Pac-12: Jeff Tedford

Pac-12's lunch links

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
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This is the end, beautiful friend. This is the end, my only friend, the end.

Cal: Pain now, gain in 2014?

November, 21, 2013
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Let's get this out of the way: California is awful. There is not even a misleading statistic we can massage to suggest Cal is not.

The Bears rank last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense and scoring defense, with an average margin of defeat of 23.2. They have no wins over FBS teams, much less a Pac-12 team. Colorado was winless in conference play before it dispatched the Bears by 17 points last weekend.

On Saturday, Stanford is going to crush the Bears like a bug in the Big Game. The Bears are a Big Game-record 31-point underdogs.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesFreshman QB Jared Goff has been a bright spot for Cal this season.
It's fair to say this team is every bit as abysmal as Tom Holmoe's final team in 2001, which went 1-10, beating Rutgers on the final week. That squad had an average margin of defeat of 24 points.

And therein, almost perversely, lies where we're going to offer up a ray of hope.

As Cal fans know, the once-celebrated Jeff Tedford took over for Holmoe and immediately transformed the Bears, who went 7-5 in 2002. Tedford deserves credit for leading a woeful program out of the abyss -- in 2004 Cal was a national title contender -- but it's worth noting he inherited a heck of a team.

As in: QB Kyle Boller, CB Nnamdi Ashomugha, RB Joe Igber, DE Tully Banta-Cain, DT Lorenzo Alexander, OG Scott Tercero and WR Geoff McArthur, among others.

While it's well premature to suggest we're going all pollyanna on the Bears prospects being similar in 2014 in year two under Sonny Dykes, a case can be made for a strong turnaround, at least based on a lot of players coming back from the team's two depth charts.

Two depth charts? Yes, Cal has two depth charts: The one from the spring that Dykes expected to send out onto the field, and the one that will play against Stanford. They look almost nothing alike, particularly on defense.

"Cal has 13 players who have started or were projected starters prior to the season who are out for the season or have missed multiple games due to injury," notes the the school's official football release, and five others have missed at least one game with injury. Three other players from the spring depth chart, DE Gabe King, OLB/DE Chris McCain and LB David Wilkerson, left the program.

Every single starting offensive player on the depth chart for the Stanford game is projected to return in 2014. Nine will be back on defense. If you then revert to the spring depth chart, you add in six other players. And not just any players. Guys such as DE Brennan Scarlett, DT Mustafa Jalil, LB Nick Forbes, CB Stefan McClure and SS Avery Sebastian.

You'll notice that nearly all of those injured are defensive players, which makes for one of Dykes' postseason quandaries: Does he bring back defensive coordinator Andy Buh? That will be Dykes' first tough call as the Bears' coach.

California has allowed 79 plays of 20 yards or longer, most in the FBS. Youth is a major cause of that, but poor tackling and missed assignments tend to get traced back to coaches, too.

The offense hasn't been great shakes either. For one, the offense has been incredibly inefficient. It averages 460 yards per game but scores only 23.9 points per game. Stanford averages 383 yards per game and scores 30.4 points per game. Cal is last in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency, and the 33 sacks it has yielded are five more than anyone else (Cal has played 11 games compared to 10 for every other Pac-12 team).

The to-do list for the offseason is lengthy. It starts with conditioning.

"We've got to get bigger and stronger," Dykes said. "We're playing with so many young players now. Guys physically probably aren't ready to play. We've got to get mentally tougher. Obviously, we've got work on our fundamentals a lot."

But, believe it or not, there are reasons for optimism. True freshman QB Jared Goff is a promising player, and there's impressive young talent at the offensive skill positions. If all the aforementioned guys return on defense, the improvement next fall could be exponential.

"We think we have the makings of a good team," Dykes said. "It's going to be a process to get to that point, as young as we are. The good thing is we're going to get a lot of guys back off of injury, guys who will be substantial contributors, starters, as we move into spring football."

Of course, there has been a lot of "Just wait until next year!" around Cal football for a few years. More than a few fans have questioned Dykes. They see Mike MacIntyre, who was just down the freeway at San Jose State last year, taking a Colorado program that was far lower than Cal in 2012 and moving it past the Bears in the Pac-12 pecking order in his first year, in large part because his team is playing with hunger.

Dykes understands the sentiments.

"There's not much you can say really," he said. "If you've watched us play on Saturday, you're not going to be real encouraged up to this point. But there are a lot of good things going on in the locker room."

He then added, "Building a program is building a program. It doesn't happen overnight."

But if you want to be optimistic, then expect the Bears to take a big step forward in 2014.

Pac-12 lunch links

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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Happy Friday.

Pac-12 lunchtime links

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
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And when they've given you their all some stagger and fall;
After all it's not easy, banging your heart against some mad buggers' wall.

Best case-worst case: California

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
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This is the third in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: California

Sonny Dykes shakes hands with California athletic director Sandy Barbour. It's Dec. 5, 2012.

"So do we have a deal?" Dykes asks.

"Close. But we have one more step. The most important step. Hold on," Barbour says.

Dykes' inquisitive look transforms to shock as Barbour's office begins to vibrate. Then... swoosh... thwwaaack! And Barbour's office returns to normal, only she and Dykes are gone.

Dykes opens his tightly clenched eyes. He's sitting in moodily lit but ornate room. In front of him is a large oak table, shaped like a crescent moon, at which sits a large group of distinguished looking men and women, though a couple of them are fronted by lava lamps. The air smells of fresh herbs.
Timothy Leary: Far out! Groovy! Look who turned on, tuned in and dropped in!

Philip K. Dick: I never get tired of that. Talk about passing through a scanner darkly.

John H. Schwartz: Hey, it's all superstring theory.

Saul Perimutter: Anyone getting tired of Schwartz and his 'Hey, it's all superstring theory'? Buy that guy a good meal at Chez Panisse and it's, 'Hey, it's all superstring theory.'

Dykes gives Barbour another, slightly more urgent inquisitive look.

"Sonny, I'd like you to meet Berkeley's 'Potentem Secretus Commissionibus'," Barbour says. "They have something they want to show you."

It's the movie "Citizen Kane." The first scene plays on a giant screen.

"Rosebud..." says a dying Charles Foster Kane. Then the movie clicks off.

"Great movie!" Dykes says.

A voice booms across the room, "But it's horse poop! He truly said 'Rose Bowl,' and I'm still mad at Orson Wells for messing up the most important moment in his life. Or, rather, his death."

"Sonny, this is William Randolph Hearst Jr.," Barbour says.

"Dad died in August of 1951," Hearst says. "He was a Harvard man. I went to Berkeley. But he loved the Bears just as I did. He saw Cal go to three consecutive Rose Bowls from 1949-51. Lost them all. All he wanted was just one Rose Bowl victory before he died."

"So you can imagine how we feel -- no Rose Bowl since 1959!" Jerry Mathers says. "Gee, it'a be swell to even just lose one if we could just go again in my lifetime."

"Leave it to the Beaver to cut to the chase," cackles Robert Penn Warren. "You see what I did there, right? Seriously now, Sonny, the world is like an enormous spider web and if you touch it, however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and..."

"If I have to hear about the spider web from you again," says Bill Bixby. "I'm going to get angry, and it will take more than 'All the King's Men,' to stop me from smashing you!"

"Look folks," Dykes interjects. "I get it. You want a Rose Bowl. I want a Rose Bowl. And I've got a plan. But it won't happen overnight. Just have faith."

A woman across the room lets out a deep breath.

"I've been waiting to exhale for a long time!" Terry McMillan says.

Cal beats Northwestern 30-28 when Vince D'Amato boots a 49-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining. It whips Portland State then bests No. 2 Ohio State 24-21.

"No, this doesn't surprise me," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer says. "They should have beaten us last year. We're pretty overrated."

The eighth-ranked Bears fall at No. 2 Oregon 42-24. Then they beat Washington State, lose at UCLA and beat Oregon State before falling at Washington. After a 35-30 win over Arizona, fifth-ranked and undefeated USC comes to Berkeley.

"Dude, I do not care that Southern Cal has beaten us nine consecutive times," quarterback Zach Kline says. "Are you the sort who goes to Vegas and plays roulette and bets black after nine red winners? Doesn't work like that. Each moment in time is its own distinct universe. The only way nine consecutive losses matters is if you allow it to matter."

Pac-12 blog: "And how do you approach the game so nine consecutive losses won't matter?"

Kline: "I'll tell you, football's not a sport, it's a way of life, it's no hobby. It's a way of looking at that field and saying, 'Hey bud, let's party!'"

Cal beats the Trojans 28-24. Kline throws a pair of TD passes and Brendan Bigelow rushes for 148 yards.

After coasting past Colorado, the 8-3 Bears head to No. 4 Stanford for the Big Game. The Cardinal previously beat Oregon but fell to USC, so all three have just a single defeat. The general feeling, with no unbeaten teams in the nation and the Pac-12 rated as the nation's best conference, is the conference champion will play for the national title against the SEC champion.

Dykes meets again with the Potentem Secretus Commissionibus.
Tom Anderson: Look Sonny! I've set up a Facebook page for this Big Game. I've made up a bunch of fake quotes from Stanford players to get your guys mad. Isn't that great?

Robbie Jones: You know there's not even one decent tree on Stanford's hill? Or do they even have a hill where one tree can grow?

Adam Duritz: Er, Mr. Jones, that observation isn't helping. Here, talk to this black-haired flamenco dancer.

Earl Warren: Sonny, did I tell you I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people's accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man's failures. But I'd really like to read about Stanford's failure on Saturday.

Pac-12 blog: So, Sonny, getting a feel for how unique it is coaching the Berkeley football team?
Kevin Hogan sneaks in from 1-yard out to give Stanford a 21-17 lead with 34 seconds left. The Cardinal kick off.

Bigelow catches the ball at the 1-yard line. He laterals it to Bryce Treggs, who laterals it to Kenny Lawler, who sends it back to Bigelow.

Who is tackled on the Cal 26.

Kline lines up in a shotgun. He takes the snap. He hands the ball to Bigelow. Who sprints right up the middle for a 74-yard touchdown. Cal wins.

"We'll," says the announcer. "That's another way to do it."

The loss knocks Stanford out of the Pac-12 title game. When Oregon beats USC by a late field goal in the conference championship, the Ducks go to the national title game and USC heads to the Rose Bowl.

Stanford loses to TCU in the Alamo Bowl. Coach David Shaw is hired by the Dallas Cowboys. He's replaced by John Mackovic.

Cal beats Texas 59-0 in the Holiday Bowl -- Dykes goes for two to hit 59 -- which inspires Longhorns coach Mack Brown to resign and finally offer an apology to Cal for, "Talking all sorts of stupid, ridiculous stuff in 2004 when the Bears were clearly better than us."

Worst case

While there's no shame in losing to a good Northwestern team, California's first performance of the Sonny Dykes era is lackluster, most noteworthy being a pair of interceptions from Kline and just 310 yards of total offense.

Bears fans, frustrated by years of sub-par QB play, were hoping for more.

After whipping Portland State, No. 2 Ohio State comes to town, a team Cal almost beat a year ago in Columbus. The good news is Bears fans get to see good QB play. The bad news is it's Braxton Miller making plays with his arm and legs as the Buckeyes roll 35-17.

Cal gets a week off, but it doesn't help at Oregon, which rolls 45-20. The Bears get a second win by beating Washington State, but they lose three in a row thereafter, falling to UCLA, Oregon State and Washington.

At this point, Dykes switches quarterbacks, going with true freshman Jared Goff. Kline had 10 touchdown passes but also 10 interceptions through eight games, and fans feel good that Dykes is willing to make a change, something that former coach Jeff Tedford seemed reluctant to do through the years.

Goff plays well in a win over Arizona, but USC sacks him six times in a 38-10 Trojans victory the next week. Dykes goes back to Kline.

The Bears slip Colorado 17-14, but Dykes switches back to Goff in the third quarter.

"Does it hurt our confidence and make us surly to go back and forth with the starting job?" Kline says. "Maybe. But I only talk about that in the locker room. Endlessly. Same with Jared. We want to make sure everyone knows how grumpy we are. I'm sure that's good for morale."

The season whimpers toward its finale: The Big Game against No. 1, unbeaten Stanford.

"We have to match their physicality," Dykes says.

Stanford outrushes Cal 287 yards to 13 in a 40-3 victory, its fourth Big Game victory in a row.
Beverly Cleary: I'm working on a new children's book: "Sonny Dykes and the Big Freaking Disappointment."

Joan Didion: So much for our year of magical thinking.

John H. Schwartz: Hey, it's all superstring theory. Except, as a Cal fan, the string is not so super.

The Cardinal beats Alabama 20-3 and win the national championship. Coach David Shaw wins the Nobel Prize for Awesomeness shortly after signing the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.

Top Dog closes in Berkeley and relocates to Palo Alto.

Karl Rove becomes Cal's new president. He immediately renames "Strawberry Canyon," "Wal-Mart Hill."
Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy.
California's renovation of Memorial Stadium and construction of a 140,000-square foot training facility both opened to glowing reviews over the past couple of years. But pretty things cost a lot of money, particularly in the Bay Area, and therein lies the problem explored this week by Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News.

Cal had a plan to finance the $474 million bill, the most expensive facility upgrades in college sports history, but that plan has fallen short. Big time.

Why? Wilner explains in four stories.

First, there was a bad financial plan.
The Bears planned to finance the projects through the sale of 40- and 50-year rights to approximately 2,900 high-priced seats in the renovated stadium. But with sales lagging -- only 64 percent of the premium seats have been sold -- the school abandoned its June deadline to secure commitments for the long-term equivalent of $272 million.

The Bears are $120 million short of that goal.

Ouch.

Moreover, Cal administrators used the broadest parameters to make it seem like the plan was working, when it clearly was not:
Cal announced last month that it has sold just 64 percent of the 2,902 high-priced seats available in renovated Memorial Stadium.

That figure might come as a surprise to the Regents of the University of California, who were told by a Cal official 31/2 years ago that 65 percent of the seats had been sold.

So who's to blame?

Circumstances for one: 1. Cal football experienced a major downturn while these renovations were going on, leaving many empty seats inside a once-packed stadium; 2. The economy experienced a major downturn, making folks less likely to use discretionary money to watch a losing football team.

But if you want to point fingers at humans, there is a direction to go, which Wilner explains while contrasting the highly successful plan Washington used to finance its much less expensive project:
The Bears partnered with Stadium Capital Financing Group to create a high-risk financing plan in which fans purchase long-term rights to premium seats. Like a mortgage, payments can be made up front or over time. Unlike a mortgage, there is no penalty for backing out.

The Huskies listened to Stadium Capital's pitch but ultimately opted for a more conventional approach to financing their $200 million in bonded debt: Selling luxury seats on a year-to-year basis.

Stadium Capital Financing Group is a Chicago-based subsidiary of Morgan Stanley. Noted Wilner: "Cal paid Stadium Capital Financing $4.6 million, including expenses. A former company executive declined to comment on the situation. It's unclear whether SCF remains in business."

So it was finance guys with fancy words and big promises who -- too bad, so sad for Cal -- fell short when it came to execution.

The end result is Cal needs a plan B to help service the remaining $445 million in bonded debt. Enter vice chancellor John Wilton, who was hired in February 2011. He has a plan, but the situation remains precarious:
All told, the Bears are counting on new revenue streams to produce an average of $10 million annually for the next 40 years.

If the plan works, then the shortfall in premium seat sales won't create a financial crisis.

If the plan fails, the athletic department could spend decades in a fiscal vise.

Because this is the Pac-12 football blog, we shall adopt this position. We shall not look into our souls -- or use our intellect -- and then ask about college sports spending being out of control.

But we will humbly suggest that it would be best if new coach Sonny Dykes started winning some football games fairly quickly.
The Pac-12 features three new coaches: California's Sonny Dykes, Colorado's Mike MacIntyre and Oregon's Mark Helfrich.

Each faces distinct challenges. We break those challenges down.

CALIFORNIA: Sonny Dykes

Who he replaced: Jeff Tedford (82-57, 11 years)

Who is he? Dykes, 43, went 22-15 in three years at Louisiana Tech, where he was hired after coordinating Arizona's offense for three seasons.

Why he's there: After Tedford built Cal into a Pac-12 and national power, the Bears plateaued and then regressed his final three seasons, going 15-22. It's also noteworthy that the team declined significantly on the academic side of things.

What's the good news? Dykes didn't inherit a team devoid of talent or one that can't remember winning. Further, he's going to benefit from massive facilities upgrades that were only completed last year. The Bay Area is a pretty fair place to live.

What's the bad news? Well, Dykes inherited perhaps the nation's toughest schedule, which will make it tough to produce an immediate turnaround, even if the Bears play much better. It's also tough playing in the Pac-12 North where Oregon and Stanford have dominated play of late. Oh, and it's an issue that Big Game partner, Stanford, shows no signs of slowing down.

How can he make fans happy in 2013? If Dykes can somehow squeeze six wins out of this schedule, thereby earning a bowl berth, his fans should be thrilled.

COLORADO: Mike MacIntyre

Who he replaced: Jon Embree (4-21, 2 years)

Who is he? MacIntyre, 48, went 16-21 in three years at San Jose State, resurrecting the Spartans to a 10-2 finish in 2012. Before that, he was defensive coordinator at Duke for two years.

Why he's there: Look at Embree's record.

What's the good news? Sorry for saying this again, Buffs, but MacIntyre would be hard-pressed to make things any worse. The roster also looks stronger than the 2012 version, most notably the return of receiver Paul Richardson. Last year, the Buffs played a lot of young players, who weren't ready for Pac-12 play. Those youngsters should be better and more prepared this fall.

What's the bad news? This team isn't big enough or fast enough to compete in the Pac-12. The fan base is put off by the program's slide over the past decade. Oh, and athletic director Mike Bohn was just controversially fired.

How can he make fans happy in 2013? The bar isn't very high for MacIntyre in Year 1. He could double the Buffs' win total and that would just mean two victories. The biggest thing is being more competitive. Going 3-9 wouldn't be a disaster if those nine games aren't dropped by an average of 30 points. It's also important to win at least one conference game.

OREGON: Mark Helfrich

Who he replaced: Chip Kelly (46-7, 4 years)

Who is he? Helfrich, 39, was the Ducks' offensive coordinator for the past four years under Kelly. Before that, he was offensive coordinator at Colorado.

Why he's there: After leading the best run in school history -- four consecutive BCS bowl games and three Pac-12 titles -- Kelly bolted for the Philadelphia Eagles. Helfrich then was promoted, as Kelly had been under Mike Bellotti, and Bellotti had been under Rich Brooks.

What's the good news? Helfrich inherited a well-oiled machine with a lot of talent, starting with quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Ducks are widely viewed as national title contenders, even without Kelly. They are favored to win every game. Further, Helfrich knows his school, his team and his staff, considering eight of nine assistant coaches are back.

What's the bad news? The bar couldn't be higher. A disappointing season for Oregon now is two losses. The only way Helfrich can exceed Kelly is by winning a national title. He falls short by going 11-2 and winning the Alamo Bowl. Oh, and there's the pending ruling from the NCAA on L'Affair de Willie Lyles.

How can he make fans happy in 2013? There's only one way he can thrill them: 14-0. They'd settle for 13-1 if that includes a national title. A Rose Bowl win would be considered OK.
On the low end of the bell curve, California's wide receivers will probably be productive. But youth, packaged with a new offensive system, might mean they'll need another year to get up to speed.

On the high end of the bell curve, California might have one of the most explosive wide receiving corps in the Pac-12.

It's that wide open when you measure the depth and potential of the youngsters.

Chances are, they'll probably fall somewhere in the middle. But there is no disputing that new coach Sonny Dykes has some very good talent at the position that can't wait to break out in the new "Bear Raid" system.

[+] EnlargeChris Harper
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsChris Harper is expected to be part of a deep Cal receiving corps.
"It's an interesting group," Dykes said. "We've got a lot of different kinds of guys. We've got longer guys with great ball skills. We've got big guys. Fast guys. A lot of range."

In the pro-style attack of former head coach Jeff Tedford, Keenan Allen was the guy -- totaling 205 catches, 2,570 yards and 17 touchdowns in a three-year career. It didn't hurt that his brother was the quarterback. But relations aside, Allen was the kind of talent that it didn't matter who was throwing the football, he was going to be the primary receiver.

In the new system, there is room to spread the wealth. Sophomore Bryce Treggs (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) is fast, shifty and good in space. Redshirt freshman Kenny Lawler might be the most complete of the bunch at 6-3, 185, with the ability to stretch the field.

"We didn't know at first what we were getting with him," Dykes said. "But he came in and had as productive a spring as anybody. He was really good at going to get the football and he has some outstanding ball skills. He still needs to learn to play the position. But he's been a pleasant surprise."

Sophomore Chris Harper (6-0, 165) was second only to Allen last year, catching 41 balls for 544 yards and two touchdowns. Injury, however, limited him this spring.

"We didn't get a great chance to evaluate him," Dykes said. "But we're starting to get a sense now for how he moves and we're pleased. Athletic, quick guy.

Then there is sophomore Darius Powe (6-3, 212), sophomore Maurice Harris (6-3, 205), sophomore Maximo Espitia (6-2, 215), former tight end, sophomore Richard Rodgers and about five or six other players who could be impact guys.

It's a unit loaded with youth -- which also means it will grow up together and might eventually emerge as one of the top receiving corps in the league.

But first things first.

"We still need a quarterback," Dykes said.

Oh yeah, details.

"From a talent standpoint, the ingredients are all there," Dykes said. "Maurice Harris has a chance to do some good things. Richard Rodgers has lost about 25 pounds. If he's good at inline blocking, we'll stick him out there and let him block. But that's not really his strength. His strength is being able to run routes and cover people up with his body."

There is room for cautious optimism that personnel is a silky fit for what Dykes wants to bring to the Bears.

"I think we have the makings of having a pretty good offense," he said. "There are question marks at spots. We have to stay healthy at running back. We probably need to get some depth from a true freshman, which is never a good thing. But there are reasons to be optimistic."

Most important game: California

April, 26, 2013
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Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.

We're going through the Pac-12 and picking out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.

And then we'll let you vote from a list of potential options.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

California

Most important game: Nov. 9 vs. USC

Why it's important: This was the most difficult call -- at least for me -- so far.

SportsNation

Most important 2013 game for California?

  •  
    13%
  •  
    24%
  •  
    47%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,756)

You could make a case for the season opener against Northwestern. A win over a likely nationally ranked Wildcats team would give new coach Sonny Dykes some early momentum. Also, a victory would contrast well with the horrid opener a year ago, a loss to Nevada, that ruined the opening of newly remodeled Memorial Stadium.

That was my initial thought.

But then there are two big road games against the top two teams in the North Division: At Oregon on Sept. 28, which also opens the Pac-12 schedule, and, of course, the Big Game on Nov. 23 at Stanford, which concludes the regular season.

Either would be huge wins. The reason I'm not tapping them is because I think the Bears' chances are remote in each. Oregon and Stanford are top-5 teams, and both are road games.

I don't think the "Most Important Game" is necessarily about beating the best team on the schedule. Or even a rivalry game. Or the opener for a new coach.

Here's why I think Cal fans should circle the USC game in red.
  • The Bears haven't beaten the Trojans since their memorable triple-overtime win in Strawberry Canyon in 2003, which was a landmark win that heralded the Bears' climb to respectability and beyond under Jeff Tedford. It would be valid then to freight a Dykes victory with optimistic symbolism.
  • It's the final home game of the 2013 season, which means the home fans would carry a sweet memory of cheering (and jeering) into the offseason.
  • If you believe it's not how you start but how you finish, this would be a good lead-in for a strong finish.
  • My impression, developed over a few years of covering the conference, is Cal fans really don't like USC, and that dislike is almost equal to their dislike of Stanford.

I also think it's a much more winnable game for the Bears than road dates at Oregon or Stanford. And, as an added bonus, a win might spell doom for Trojans coach Lane Kiffin, which could inspire hours of message board gloating. Not that Cal fans would ever, ever do that.

In terms of football stuff, beating USC would not only make up for years of frustration in the series, it would offset the horrid performance at USC last year, when Cal was outgained 488 yards to 250 in a 27-9 defeat.

Further, set the whole thing up based on the schedule, which is among the nation's toughest next fall. If the Bears' goal is to get back to a bowl game, where do you flag the necessary six wins? Hard to find.

But let's just say the Bears have four wins when USC comes to town. Beat the Trojans, and a trip to Colorado is all that stands in the way of bowl eligibility. Then the Stanford game becomes pure gravy, with a puncher's chance in a rivalry game when the Cardinal might be playing for huge stakes.

Stakes that Bears could smash to bits. Heck, Stanford might be caught napping, looking ahead to a date with Notre Dame.

But a Cal team that comes to the Big Game with a victory over USC under its belt would have a much better chance at a huge upset than one that's limping into the final weekend.

So Stanford will always be the Big Game for Cal. But USC is the Most Important Game in 2013.

Buy or Sell: California Bears

April, 1, 2013
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With recruiting behind us and most schools in the swing of spring drills (the last of the bunch kick off next week), the Pac-12 blog thought it would be fun to examine each team's chances of winning its respective division.

SportsNation

Buy or sell California winning the North?

  •  
    13%
  •  
    87%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,540)

This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.

Buy or sell California winning the North?

Ted Miller

Sell: We don't want to squelch California fans' optimism. This team has some intriguing talent on both sides of the ball. But there's a lot weighing against it challenging for the top spot in the North Division, starting with … the North Division. It's brutal.

The Bears seem like a long shot to break the top four, with Stanford and Oregon at the top and Washington and Oregon State looking like top-25 teams. In fact, the basement dweller might still be thinking bowl game into the final weeks of the season. Washington State looks like the main rival this year for the Bears.

Just consider: You've got a team coming off a 3-9 season with a new coaching staff, significantly new systems on both sides of the ball, a new starting quarterback and a brutal schedule.

There are eight teams with legitimate top-25 potential on the slate, and three are among everyone's national title contenders: Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford. The South Division misses -- Arizona State and Utah -- are a decided mixed bag.

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, D. Ross CameronSonny Dykes' challenge in 2013? Keep Cal competitive during its rugged schedule.
An enthusiasm bump for coach Sonny Dykes can only do so much. There's a reason coach Jeff Tedford was fired after 11 seasons: The program had plateaued and started a downward trend. Hard to correct that in a single year.

It's reasonable to put a long-term buy rating for the Bears under Dykes, particularly with sparkling new facilities bolstering recruiting. But for the short-term investor, we suggest a buyer beware.

Kevin Gemmell

Sell: I'm selling, too. However, it's not because California is installing new systems on both sides of the ball. We saw last year what kind of a jump start new coaches running new systems can bring to a program. Three of the four new coaches in 2012 with their newly-installed systems -- Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, Jim Mora -- had immediate success and went to bowl games. Heck, the Bruins won the South with complete offensive and defensive overhauls. So there is precedent.

Plus, we've seen that having a first-time starter at quarterback doesn't necessarily mean a one-year death sentence for a program anymore. From Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota to Kevin Hogan and Taylor Kelly, we saw what first-time starters are capable of.

I don't see either of these as Cal's major obstacles.

The reason I'm selling the Bears is because I don't think they can win the division with the current level of competition within the North. Ted used the word brutal. That's generous. Barbarous might be a more apt description. And I just don't see a scenario this year where they beat three of those top four teams Ted mentioned.

I will say this, however. The Bears are going to spoil someone's season. I don't know if it will be Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State or Washington, but I wouldn't rule out Cal knocking off one of those teams along the way. Because the talent is there on both sides of the ball to catch one of those teams off guard. And I wouldn't count them out of a bowl berth, either. But I don't see the Bears knocking off enough of those top-end teams to earn a spot in the conference title game.

Video: Cal cornerback Stefan McClure

March, 22, 2013
3/22/13
1:00
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California cornerback Stefan McClure talks about coming back from a knee injury, the firing of Jeff Tedford, new coach Sonny Dykes and the Bears' new defense.

BERKELEY, Calif. -- While California has hired two coaches over the past 12 years, it didn't hire them to do the same job.

Jeff Tedford took possession of a dilapidated and unlivable house on college football's skid row in 2001. Sonny Dykes this winter moved into a nice home in a posh neighborhood that needs some minor interior renovations.

Sure, Cal went a dreary 3-9 last season, its second losing season in three years, which got Tedford fired. But he took over a program that went 1-10 in 2001, played in a crumbling stadium that averaged 30,000 in attendance and featured some of the worst facilities in major college football.

Dykes has inherited a team that went 82-57 under Tedford and plays in front of 55,876 fans even during a 3-9 season. And the facilities? Sparkling. Brand freaking new. Among the best in the Pac-12 and the nation.

Tedford made the Bears respectable and then made a push for the top of the Pac-10. That initiated the process -- glacial in pace -- of facility upgrades. But he couldn't reach the top of the conference. The program plateaued and then reversed course. In 2004, it seemed certain Tedford would get the Bears to their first Rose Bowl since 1959. In 2012, the Rose Bowl seemed infinitely far away, and it didn't help that stricken Old Blues had to watch crosstown rival Stanford win the darn thing.

Enter Dykes.

"Jeff had a rebuilding job. His job was different," Dykes said. "He made this place credible. He made people take notice and say, 'Cal is a good job. You can do things at Cal.' If it hadn't been for his success, we wouldn't be sitting in this facility right now. He did a great job with the program. They kind of fell off the last couple of years, but he's what made this place a good place."

Dykes is expected to make it a great place.

That won't be easy. Stanford and Oregon are in the way, for one. Washington and Oregon State, potential top-25 teams in 2013, also are looking to take the proverbial "next step." And that's just the North Division.

Further, there are some things that need to be cleaned up, not the least of which is team academics.

Cal is the nation's most celebrated public university. It's difficult to walk around campus without running into someone wearing a Nobel Prize medal. Yet the football program not only ranked last in the Pac-12 in graduation rate last season at 48 percent -- 5 percent behind No. 11 Arizona -- it ranked second worst among automatic qualifying conference teams, 1 percent ahead of Oklahoma, where folks believe the Nobel Prize is something a person gets for visiting the "Rock Rose Capital of the World."

On the football side of things, the Bears seemed mired in a general malaise over the past few seasons. Quarterback play, upon which Tedford built his strong reputation, was mediocre to bad post-Aaron Rodgers. Further, when Cal lost, it didn't mess around. Over Tedford's final four years, the Bears lost 16 games by at least 17 points. That happened while the Bears nonetheless remained a major pipeline to the NFL.

Top-to-bottom talent didn't seem like the problem. It seemed like the Bears had become a bit of a head case. Chief among Dykes' first-year tasks is creating a mentally tougher team.

"This is not a traditional rebuilding job," Dykes said. "But some things do need to be rebuilt. I think the psyche needs to be rebuilt. Maybe expectations need to be rebuilt. We need to do a good job of balancing athletic and academic success."

As for X's and O's and quarterback woes, Dykes and his spread-guru offensive coordinator Tony Franklin averaged 51.5 points per game last season at Louisiana Tech, with quarterback Colby Cameron ranking 22nd in the nation in passing efficiency while throwing 31 TD passes with just five interceptions.

Too pass-happy? The Bulldogs averaged 227 yards rushing, which ranked 17th in the nation. Dykes, who also coached Nick Foles as Arizona's offensive coordinator before going to Louisiana Tech in 2010, has the offensive bona fides, without question.

In terms of putting it all together at an elite academic institution -- Cal fans might want to cover their ears -- Dykes sees a pretty good model playing ball a bit to the south.

"The thing Stanford has done is they've done it the right way," he said. "Their kids are graduating. They've proven you can have high academic standards and still have success on the field."

Dykes says his charge is "not about building a team; it's about building a program." That means creating a culture aimed at long-term and high-level success.

Yes, more than a few Old Blues have related to Dykes their singular wish to experience a Rose Bowl before they die. Tedford used to joke that many Cal fans wanted the Rose Bowl more than a national title.

Tedford took over a team that hadn't posted a winning season in eight years. He made winning seasons the standard. Now Dykes is charged with pushing the Bears back into the national rankings and into the Pac-12 title picture, while maintaining high academic standards.

And if he produces a Rose Bowl victory, they'll probably build a statue of him outside remodeled Memorial Stadium.

California Bears linebacker Nick Forbes talks with Ted Miller about former coach Jeff Tedford, the new 4-3 defense and the QB competition.
California quarterback Allan Bridgford has decided to make his departure from Cal official. After taking a hiatus from the team last week to decide his future, the school announced Monday that Bridgford would leave the team.

“I was recruited by former coach Jeff Tedford to play quarterback in a pro-style offense that was tailored to my strengths, which are my abilities to make all the throws, my decision making and my leadership," Bridgford said in a statement released from the school." As the team’s most experienced quarterback, I expected to take the majority of reps this spring. But after having limited reps in the first four spring practices, I met with both offensive coordinator Tony Franklin and head coach Sonny Dykes. It was made clear to me that they had decided to go in a different direction. Therefore, it is time to move on and find a school where I can play right away and hopefully for two seasons if I’m granted a sixth year of eligibility."

Of the quarterbacks who started spring ball, Bridgford was the only one with game experience. Last year he backed up Zach Maynard and appeared in four games, completing 31 of 68 passes for 277 yards with one touchdown and three picks.

But it seems pretty clear he's not the best fit for Dykes' system, which led the nation in total and scoring offense last season when Dykes was the head coach at Louisiana Tech.

“We wish Allan all the best both on the football field and in the classroom,” Dykes said in a statement. “He is a quality quarterback that should have success in an offense suited for his skill set. His contributions to Cal football over the past four years are appreciated, and we are pleased that he has decided to graduate from Cal this summer."

From spring reports, it looks like Jared Goff, Zach Kline and Austin Hinder are getting the bulk of the work. Kyle Boehm worked just one series in a weekend scrimmage with three attempts while Goff had 23 attempts, Kline had eight and Hinder had 10.

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