Best ready to lead Cal to top of Pac-10
September, 24, 2009
By ESPN.com staff | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
It appears at least one person in the country doesn't like watching California's Jahvid Best run with the football. That would be Best's mother, Lisa, who wouldn't let her son play football until high school because she thought he was too small.
To be fair, Best's mother doesn't so much mind seeing her son run. It's seeing her son get hit that sometimes forces her from her seat.
|Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire|
|Jahvid Best has already scored nine touchdowns through just three games.|
"She's just getting used to it now," Jahvid Best said.
Unlike Mrs. Best, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley doesn't turn away when Best slices through the line and warps into ludicrous speed, but that's also sometimes a problem.
"I actually get yelled at by the coaches for not carrying out the fake well enough," Riley said. "You never know what he's going to do. He puts some moves on people and they just fall flat on their face sometimes. It's entertaining because you don't get to see it very much."
Asked for his favorite Best run, Riley starts ticking off a long list. There are plenty to choose from because Best has 24 runs of over 20 yards and nine of over 60 yards over the past 16 games.
Best is the centerpiece for a sixth-ranked California team that was thrust into the Pac-10's catbird seat after USC went down at Washington last weekend. But he's not the whole show.
"University of California is not just Jahvid Best, although I think Jahvid Best is the best running back in the country," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.
Kelly should know. He's been watching film all week because his Ducks play host to Cal on Saturday in a critical Pac-10 matchup.
If Cal prevails, it's hard to imagine next weekend's home game against USC won't go a long way toward determining the conference champion.
If Oregon wins, then the Ducks shake off a season-opening debacle at Boise State with a second consecutive victory over a ranked team and rejoin the conference elite.
For Best, it's all about ignoring the distractions.
Sure, his Wednesday evening stretched past 7 p.m. due to a flurry of interviews -- that's what happens when you become a Heisman Trophy candidate for a highly ranked team. Sure, he and his teammates are aware of what USC's unexpected loss means.
But the Bears will be, er, at their Best only if they ignore the hype.
"We try our best to not pay attention to that," Best said. "In the past, when we did pay attention to it, we lost sight of where we wanted to finish. We're not paying attention to where we are ranked or to how good the media says we are."
And until Cal breaks through and earns its first Rose Bowl berth since 1959, it will have to answer questions about not meeting high expectations during previous seasons, including the epic implosion in 2007, when a team that was on the cusp of ascending to No. 1 ended up losing six of its final seven regular-season games.
"I really believe that right now they're very hungry," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "I have a lot of confidence that we're going to stay that way."
There's evidence that Cal's veteran players are particularly vigilant about not losing focus. They don't want the younger players to start believing the team has arrived before it actually has.
Senior linebacker Eddie Young exhorted his teammates after Sunday's practice about maintaining their intensity every day.
"He just said that it's the first Pac-10 week and if we want to win a Pac-10 championship, everything matters -- everything we do -- from now on," Best said.
Everything means continuing to avoid turnovers: The Bears have just a single fumble this season. And pressuring the opposing quarterback: The Bears lead the Pac-10 with 13 sacks.
It will take more than one spectacular athlete to get the Bears back to the Rose Bowl.
Best will do his fancy stuff. But it's going to take more than fancy to win the Pac-10.