Best case-worst case: California

July, 15, 2010
7/15/10
9:00
AM ET
Fourth 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.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: California

Best case

California fans had seen it before. They were suspicious of a 3-0 start. Even though quarterback Kevin Riley was completing 65 percent of his passes and had thrown only one pick. Even though the defense was averaging three sacks per game. There was a feeling of foreboding heading down to Tucson for a date with unbeaten Arizona.

"I have a foreboding feeling about this," Cal fans tell each other.

And when Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles throws three first-half TD passes to take a 24-7 lead into the locker room at the break, Bears fans feel vindicated in that odd, masochistic way fans often do.

But Riley, off-target early, takes over in the second half, throwing scoring passes to Marvin Jones, Anthony Miller and Shane Vereen. With the Bears down one with two minutes left, he completes 5 of 5 passes for 63 yards, and Giorgio Tavecchio hits the chip-shot field goal for the win.

A Cal fan then writes a 11,000-word essay on The California Golden Blogs, the gist of which is Riley only needs to beat UCLA for the Bear nation to finally believe in him. The Bears beat the Bruins 28-24. Another fan writes that she'll only buy-in if Riley leads the Bears to a win over USC.

Not this time. Riley turns in solid numbers but his defense can't stop Matt Barkley and company: Trojans win 30-24.

The Bears bounce back and beat Arizona State, lose a heartbreaker at Oregon State and whip Washington State. Oregon beats the Bears in overtime after Tavacchio misses a 49-yard field goal for the win in regulation.

"Of course it hurts," Riley tells reporters after the game. "But this is a mentally tough team. We still have plenty to play for, including the Big Game."

Stanford comes to Berkeley talking about revenge for 2009, not to mention that the Cardinal can go to the Rose Bowl if it wins its final two games. But Vereen provides an encore performance from a year ago, rushing for 168 yards a two TDs, and the Bears defense mostly contains Stanford QB Andrew Luck in a 28-24 victory.

Before the Bears take the field against Washington, coach Jeff Tedford rolls 10 televisions into the locker room. He says nothing. He turns on the TVs and walks out. It's highlights of Jake Locker and the Huskies 42-10 beatdown of the Bears in 2009.

Cal wins 40-21, sacking Locker five times.

The Alamo Bowl picks Cal over Stanford. The opponent? Texas. A Cal fan writes a 58,345-word essay on TCGB about how the Bears got screwed out of the Rose Bowl in 2004 because of old-school Texas politicking. A Texas fan shows up and demonstrates that, mathematically, the changes in the poll votes had little to no affect. Bears fans are irritated but respect the math skills and everyone becomes great friends.

"Who cares?" Riley says about the 2004 controversy. He then throws three TD passes in a 28-20 win. Cal finished 10-3 and ranked 10th.

Worst case

When California quarterback Kevin Riley threw six touchdown passes in victories over UC Davis and Colorado, it looked like the senior had finally arrived. His three interceptions in an upset loss at Nevada brought that theory into question. As a result, there was a feeling of foreboding heading down to Tucson for a date with unbeaten Arizona.

"I have a foreboding feeling about this," Cal fans tell each other.

Feelings justified. Arizona beats the Bears 28-17. A win over UCLA is followed by a blowout loss at USC. A win over Arizona State is followed by a loss at Oregon State. The Bears barely squeak by at Washington State.

Bears fans rant about the inconsistency. That shortly will be solved. Cal is uniformly bad while losing its final three games to Oregon, Stanford and Washington.

The 5-7 finish is Jeff Tedford's first losing season.

"We're going to have to take a long look at everything we do," Tedford says.

Stanford beats Iowa in the Rose Bowl and finishes ranked fifth in the country. Coach Jim Harbaugh wins National Coach of the Year and signs a long-term contract extension.

"We've only just begun," Harbaugh says. "Prometheus has brought fire down the mountain and we have become mighty men. But we only will be happy when we live among the Olympians."

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