Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson was doing what most coaches do during his news conference Monday: Praising his opponent, which in this instance was California. He ticked off a list of the Bears better known players: running back Shane Vereen, receiver Marvin Jones, defensive end Cameron Jordan and linebacker Mike Mohamed.
Had a nice thing to say about each. And not without reason.
He also mentioned Cal quarterback Kevin Riley: "Riley has been playing for a long time."
When you can't say something nice about someone, just say something neutral. And accurate: Riley, a senior, has started 29 games and has 18 career victories, more than any active Pac-10 quarterback.
But he has yet to become a consistent performer, and the same can be said about the Bears as a team. It's also likely those two impressions are not unrelated.
When Riley is on target, the Bears roll. In the victories against UC Davis, Colorado and UCLA, he completed 63 percent of his passes for 538 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer efficiency rating of 182.65. In three losses to Nevada, Arizona and USC, Riley completed 55.4 percent of his throws for 586 yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions for a passer efficiency rating of 106.66.
Key note: Those wins were all at home. The losses on the road. And the Bears are at home on Saturday. Not to mention that Arizona State hasn't won in Berkeley since 1997, or that Cal has won six of seven in the series as well as four in a row.
Moreover, Riley posted one of his best career games at Arizona State in 2009, passing for 351 yards -- his second-best single game total -- and two TDs in a 23-21 victory that featured a late drive for the game-winning field goal.
That's positive stuff for Bears fans to lean on because coach Jeff Tedford made it clear that, despite his struggles, Riley is the Bears starting quarterback and will remain so this season.
"Kevin is our starting quarterback and gives us our best chance to win," Tedford said. "We're not going to make a change there unless something unforeseen happened."
"If they were close to being the best quarterback that we have on this football team, then they would see time, [but] that's not the case," Tedford said. "Kevin's experienced and Kevin still does some very good things and, like I said, still gives us the best chance to win. Those guys aren't to his level right now."
Both the Sun Devils and Bears are 3-3 overall and 1-2 in Pac-10 play. Both probably feel the game is critical to their bowl hopes. And Erickson doesn't think the Sun Devils are going to get the Cal team that looked so feckless during a 48-14 loss at USC last weekend.
"[Cal is] like all of us in this league," Erickson said. "You don’t know what is going to happen from one week to the next. We’re all kind of like that except Oregon with the way they have been playing ... They’re a good football team. What you saw on last Saturday against USC you won’t see this Saturday against us."
As for Tedford, who's drawn criticism of late for the number of lopsided losses over the past two seasons, he said his team can't afford to dwell on the disaster at USC or look beyond the Sun Devils.
"It's about focus and preparation for this week, that's all that matters," he said.
The Bears didn't look like they had much of either last weekend. Perhaps they'll (again) rediscover it inside the friendly confines of Strawberry Canyon.