|ESPN.com: Pac-12||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
There's some "what-could-have-been" to California's season, but ultimately 2008 should be viewed as a success for a team that began with a lot of questions, not the least of which was last year's second-half collapse.
The team went from No. 2 in the nation to six defeats in seven games in 2007 -- playing indifferently with a divided locker room, which provoked the first questions about coach Jeff Tedford's leadership -- to one that didn't yield during an inconsistent 2008. Eight regular season victories and a potential final national ranking with an Emerald Bowl victory over Miami would be a satisfying finish for a squad that completely rebuilt its receiving corps, changed its defensive scheme and had huge injury issues on the offensive line.
The Bears were in and out of the rankings multiple times this season. A 2-0 start, including a solid win over Michigan State, was followed by a sleep walk through a trip to Maryland. A couple more wins were followed by a second half implosion at Arizona. Cal beat UCLA and Oregon, then lost at USC and Oregon State.
It was a back and forth season, just like the quarterback merry-go-round featuring Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley.
Are you a glass half full or half empty sort? If you prefer half full, then the win over Oregon on Nov. 11 -- played in a deluge at Berkeley -- established that the season would not be a failure. Half empty? Then the loss at Arizona on Oct. 18 established that the season wouldn't be anything special.
When healthy, running back Jahvid Best was the Pac-10's most dangerous offensive weapon -- a potential scoring threat every time he got the ball in space. His 126.7 yards rushing per game ranked fifth in the nation and his 311 yards in the season-finale vs. Washington won him the conference rushing title with 1,394 yards. He also scored 13 touchdowns.
Linebacker Zach Follett didn't lead the Bears' linebacker-heavy 3-4 defense in tackles but he did lead it in putting pressure on opposing offenses. Follett finished second in the conference with 19 tackles for a loss -- including 8.5 sacks -- and he forced four fumbles.
Cal figures to be among the small crew of annual challengers in the top-third of the conference behind USC in 2009. Best could become a Heisman Trophy candidate, while Riley should be better without having to look over his shoulder. With the departure of three of the four starting linebackers, it will be interesting to see if the Bears stick with the 3-4 look; Tedford said this week they will. End Cameron Jordan is a budding star on the defensive line, while the secondary will return intact.