biggest issue, with neither Nate Longshore nor Kevin Riley establishing himself as the starter. Both, in fact, seemed to regress amid the uncertainty. But running back Jahvid Best broke out to win the conference rushing title and establish himself as a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2009, when the Bears should be in the conference championship mix.

5. Arizona: Coach Mike Stoops needed to lead Arizona to its first bowl game since 1998 in order to retain his job and he did just that. Sure, the soft nonconference slate made things a lot easier. And, sure, there were bad losses -- New Mexico and late leads squandered against Stanford and Oregon State. But the Wildcats ended a three-game losing streak to rival Arizona State, beat BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl with a strong performance and ended up with eight wins and votes in the final national polls.

6. Arizona State: A huge downer of a season in Tempe. The Sun Devils were coming off a 10-win season in 2007 and earned a No. 15 preseason ranking, but it quickly became clear that they were overrated and the offensive line was even worse than suspected. The horrible overtime loss to UNLV was the first defeat in a six-game losing streak, the program's worst since the Great Depression. Three wins once the schedule hit a soft spot restored flagging bowl hopes, but those ended with a 31-10 loss at Arizona in the season finale.

7. Stanford: Stanford showed signs of life in its second season under Jim Harbaugh, developing a physical approach on both sides of the ball, particularly with the running game. But the lack of game-breaking athletes -- and four losses in the final five games -- kept the Cardinal from reaching bowl eligibility. The highlight was a comeback win over Arizona. The lowlight, a late surrendered lead at UCLA, though some might wince over the blowout loss to Cal in the Big Game to conclude the season. Stanford seems to be building nicely for the future, though the biggest question now is how much of that future Harbaugh will be around for.

8. UCLA: No team in the nation experienced such dramatic highs and lows to start the season as the Bruins, who upset then 18th-ranked Tennessee in overtime in the opener, then went belly-up in a 59-zip loss at BYU in game No. 2. The Bruins' problems were twofold in the first year of the Rick Neuheisel era: 1. They weren't very talented; 2. They had lots of injuries. A third issue grew out of those two: They got little out of the quarterback position. While Kevin Craft led a couple of comeback wins, he also tossed 20 interceptions vs. just seven touchdown passes. In Craft's defense, the offensive line was lousy so there was no running game to take the pressure off him. Neuheisel is scoring elsewhere, though. It appears he's about to land a highly rated recruiting class. On the worrisome side, defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker bolted for New Mexico State.

9. Washington State: First-year coach Paul Wulff didn't inherit much talent and it showed, particularly when he couldn't keep any of his top three quarterbacks healthy. For much of the year, the Cougars looked like the nation's worst BCS conference team. They finished ranked last in the nation in six statistical categories, including rush defense (247.6 yards per game) and turnover margin (minus-1.9) and lower than 100th in 23. Oh, but in the Apple Cup against Washington the Cougars roared, staging an improbable comeback in the waning moments of the fourth quarter to force overtime, where they outlasted the Huskies for a 16-13 victory, thereby relegating their chief rivals to the inglorious spot at the bottom of college football.

10. Washington: What is there to say about a 0-12 season that ends, not unreasonably, with the coach being fired? Recall that the season started with speculation that Tyrone Willingham needed a bowl game to save his job. A bowl game? Ha. The Huskies were blown out at Oregon to start the season, then fell an extra point short against BYU in game two. When quarterback Jake Locker, the team's unquestioned leader went down with a season-ending thumb injury in a loss to Stanford -- the Huskies' last competitive game until the Apple Cup -- the season was completely lost. New coach Steve Sarkisian inherits a once-proud program that has lost its way. The biggest reason for optimism is this: It can't get any worse.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Jahvid Best and Zach Follett saved California from an embarrassing loss in the Emerald Bowl, what amounted to a home game against a young Miami team starting a true freshman quarterback.

 
  AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
  California running back Jahvid Best carried the majority of the load -- and the credit -- for the Bears Emerald Bowl win over Miami.

Best's 186 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries represented nearly all of Cal's offense in the 24-17 win, while Follett's second sack of the night forced a fumble from Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris and set up with winning score with 2:41 left.

That winning score came on a Nate Longshore pass to Anthony Miller on second-and-goal from the 2. It appeared Longshore was throwing to tight end Cameron Morrah, but Longshore will take any smidgen of good fortune he can get.

The final start of Longshore's career was mostly forgettable. While he didn't throw an interception, he completed just 10 of 21 passes for 121 yards, 74 of which came on dump to Verran Tucker that turned into a big play and set up Best's first score.

Longshore, who's been in a sometimes strange, season-long battle for the starting job with Kevin Riley, also tripped and fell to the ground on a third and goal play from the Miami 1-yard line with the score tied 14-14 late in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Harris completed 25 of 41 for 194 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He outplayed Longshore for much of the game before the late fumble and some remarkably bad clock management at the end that prevented Miami from mounting a potentially game-tying drive in the final two minutes.

Said the Cal fans: Whew.

And so Longshore, after a star-crossed career that included more than a few boos from the home fans, finished with a win. That counts for something.

Cal fans will be eager to see what Best will do next fall, hopefully with just one quarterback handing him the ball. The sophomore had runs of 42, 32, 28 and 25 yards, and probably earned a spot on most short lists for the 2009 Heisman Trophy.

He hurt his thumb with nine minutes left in the game and didn't gain another yard, but was on the field when Longshore notched his redeeming moment.

Cal's win, though underwhelming, makes coach Jeff Tedford 5-1 in bowl games. The Bears finish the year at 9-4 and could enter the final top-25 poll.

The win also makes the Pac-10 2-0 in the bowl season.

Harris poised in defeat

December, 27, 2008
12/27/08
11:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

It's still too early to deem Jacory Harris Miami's starting quarterback for 2009, but even in defeat, the true freshman proved Saturday night he is definitely capable of the job.

 
  Phil Carter/US Presswire
  Playing well in an Emerald bowl defeat, Miami's Jacory Harris proved he is the quarterback of the future for the Hurricanes.

With suspended starter Robert Marve momentarily in the background, Harris played with poise in his second career start and further validated what coach Randy Shannon has been trying to tell everyone all along -- he's got two quarterbacks.

Harris grew up right before our eyes, and the 24-17 Emerald Bowl loss might have been different had the Hurricanes had better clock management and not wasted precious seconds in the final minute of their final drive. That, though, falls on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Patrick Nix, not his young quarterback. Nix has to have a two-minute drill Harris can handle as a true freshman, and Harris proved all game he can handle the pressure.

It was hardly a flawless performance, as Harris showed his youth with the interception, and should have held onto the ball more tightly in a critical fourth-quarter fumble that led to Cal's game-winning touchdown. But Harris' future is bright, as is Miami's. He finished with 194 yards and two touchdowns on 25 of 41 completions.

The biggest difference in this game was youth, and for the Hurricanes, that's hardly a bad thing.

Harris was occasionally a step slow with his timing, but for the most part did a good job recognizing coverages and was able to make plays out of nothing with his feet. He also threw the ball away instead of taking sacks. He gave his receivers catchable balls, but they didn't always return the favor (see Javarris James' drop in the end zone). As the game went on, Harris' confidence grew, and he began to take more chances.

Miami's offensive line struggled with both pass protection and run blocking early in the first half, and Cal controlled the line of scrimmage. As they settled down, though, so did Harris, and things began to open up for Lee Chambers and the running game in the third quarter.

As expected, Cal running back Jahvid Best racked up enough mileage to run back to campus.

Best was Mr. Inside AND Mr. Outside. He rolled off tackles, broke tackles, juked defenders and flat-out beat Miami with his speed in the open field.

He had to, because Cal's passing game was ineffective, and Miami's defense had a little something to do with that.

Miami wrapped up and tackled better than it did in its last two regular season losses to Georgia Tech and NC State, and the Canes got pressure on quarterback Nate Longshore as the game progressed.

Harris was easily the more productive of the two quarterbacks.

Aside from the poor clock management at the end of the game, Miami had nothing to be ashamed of in this game -- including the five suspensions.

The bowl appearance, the improvement on defense and Shannon's unwavering discipline all marked signs of positive change in his second season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Links go well with turkey and ham sandwiches.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Last lunch links of the regular season!

  • Steve Sarkisian is a good call for Washington. Perky is important, says Art Thiel.
  • Tyrone Willingham to Chicago Tribune: "Maybe Notre Dame got it right" on Charlie Weis.
  • Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter got booted out of a high school girls basketball game.
  • Deposed California quarterback Nate Longshore opens up and admits things haven't been good for him. The Emerald Bowl strikes a deal for California, which means it's Vegas for the Arizona-Arizona State winner.
  • Oregon and Chip Kelly are talking contract.
  • Oregon State will get either Pitt or West Virginia in the Sun Bowl -- unless UCLA upsets USC.
  • UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow has seen an offense as bad as his before -- at USC. And USC hasn't been the same since Chow was run off.
  • USC assistant Ken Norton doesn't want to talk to New Mexico State.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Lots of sloppy play here.

Bad tackling. Dropped passes. Special teams miscues.

Oregon State leads 17-14 because of some good special teams play.

It seems like whichever team gets more from its quarterback in the second half will end up on the happy side of the scoreboard.

But both QBs struggled in the first half.

Cal's Kevin Riley was 5 of 14 for 63 yards with a short TD pass.

The Bears two best pass plays came on the same drive. The first required a missed tackle from Beavers safety Al Afalava, which allowed LaReyelle Cunningham to turn a short pass into a 35-yard gain. The second was a trick play, with receiver Jeremy Ross connecting with Nyan Boateng for a 30-yard touchdown.

Oregon State's Lyle Moevao was 8 for 18 for 96 yards with an interception in Cal territory. He doesn't seem to be showing ill-affects from his shoulder injury, but he doesn't look in sync either.

Any chance either coach might look to his bench, Jeff Tedford for Nate Longshore or Mike Riley for Sean Canfield?

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