- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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A coach walks into his pregame locker room. He looks at his team. And he really has no idea how it will play.
That's a reality that more than few coaches have owned up to, if reluctantly. A good week of practice more often than not leads to at least a solid performance. But sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes a poor-to-middling week of practice yields a team on fire.
California turned in its most complete performance of the year while dominating Utah 34-10 last weekend. The Bears, coach Jeff Tedford said, had a good week of practice. They seemed to hold onto their confidence, despite losing 30-9 to USC in their previous game -- a second-consecutive Thursday night blowout on ESPN.
Still, he didn't know that the Bears would come together in all three phases as they did against the Utes.
"I have no idea before the game if they are ready or not," Tedford said. "I've given up on that because sometimes you think they are really ready and they're not. And other times they're quiet and you think, 'These guys got to get ready!' And they play great."
The next step, of course, is doing it again, starting against UCLA in the Rose Bowl on Saturday. Or perhaps doing it even better.
Yet, as Cal fans are more than aware, consistency has been a big bugaboo for the Bears during recent seasons.
In 2009, a 3-0 start was followed by consecutive defeats to Oregon and USC by a combined count of 72-6. Then the Bears won three in a row again. Then they got drubbed 31-14 in Berkeley by Oregon State. They upset Arizona and Stanford. Then they lost to underdogs, Washington and then Utah in a bowl game.
Last season, it was the same. Whip UCLA 35-7, lose to USC 48-14. Blow out Arizona State 50-17. Fold at Oregon State 35-7. Nearly upset Oregon, then lose the last two games to finish 5-7, Tedford's first losing team.
Up and down. Hope and despair. Corners turned. Corners turned into oncoming traffic.
At 4-3, which isn't so bad, and 1-3 in Pac-12 play, which sorta is, Cal's season still could go either way. But there are reasons for hope, if you are in the mood for positive spin.
The Bears likely will be favored in their next three games. A potential four-game winning streak would get theme to seven wins -- and bowl eligibility -- before rugged road trips to Stanford and Arizona State to conclude the season.
Perhaps a confident team riding a winning streak might steal one of those, and suddenly it's a nice season with a bowl game ahead and great promise for 2012.
Ah, yes, but that scenario requires consistency, as in the Bears showing up like they did against the Utes in all three phases every weekend.
The foundation for hope that can happen was a strong, bounce-back effort from quarterback Zach Maynard against the Utes. After putting together progressively worse performances during the 0-3 start to conference play, Maynard showed mental toughness by shaking that off and playing well against the Utes. He completed 19 of 35 passes for 255 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions and he rushed for 36 yards and a score.
Long touted as a dual-threat, Maynard did much of his damage out of the pocket on roll-outs -- finally -- and forced a good Utes defense to account for him as a runner. It might be premature to play the "something clicked" card, but it's not far-fetched to entertain the notion.
"I think the game slowed down for him a little bit," Tedford said. "I think the week before he was trying a little too hard and forced a couple of things."
Tedford said that Maynard, who transferred from Buffalo last year, played with more composure, perhaps feeling more comfortable with the routines of preparation as well as the speed of the game in the Pac-12.
On the other sideline, UCLA looks like a team in disarray. Not only is coach Rick Neuheisel on the hottest seat in the conference, not only are the Bruins coming off an embarrassing 48-12 blowout loss at Arizona, but they also will have six players suspended from the game due to a brawl with the Wildcats: defensive tackle Cassius Marsh, offensive guard Albert Cid (first-half suspension) and wide receivers Taylor Embree, Randall Carroll, Ricky Marvray and Shaquelle Evans.
But Cal is not in position to take anything for granted. Tedford noted it will take a mature team to "not get complacent with one win."
Many Bears fans are taking the measure of their program this year. And that means taking the measure of Tedford.
Cal should win its next three games. If it does, things will cool down. If not, the grumbling around the program will only increase.
1dKevin Gemmell and Erik McKinney