Best case-worst case: California
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ninth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.
Up next: California
Last year, California running back Jahvid Best blew a technicolor pizza on national television at Maryland. This year, he made the Terrapins nauseous.
In a tour de force performance that announced his Heisman Trophy candidacy like a bolt of lightning, Best rushed for 195 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 105 yards and a score -- most of which came on a 58-yard touchdown off a screen -- in a 44-10 victory.
Best produced touchdown runs of 55 and 68 yards but sat out the second half of a blowout victory over Eastern Washington.
The Bears overcame a shaky start at Minnesota and rolled in the second half for a 30-17 win.
That set up a marquee showdown for the No. 8 Bears at No. 5 Oregon with ESPN's College GameDay on location in Eugene.
Lee Corso donned the Duckhead. Kirk Herbstreit tapped the Bears.
"It's fair to say the winner of this game will send a player to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony," Chris Fowler said about Best and Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
The Bears led 17-10 at the half, a 76-yard run from Best being the difference.
With 3:05 left, the Bears led 24-20. From the Oregon 47, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley did a play-action fake to Best and launched a bomb.
But Ducks safety T.J. Ward didn't bite on the fake, and he out-leapt Marvin Jones for the interception.
Masoli drove the Ducks to Cal's 32, but faced a fourth-and-8 with 0:55 remaining.
Masoli set up to pass, but Bears end Cameron Jordan was on him. Masoli stiff-armed Jordan, and started to backpedal. Jordan was joined by Mike Mohamed in pursuit of Masoli, who reversed the field and started directing receivers downfield.
There was room to run. Masoli tucked and made a break, but just short of the line of scrimmage, he stopped and lobbed the ball into the corner of the endzone.
Tight end Ed Dickson leapt, but the ball was tipped away by safety Brett Johnson.
And onto the turf.
Autzen went silent.
"California might be the best team in the nation," Herbstreit said after the game.
"See you next week in Berkeley," Fowler concluded.
No. 2 USC vs. No. 4 California. Big. Perhaps the biggest game in Cal history.
"People have contemplated the origin and evolution of the universe since before the time of Aristotle," said George Smoot, Cal physics professor and Nobel Prize winner. "Very recently, the era of speculation has given way to a time of science. The advance of knowledge and of scientific ingenuity means that at long last, we can actually test our theories. But no body will be testing anything Saturday because the Bears are going to stomp 'SC. Go Bears! Whoooo! How 'bout another margarita!"
One piece of good news that emerged from the day as a sidebar was that Memorial Stadium, awaiting a major seismic retrofitting, proved it could withstand a minor earthquake.
We know that because the rumble inside Strawberry Canyon probably could have be heard across the Bay in San Francisco when Best went 75 yards for a touchdown on the Bears first possession, having outraced Trojans safety Taylor Mays the final 35 yards.
On the biggest stage, Best and Riley and an inspired defense pushed the Trojans around in a 40-17 victory, the worst loss of the Pete Carroll era.
Cal rose to No. 2 in the rankings. Texas coach Mack Brown complained. According to an ESPN.com poll, 78 percent of the college football nation believed he should quit whining.
"It's the matchup everyone wants to see," Fowler says. "Florida vs. Cal, Tim Tebow vs. Jahvid Best. SEC vs. Pac-10. It's freaking beautiful."
The Bears rolled through their next seven games by an average of 24 points. The offense ranked third in the nation with 41 points per game, the defense fifth with 13 ppg.
On a technicality, however, Cal didn't play in its first Rose Bowl since 1959.
"While disappointed we're not playing in the Rose Bowl, it is some consolation to play for the national title in the Rose Bowl Stadium against a fine team like Florida," Cal coach Jeff Tedford sighs.
Best, already called the best player in the nation by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, won the Heisman.
During a pre-BCS title game press conference, a reporter asked Best whether he won the Heisman because folks were tired of hearing and reading about Tebow.
"I hope not," Best says. "Because that would mean people are really stupid. Tim Tebow is the greatest college football player in history. And he's a great person. And I use the term 'great' in its true sense, not as a casual compliment. Why would people get tired of hearing about a guy who does so much good? A guy who remains humble despite all the accolades? I don't care if you don't subscribe to his religion. I don't care if you don't like Florida. I certainly don't like Florida this week. But the idea that people are tired of hearing about such an outstanding person bothers me and it should bother you. It's the worst type of cynicism."
Florida nipped Cal 43-42 in triple-overtime when Gators linebacker Brandon Spikes tipped away a Riley pass on a 2-point conversion.
California opened 2-0 with wins over Maryland and Eastern Washington, but a team that wanted to contend for championships had to win on the road.
And Cal still didn't prove that it can, which became clear when the Bears fell at Minnesota, 28-24, the program's fifth consecutive road defeat.
That, of course, didn't bode well for a visit to Oregon. This time the Bears were sharp to start, but Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli led a fourth-quarter rally and the Ducks prevailed, 27-24.
A home loss the following weekend to USC left a season that started with such promise on the brink of disaster. Coach Jeff Tedford announced he was benching quarterback Kevin Riley in favor of Brock Mansion.
While the passing offense continued to struggle, running back Jahvid Best and a tough defense led the Bears on a five-game winning streak.
But Best hurt his shoulder in the overtime win over Arizona, meaning he missed the Big Game vs. Stanford.
Stanford improved to 9-3 and earned a berth in the Holiday Bow
Cal slipped Washington in the season-finale and headed to the Sun Bowl.
The Bears whipped Notre Dame 38-10.
The following day, Best, Jordan, Mohamed and cornerback Darian Hagan announced they will forgo their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft a year early.
And Tedford was named the Oakland Raiders head coach.
Cal hired John Mackovic.