Pac-12: Jeff Tedford

You want a quote from recalcitrant media-phobe Marshawn Lynch in advance of Super Bowl XLIX? Here's one that stretches nearly 100 words.

"My mom raised me by herself with no help, basically," Lynch told USA Today in 2007 before he was drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Bills. "She worked three jobs for me, and it's not just what she did for me but (for) my older brother and my two younger siblings.

"She made it to each and every one of our games. That was kind of hard, because I'm playing, my little brother had a game and, probably later that night, my sister might have a basketball game. And she would still manage to go and be able to feed us and clothe us and pay the bills. She's just my Superwoman."

Sounds like a selfish guy with misplaced priorities, eh?

This very reporter had a pleasant chat with Lynch not so long ago. Well, it was nearly a decade ago, about Lynch becoming a college superstar similar to USC's Reggie Bush and Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson. Lynch had two responses. First, he didn't want the attention. Second, who is Adrian Peterson?

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMarshawn Lynch can laugh and have fun ... within the circle of people he trusts.
"I really don't pay much attention to football when I'm not practicing or playing it," Lynch said in 2005. "I don't really keep up with football, period."

Lynch has been called many things. Some just love his "Beast Mode" on the football field and that's all they care about. His cousin, NFL quarterback Josh Johnson, has heard people refer to Lynch as a "thug," seemingly oblivious to the racist connotations of the term as well as the irony that the foundation Johnson and Lynch founded is expressly aimed at helping inner-city youths escape the so-called "thug life." The NFL believes he's a problem. He has been fined twice for grabbing his crotch after scoring touchdowns, most recently when he was fined $20,000 for making the gesture after scoring a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.

Lynch also was fined $100,000 earlier this year for not talking to reporters. He did not speak after the NFC title game, and that's making required media interviews in advance of the Super Bowl a front-and-center issue -- a media storm, in fact -- a consequence that puts his desire to avoid the glaring spotlight and his unyielding will to do things his way at loggerheads.

He's never liked talking to reporters, which isn't unusual for star athletes, but Lynch's refusal has spiraled into the ultimate tempest in a teapot. It's a controversy that feasts on itself and will be resolved only when Lynch spouts cliched pabulum for a few minutes to reporters who will immediately become bored with the very thing that they clamored for over the past few months.

The least interesting thing about Lynch is probably what he will say when -- if? -- he speaks. The most interesting thing is that just about everyone who knows or has played with him only has good things to say about him. The negative public image as it is often articulated seems to say more about the speaker than Lynch himself, a construct of folks who don't actually know the man.

“There’s no question," said Jeff Tedford, Lynch's former coach at Cal. "I think it’s a total misconception of Marshawn. I think it comes across that he’s selfish. It’s totally the opposite. He’s never wanted attention put on him. He’s a quiet guy, he’s to himself, unless he’s within his circle of trust. Then he’s got a great sense of humor. Loves to laugh and have fun.”

To Tedford, the quintessential Lynch moment was when he commandeered a stadium cart on the Memorial Stadium field in 2006 after the Bears beat Washington in overtime. He waved a Cal flag and celebrated with fans. It was fun-loving and, yes, just a tad rebellious (Tedford was immediately told by administrators it couldn't happen again because of liability issues). It's probably also worth noting that Lynch played the game on two sprained ankles and rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns, including the 22-yard game winner.

There's also depth to Lynch beyond "Beast Mode" and an array of fun-loving instances that became public, such as his commandeering a bottle of whiskey from a fan during the Seahawks Super Bowl parade last winter. There's strong loyalty within his circle of trust.

Tedford was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator this year but was forced to take a leave of absence due to heart trouble. Early on, he received a text from Lynch -- he calls Tedford "Bossman" -- checking in on his health.

“He’s a real caring guy," said Tedford, who is back on his feet and now the head coach of the B.C. Lions in the CFL. "But people don't get to see that side of him."

In the biopic film "Ali," about former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali -- now perhaps the most beloved figure in all of sports -- Ali is asked by a skeptical reporter if he was going to be "the people's champion." While Ali's approach with the media was obviously different from Lynch's, what he said probably explains a lot about why Lynch conducts himself how he does.

Said Ali: "I'm definitely gonna be the people's champion ... but I just ain't gonna be the champ the way you want me to be the champ. I'm gonna be the champ the way I wanna be."

Lynch has a right to be the way he wants to be. He has a right not to speak to the media, just as the NFL has a right to fine him for not doing so, though excessively escalating the dollar amount seems dubious.

It's important to remember that speaking or not speaking to the media doesn't define Lynch as a person and it certainly doesn't make him a bad guy. His mother, Delisa, is probably no more a fan of the crotch grabs than the NFL. It's also possible that Lynch deep down wishes he could hit a reset button on how things have spun forward.

Lynch -- quirks, flaws, unassailable physical talent and all -- is his own man. One day, he might change his perspective and how he conducts himself, but we -- those outside the circle of trust -- are not going to change it for him.

At some level, that's pretty damn cool. Pretty damn American, in fact.
NEW YORK -- Just as Texas did a year ago, the Michigan job has dominated conversations in the halls of the Waldorf Astoria this week during college football’s Hall of Fame events and the Heisman Trophy ceremony lead-up.

The complicating factor with interpreting Michigan’s methods is the mystery man in charge of the search. Interim AD Jim Hackett has a business background, so it’s not as if he regularly has been mingling with the college football bluebloods who descend on Manhattan each holiday season.

That’s why, even with some of the more obvious targets out there -- Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles, among them -- I’m told Hackett could diverge from the perceived plan of “brand-name” college coaches and expand to NFL assistants and off-the-radar college guys.

One such candidate emerged Tuesday afternoon when a report surfaced that Michigan was kicking the tires on Duke coach David Cutcliffe.

Pac-12 rivalry heat meter

August, 11, 2014
A college football rivalry never exactly cools off, at least among the emotionally involved. But rivalries do go through upticks and downticks of relevance, both regionally and nationally.

So which Pac-12 rivalries are heating up, stagnating or cooling as we head into the 2014 season?

USC Trojans-UCLA Bruins

The facts: USC leads the series 46-30-7 and has won 12 of the last 15 games, but the Bruins have won two in a row under Jim Mora, including a 35-14 domination last year.

The meter: Sizzling and rising.

The animosity between the fan bases is always strong, but what makes a rivalry truly heat up is relevance. And substantial stakes. This rivalry is gaining in both areas. USC is one of the preeminent football programs in the nation, even though UCLA fans hate to read that. UCLA is the rising western power under Mora, even though USC fans mock the idea. USC has a new coach in Steve Sarkisian and is moving past NCAA sanctions. UCLA is a top-10 team eyeballing the College Football Playoff. Know what I say? Release the hounds!

Arizona Wildcats-Arizona State Sun Devils

The facts: Arizona leads the series 47-39-1, but Todd Graham has won the last two against Rich Rodriguez, including a 58-21 blowout last year in Tempe. Before that, the visiting team has won eight of the last 13 matchups, including the last four -- games that were decided by a total of 15 points.

The meter: Blistering and heating up.

While Oregon-Washington fans provide the most blowback to the Pac-12 blog -- Yakety Yak! Oh, yeah! Yakety Yak -- Arizona and Arizona State fans are a strong No. 2. It used to be the fans hated each other and whined a lot -- "You cover them more... waaaaaa!" -- because both teams were fairly mediocre. But the Sun Devils won the South Division last year and are now 2-0 under Todd Graham against the Wildcats and Rich Rodriguez. With both programs trending up in an overall sense, the rivalry is gaining relevance. It also helps that Graham and Rodriguez don't particularly care for each other.

Oregon Ducks-Washington Huskies

The facts: Washington leads the series 58-43-5, but the Ducks have won 10 straight in the series by at least 17 points, including a 45-24 win in Seattle last year.

The meter: Hot but stagnating.

This has long been the most bitter Pac-10/12 rivalry but it has experienced a dramatic power shift to the Ducks. Sorry Huskies, you know it's true. It seems like Oregon fans these days are more worried about winning that darn absent national title than fretting about that team from up North. Now, if Washington and new coach Chris Petersen go into Autzen Stadium and steal one this year... well, that can't happen. Can it? Maybe that possibility needs to be debated.

USC-Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The facts: USC has won nine of the last 12 meetings, but the Fighting Irish has won three of the last four, including a 14-10 win last year. Since 1967, USC has gone 24-20-3 in the series.

The meter: Simmering with many hoping for a boil (particularly TV executives)

As far as national rivalries go, this one is without peer. It's an annual classic that matches two of college football's top powers. Lately, both teams have been nationally relevant, albeit not on an annual basis, and that's the issue. This rivalry is more about national relevance than bitterness. What it needs to heat up is for both teams to be national contenders with the winner in line for the College Football Playoff.

Washington-Washington State Cougars

The facts: Washington leads the series 68-32-6, including a 27-17 victory last year. The Cougars have lost 11 of the last 16 Apple Cups, but are 1-1 under Mike Leach.

The meter: Simmering with lots of potential spice

Have you stopped and pondered just how fun this one might get if Petersen and Mike Leach get their programs' performances to match their respective coaching reputations? For one, in terms of the media, it could be a Don James-Jim Walden deal where Petersen is a "2,000-word underdog" to the loquacious Leach. As it is at present, the Cougars really, really hate the entitled Huskies but the Huskies reserve their most bitter distain for Oregon.

Oregon-Oregon State

The facts: Oregon leads the series 61-46-10 and has won the last six meetings, including a 36-35 thriller in Autzen Stadium last year.

The meter: Warm but in need of another log on the fire

Know what bothers Oregon State fans? When some Ducks fans say they root for the Beavers when the two aren't playing. It probably isn't a statement of emotional fact, but Oregon fans recognize it as the ultimate patronizing gesture. See above with Washington: The Beavers really, really hate the entitled Ducks but the Ducks reserve their most bitter distain for Washington. Now, if the Ducks start to slide a bit and the Beavers push past them in the North Division -- or at least become Oregon's equal again -- this one will immediately boil over, potentially returning to the back-and-forth turf battle it was from 1998-2008, when it was one of the conference's most interesting and meaningful rivalries.

USC-Stanford Cardinal

The facts: In a series that dates back to 1905, USC holds a 59-29-3 lead, but Stanford has won four of the last five meetings. Still, a year after Stanford upset the then-No. 2 Trojans, USC returned the favor by knocking off No. 4 Stanford 20-17 last fall.

The meter: Most rivalries are more about the fans than the players. This one might be more about the players than the fans. These two teams go at each other -- hard. Things really picked up steam with former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh mouthing off about Pete Carroll, then backing it up with two wins, including the classic "What's your deal?" game in 2009. Stanford started USC's and Lane Kiffin's downward spiral in 2012, while the Trojans ended the Cardinal's national title hopes in 2013. And I personally enjoy watching the Stanford band drive the Coliseum crowd crazy -- "And now a tribute to a great USC graduate... Joe Francis!"

California Golden Bears-Stanford

The facts: Stanford leads the Big Game rivalry 54-44-10 and has won four in a row, including a 63-13 blowout last year.

The meter: Luke warm until Cal rights itself

The Big Game is a great rivalry with a great history. The problem is getting the two teams to be good at the same time. Cal dominated the rivalry under Jeff Tedford until 2009. Now the Cardinal is fully in control. Second-years Bears coach Sonny Dykes probably could win over the Old Blues by pulling the upset this fall, but that will mean winning as a double-digit underdog.

BYU Cougars-Utah Utes

The facts: Utah leads the series 57-34-4. Utah has won four straight and nine of the last 12 games with the Cougars, including a 20-13 victory last year in Provo.

The meter: Always hot but chilling for two years

Utah has dominated this bitter series of late, most notably since joining the Pac-12, but there will be a two-year hiatus until the Holy War is renewed in 2016. That is unfortunate, as the series hasn't been interrupted since BYU didn't field teams during World War II (1943-45). Further, BYU is presently outside looking in, as it is not a Power Five conference member. It will be interesting to see how things go in the future.

Utah-Colorado Buffaloes

The facts: Colorado leads the series 31-26-3, and this is both teams’ longest series against any Pac-12 team. They played annually from 1903-62 with four exceptions, but then the rivalry went dormant for 49 years before it resumed in 2011 as Pac-12 members. As Pac-12 members, Utah leads 2-1 having won two in a row.

The meter: Tepid while awaiting some seasoning

Sure, this is a bit of an artificial rivalry. They are paired as rivals because they joined the conference together. But as both start to develop their Pac-12 legs, you can count on this rivalry heating up. They will be compared for a long time. Neither wants to be the one not measuring up. And don't forget the "Red Bike Incident."
Happy July 4th Eve. The mailbag arrives early this week.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Landon from Atlanta writes: I have heard rumblings of late, as to the upcoming demise of Oregon's dominance ? probably not this year, but in coming seasons. People point to solid coaching hires within the Pac-12, as well as a perceived slipping in recruiting recently. Some of these things make sense (CFB is cyclical), but is the recruiting issue more of perception than anything? People think Oregon SHOULD be recruiting better, because they are a more of a football power. However, Oregon has never been in the top 10 of recruiting. When ESPN ranked the top 150 quarterbacks in the class of 2011, Marcus Mariota was 123rd! Could Oregon be doing what it has done along, and it's just people's expectations that have changed? Maybe Oregon should be quoting Mark Twain about their demise.

Ted Miller: We've written about this before, though to a different question. Oregon, as previously noted, is doomed.

Consider this analysis:

Purple John from Seattle writes: Oregon is doomed. They are Johnny-Come-Latelies with no tradition. With Chip Kelly gone, it's just a matter of time before the glorious and stately Washington program stomps the Duckies into oblivion.

Orange & Black Sarah from Corvallis writes: Oregon is doomed. They are a lawless program under the thumb of a dithering plutocrat. Everyone knows that good eventually wins out, which means the Beavers and Mike Riley soon will overcome the evil kingdom in Eugene.

Stanford Steve from Bristol, Connecticut, writes: Oregon is doomed. As a former Stanford great both on the field and in the classroom, I have discovered the unifying equation for the universe. The eureka moment came when I eliminated Oregon from Pac-12 contention.

See. Oregon is doomed.

What's the source of these "rumblings" you're hearing? It's not any preseason publication I've seen. Oregon is practically a unanimous pick to win the North Division and Pac-12 championship. The Ducks are being ranked anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6 in preseason polls. Mariota is a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

As for recruiting, have you been keeping up with the latest news, Landon? While the Ducks have missed on a few national prospects, most notably a couple of QBs, they've jumped seven spots to No. 18 in the latest recruiting rankings. That made the Ducks the No. 1 team in the Pac-12.

Oregon is 57-9 over the past five years, a span during which it being in the national title hunt has become the standard not the exception. Folks mostly expect that to continue in 2014. While replacing Mariota won't be easy in 2015, keep in mind he's the third starting QB during this run, not the only one.

Yes, people's expectations have changed. Two regular-season losses now constitutes failure for some Ducks fans. That's how things go. Is it likely Oregon is going to go 57-9 over the next five years? Probably not. But I doubt there will be a massive downturn in the program's trajectory anytime soon.

Chester from Tempe, Arizona, writes: What are your thoughts on Arizona's RB situation and if RichRod n Co have enough offensive firepower and options to off-set the lack of a running game threat? You would think defenses would key on the passing game now.We recently lost a former 4 Star RS Frosh RB Pierre Cormier to injury retirement.

Ted Miller: While running back is a legitimate question for Arizona, I see it as more of a question of a name -- "Who's it going to be?" -- rather than a "Will the Wildcats be able to run the ball."

Arizona is going to run the ball well in 2014 for two reasons: 1. Rich Rodriguez offenses always run the ball well; 2. The Wildcats have one of the Pac-12's best and most experienced offensive lines.

I have no idea who wins the job between Nick Wilson, Zach Green, Terris Jones-Grigsby and Jared Baker, or some combination thereof with some contribution of elusive receiver DaVonte Neal. What I suspect strongly is the program will eclipse 5.0 yards per carry and 3,000 yards rushing as a team while throwing the ball better this fall.

Ben from LA writes: I don't know anything about Dykes, or who the Chancellor has in mind for AD, but I think of Cal as a sleeping giant. It's the Pac-12's best university that isn't saddled with an admissions handicap, it's got the campus, the weather, and proximity to a favorite city and America's premier industry, and it receives the same TV dollars as all the other schools. Given Cal's extraordinary proficiency at every academic and professional endeavor, what do you think are the obstacles to football excellence?

Ted Miller: I wonder what might have happened if Cal had completed its facilities upgrades in 2005 when Jeff Tedford and the Bears were an established Pac-12 power. I'd certainly wager that Tedford would still be the coach and Cal wouldn't have gone 0-8 in conference play in 2013.

The biggest thing holding Cal back before -- and during -- Tedford's tenure was a lack of commitment. Berkeley was Berkeley first -- Telegraph Avenue! -- and Cal Bears football was an afterthought, casual amusement or something to protest. That is no longer the case. The facilities are A-list, the Pac-12 is surging and fans and the administration are fully committed to being competitive.

The problem Sonny Dykes inherited was talent. He didn't have enough to be consistently competitive in the North, and then the guys he had got hurt.

Is Dykes the long-term answer? We should get a better idea of that this fall. The Bears need to show improvement, even if that doesn't include reaching the .500 mark.

But to your question about what might be holding Cal back, there is nothing exceptional you could point to, as there is with, say, Utah (three years removed from non-AQ conference) or Washington State (isolated location with limited recruiting base).

Cal can win, which means it should win. All it takes is the right coach and right players.

Jon from Tumalo, Oregon, writes: Zero, zip, nada, nudge games between the SEC/PAC in 2014 unless there is a meeting in the Playoff.How can anyone possibly compare Conferences that hardly tee it up against one another? After all, WAZZOU gave Auburn at its place all that the Tigers could handle. I know scheduling is arranged far in advance but wouldn't an SEC/PAC Challenge (SEC teams 6 and 7 from the prior season play one another) be super sweet? LET'S PLAY BALL AGAINST THE BEST.

Ted Miller: The Pac-12 and SEC don't play often as it is and won't play any regular-season games this year. This was specifically called a drag by ESPN brass and your Pac-12 reporters during a meeting this past week. You are not the only one who wants to pair the two best conferences and, you know, see what happens when stadium size and bombast no longer matter.

Yet I wouldn't hold your breath. I don't get a sense either conference is aggressively seeking out the other in any consistent way. The SEC doesn't want to play home-and-home series with West Coast teams, and the Pac-12 isn't eager to do too many one-game visits in enemy territory, as the Cougars did last year when they proved to be nearly the equals of the SEC champions. That leaves neutral-site games, which are complicated to put together and limited in number.

While there have been some tentative talks -- and some intense Twitter speculation about certain marquee matchups -- nothing has progressed to a point that it can be seriously discussed as a possibility.

As for quality nonconference games, the Pac-12's special relationship with the Big Ten is prevailing -- see good matchups this fall with Michigan State (Oregon), Michigan (Utah), Northwestern (Cal) and Illinois (Washington).

There are a couple of SEC-Pac-12 matchups in the future: Texas A&M will play Arizona State at Houston’s NRG Stadium Sept. 5 2015, and then has a home-and-home with UCLA in 2015-16. There also are some more SEC-Pac-12 games scheduled a few years down the road.

Maybe we'll get one in the College Football Playoff?
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

But first, you now have a full bag of Twitter handles that are required reading.

You have mine here. You have Kevin Gemmell's brand spanking new 140-character depot.

And you have our veteran Tweeters and new Pac-12 blog insiders, Chantel Jennings -- here -- and Kyle Bonagura -- here.

That is 560 characters that nine out of 10 doctors recommend -- and this is the 10th doctor.

To the notes!

Nick from Sacramento writes: If Sonny Dykes wins 5 games this season, with a new AD, think he sees season 3?

Ted Miller: Short answer: Yes.

I also think that if he wins four or even three games and the Bears are far more competitive on both sides of the ball than they were in 2013, he deserves a third season, unless things go haywire off the field. While Dykes didn't inherit an entirely empty cupboard from Jeff Tedford, there were certainly issues, and then the Bears' injury woes last season were among the worst I've witnessed -- UCLA fans, you could equate it to your 1999 season, when Bob Toledo was practically walking around campus asking guys to suit up.

Dykes hasn't been perfect. Most notably his hiring of Andy Buh as defensive coordinator didn't work out. But he also deserves credit for making a handful of changes on his staff this offseason, including the hiring of Art Kaufman to run his defense.

Of course, when a football coach of a struggling team sees the athletic director who hired him depart, he knows he is losing an important administrative relationship. ADs and the coaches they hire in revenue sports are tied at the hip. When one suffers, so does the other. In this case, with Sandy Barbour leaving, Dykes is now less secure than he was last week. And it's notable that we rated him as the least secure Pac-12 coach even before this news.

The question now turns to the sort of AD Cal has in mind to replace Barbour. There are plenty of athletic director types out there. Some move deliberately. Some are more impulsive. I've been told by more than a few savvy ADs that it's important to hire your own football coach because you would rather be judged by what you have done than what your predecessor did.

Yet, as with most things in college football, there is an easy solution: Winning.

If Dykes goes 4-8 this season and gets back to the postseason in 2015 with quarterback Jared Goff as a third-year starter -- and his team is academically and behaviorally sound -- I suspect we'll see him around for a while.

Tom from Seattle writes: Saw your QB blog about the PAC-12 and the comments on Utah's QB Travis Wilson -- "When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. "Are we talking about the same Travis Wilson that is the 11th ranked PAC-12 QB in conference play two years running and leads the world in INT's? Still love your blogs, though!

Ted Miller: Yes.

First, Wilson, despite playing with an injury for three games, ended up grading out fairly well, ranking 47th in the nation in's Total QBR. Sure, that is only ninth in the Pac-12, but in the conference of quarterbacks, it's important to keep a national perspective when we are evaluating what might constitute a "solid performer."

Second, see if you notice anything in these numbers. Can you guess when Wilson got hurt? What you see is a pretty good quarterback through six games and the bottom falling out during the next three conference games. Again, "when healthy Wilson has been a solid performer..." When he was bad last season, he wasn't healthy (other than the UCLA disaster).

What about that "good upside" part? Well, let's not forget that Wilson was a true sophomore last season. He was thrust into service prematurely in 2012 and played fairly well considering the circumstances. When the Utes were 4-2 after beating Stanford, he looked like a guy who could lead the Utes into the South Division race.

For comparison's sake, consider that Oregon State's Sean Mannion had a 127.1 rating with 18 interceptions as a redshirt freshman starter. Wilson finished with a 129.7 rating last season.

But thanks for loving the blogs. Most awesome people do.

Paul from Albany, Ore., writes: Losing Brandin Cooks is going to be very difficult on the Oregon State offense and this fact has been pointed out numerous times. What has not been pointed out is that this same dialogue was stated the prior year when Markus Wheaton was lost to the NFL. Yes Cooks had a better year last than Wheaton did one earlier. But why has so little been written about the common denominator in both seasons -- Sean Mannion?? He is returning and yet all you folks write about is the losses he has sustained. How about digging into the idea that maybe he is a key factor in helping these receivers achieve their lofty status?

Ted Miller: Well, after passing for 10,436 yards and 68 touchdowns in three seasons, Mannion certainly merits a tip of the cap. And he has improved each year, which is a good thing.

I'd also contend he gets plenty of credit. For one, we ranked him fourth among Pac-12 quarterbacks, which is saying something when all four qualify as All-American candidates. And NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. knows who he is, ranking him the nation's No. 2 senior quarterback Insider.

But this will be a revealing year for Mannion. For one, he's a senior. This is his last chance to make a statement as a college quarterback and as an NFL prospect. Second, for the first time, he doesn't have a proven, NFL prospect at receiver.

NFL scouts are presently wondering if Wheaton and Cooks made Mannion look good. If Mannion is a more efficient player this season with a less stellar supporting cast in the passing game and, yes, wins a couple of big games, his stock will rise both when it comes to college kudos and NFL love.

Wayne from Mesa, Ariz., writes: A few weeks ago, the PAC-12 announced a new start time window for football: 11:00am. A few stories circulated the announcement, but I have not seen anything since. Has there been much feedback regarding this start time? From my standpoint, while it provides needed content for that time slot on the PAC-12 Network, it's way too early for the fans, especially in a region where we are used to late afternoon and night games.

Ted Miller: We did a poll and 58 percent of 5,391 respondents were positive about the 11 a.m. window.

I generally agree with that result. While 11 a.m. isn't ideal, it's better than having four games kickoff at 7:30 p.m. PT. A lot of Pac-12 fans have been complaining about a surfeit of late kickoffs. This is a response to that complaint. My guess is those who will now complain about the early kickoff will be fewer in numbers.

It's important to note a few things about the 11 a.m. window.

Wayne, I notice you are from Arizona. If you are a fan of Arizona or Arizona State, you won't have to worry about an 11 a.m. kickoff, at least not until late October. The Pac-12 has no interest in fans melting into puddles in their seats.

It's also unlikely the 11 a.m. kick will be the day's marquee game. That still will almost always fall into primetime windows, be that on ET or PT.

I suspect the 11 a.m. kickoff will mean more TV eyeballs for what might seem like middling games. While some folks are worried about competing with SEC or Big Ten games at 2 p.m., I don't see that as an issue. Some viewers will tune in because they care more about the Pac-12. Some will tune in because they like to watch more than one game at once. Those who don't care about the Pac-12 wouldn't watch with any kickoff time.

Some don't like the 11 a.m. kickoff because it means waking up early to drive to the stadium, and it cuts into tailgating time. But I'm not sure if these party-hardy folks are looking at the big picture.

First, there will be some encouragement for fans to arrive Friday evening. That only means more fun. Then, on Saturday, you get the 8 a.m. bloody mary at the stadium with eggs and bacon and country ham from this guy. Yummy. Then you have a postgame tailgate and time for a dinner and -- potentially -- a nice evening to tool around the old college digs.

The socially creative among you will be emailing me at season's end telling me the 11 a.m. kickoff rocked.

Emily from Los Angeles writes: You want a heartbreaking loss? What about the 3OT game between USC and Stanford?

Ted Miller: You mean a game that featured big names, ranked teams, controversy, late heroics and three overtimes could be heartbreaking?

I was there. Really entertaining, strange game. Hated how it ended, though. Not in terms of who won, but that it was about a sloppy and unfortunate turnover rather than a dramatic play.

Trevor from Portland writes: We got an article about Pac-12 heartbreakers, and it left out the biggest heartbreaker of the decade. Cam Newton fumbled, he wasn't down by forward progress. Cliff Harris was in. Michael Dyer was down. I'm still not over it.

Ted Miller: I was there for that one, too.

The Ducks were so close to a national title. It was the only time I can recall that Chip Kelly expressed regret about his game plan and some in-game decisions, as that sort of navel gazing wasn't his thing.

That is the thing about close games. They are a thrill to win and excruciating to lose. They also are why we love sports. While we love the winning, there is also a masochistic side to us that enjoys the social aspects of wallowing in misery among friends.

(Thousands of fans from various, struggling Pac-12 outposts immediately go, "Who... us?")

Pac-12's lunch links

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

Cal: Pain now, gain in 2014?

November, 21, 2013
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
Happy Friday.

Pac-12 lunchtime links

September, 19, 2013
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
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.


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.


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
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.


Most important game: Nov. 9 vs. USC

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


Most important 2013 game for California?


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.