Cal Football: 5 Most Under-Appreciated Players in Recent Golden Bears History

Daniel Mano HerberholzCorrespondent IApril 4, 2012

Cal Football: 5 Most Under-Appreciated Players in Recent Golden Bears History

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    Here are five players of the last 30 years of Cal football whom you may have forgotten about, but deserve acknowledgment. 

    They are not among the certain names in California football history that are well-known and remembered.

    Those players were great, but most went on to decent careers in the NFL—while others kept in Cal lore without the notoriety.

    This is a list of those players.

J.J. Arrington Deserved the Heisman Trophy

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    The name J.J. Arrington doesn't have a ring to it like Adrian Peterson or Reggie Bush, but in 2004 Arrington outplayed those two future first-round NFL picks.

    Oklahoma's Peterson and USC's Bush finished second and fifth respectively in Heisman voting that year, while California's Arrington came in eighth.

    But Arrington was the only tailback with 2,000 yards that season.

    The then-senior finished at 2018 yards, then the 10th best season in NCAA history. That season he rushed for 100-plus in every game and 15 touchdowns overall.

    In comparison, Bush only surpassed 100 yards in a game twice that season, relying more on his kick returns and Trojan uniform for his national notoriety.

    Peterson, on the other hand, was well-known for being a freshman.

    Yes, a freshman who racked up 1925 yards, but on 50 more carries and one extra game than Arrington.

    Arrington went 7.0 yards on average, while Peterson covered an NFL-level 5.7 yards per carry (and an equivalent 15 touchdowns).

    Both had fantastic quarterbacks (Jason White for Peterson, Aaron Rodgers for Arrington), which could only help their stats.

    But Arrington churned out more yards with fewer opportunities and never got the press or credit he deserved as the best Cal tailback in recent memory.

Pat Barnes Broke Records, Helped Tony Gonzalez

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    Before coach Jeff Tedford and quarterback Kyle Boller were saviors, there almost were coach Steve Mariucci and quarterback Pat Barnes.

    After just six .500-and-above seasons in 15 years—and none to follow until Tedford showed up in 2002—Mariucci and Barnes arrived in Berkeley and made an immediate impact.

    At least at first. The team started out 5-0, including a win over No. 17 USC. Then a tumultuous dive to 6-6, although they finished at a decent .500.

    Barnes sparkled, breaking school records left and right. Perhaps the most impressive was eight touchdown passes in a 56-55 overtime victory over Arizona (pictured above), the sixth and last win of the season.

    He tossed 503 yards in that contest, and 3,499 in the season (both standing school records). His 31 passing touchdowns that year are the most in a season, and his 32 TDs are tied with Boller for most in a season.

    Other records Barnes holds are most games with 300-plus yards passing in a season (5) and in his career (10), as well as most consecutive passes without being intercepted, with 150.

    By the following year, Mariucci was the San Francisco 49ers coach and Barnes was on the Kansas City Chiefs, and the most remembered Cal player from that time is Tony Gonzalez.

    Barnes deserves some credit for Gonzalez' success, too. 

No Riddle Who's Underrated on Defense

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    When you think of the great California defensive players, who comes to mind? This is no riddle...well, actually it might be a Riddle.

    The easy answers are lineman Andre Carter and cornerback Deltha O'Neal, but then there's lineman Ryan Riddle.

    Carter may have been Cal's career leader in sacks (31), with guys like Regan Upshaw (28) and Tully Banta-Cain close behind (26.5), but those guys had three or four seasons in Blue & Gold.

    Riddle, on the other hand, spent just two seasons in Berkeley, yet he tallied 21 sacks, good for seventh on the list.

    His 6.5-sack season in 2003 after transferring from El Camino Junior College was a warmup.

    As a senior, the defensive end got to the quarterback a school record 14.5 times, second best in the nation in 2004. That earned him first team All-American honors by Sports Illustrated and Sporting News (and second team by Associated Press).

    Riddle was overshadowed that season by the likes of Aaron Rodgers and coach Jeff Tedford's formidable offense, but he was the key cog for a team which lost just twice, including a nail-biter to USC. 

If Punting Were Rushing, Nick Harris Would Be a Legend

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    Usually the token stars of a football team are the tailbacks, the quarterbacks, the linebackers...but they should move over and make room for Nick Harris, play-making punter.

    A man who can drop-kick a ball 70 yards deserves some accolades.

    Nick Harris booted the most yards in a season in Cal history (3795 yards on 85 punts) in 1999, and was a consensus All-American in 2000.

    Harris is first all-time in career punts (322) and punting yards (13,621) in NCAA history.

    You read that correctly—Cal football has a Division I college football history leader.

    Placekicker Ryan Longwell arrived at Cal the year before placekicker Ryan Longwell left, but Longwell is much better known despite both eventually playing in the NFL.

    Of course, punting yards don't equate to rushing yards. But even in the former category, 13,000 is exceptional.

We Know Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers, but Reggie Who?

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    Reggie Robertson was sandwiched between two future NFL quarterbacks, but he didn't complain.

    "Of course it's been hard," Robertson told the San Francisco Chronicle of his secondary role to the two. "But I just handle it the way I handle it. I just kept staying positive."

    After backing up Boller for two seasons, Robertson was named the starter for the 2003 season. 

    The Tuscon-native began the season completing 52-of-85 passes for 669 yards with eight touchdowns and just three picks. However, he was pulled as starter after four games for—that's right—the Aaron Rodgers.

    Two weeks later, he played an integral role in a huge victory.

    Holding on to the lead against the undefeated USC, Rodgers sustained an injury. Enter Robinson, who finished the game 9-of-12 for 109 yards and a touchdown in a triple overtime victory over the eventual national champion Trojans.

    That was QB Matt Leinart's only defeat as a starter for USC in three seasons beside the famous Rose Bowl loss to Vince Young and Texas in 2005.

    In other words, during a span for Cal that was defined by a rivalry with Pac-10-dominant USC, a man named Reggie was the hero.

    Unfortunately, he's forgotten about in the lore of the Jeff Tedford years.