It seems that every year, the California Golden Bears are a favorite choice of many to break through and finally become an elite team. It also seems that every year, the Golden Bears come up a little short of expectations.
This year's team has enough talent to end the USC stranglehold on the Pac-10 conference. Finally.
Cal is on a record-breaking run of six straight bowl appearances, but the fans want more. They want a BCS bowl game.
The Bears had the coveted No. 1 spot in their sights during the 2007 season, but terrible play from Kevin Riley led the Bears to five losses during the final seven games of the season.
Cal is entering the 2009 season with a three-game winning streak, but the Bears are without a lot of returning players, especially on defense.
Also, there is no clear-cut choice of who is going to be the starting quarterback at the start of the season.
Head coach Jeff Tedford has three passers to choose from. Kevin Riley, Brock Mansion, and Beau Sweeny are all in the running. Although Sweeny is a long shot to take the starting position, Brock Mansion is making sure Kevin Riley isn't just handed the job.
The quarterback position isn't the only question mark for the Cal Bears. A strength to the defense last season, the linebacker corps is now a young but talented group of players.
Also, whoever ends up winning the starting quarterback job needs a true go-to receiver. The Cal receivers are big, fast, and strong, but very inconsistent. They drop too many passes and don't run their routes quickly or crisp enough.
With center Alex Mack gone to the NFL, it is up to junior Chris Guarnero to fill the legendary Mack's shoes. It is going to be a difficult task, but Guarnero is a tough and quick technician, and has been learning from Mack since arriving on campus.
All of these question marks, and the California Bears still have a ton of strengths that every team they face is going to have to account for. The most dangerous of these strengths is the backfield.
With the dynamic duo of Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen, California's running game is set to become one of the elite in the nation. Both of them have either 4.3 or 4.4 speed, and have the ability to bring the crowd to its feet and demoralize the opposing defense.
The Golden Bears' secondary was ranked number six nationally in pass efficiency defense last season, and all but one of the 11 letterwinners are returning for the 2009 season.
The star of the secondary, and perhaps the defense, is cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson. He is one of the nation's true lockdown cornerbacks, recording 70 tackles, two sacks, four picks and 14 pass breakups.
The rest of the secondary always seems to be at the right place at the right time, knocking down 73 passes and turning 24 interceptions in 2008.
The major obstacle on the schedule is obviously their game against the USC Trojans on October 3rd. Cal always play well against the Trojans, but have failed to produce a win since 2003. The game will be played at Memorial Stadium, and if Cal wins, they have a very good chance of playing in the Rose Bowl.
Success would be a finish to the season no worse than second in the Pac 10, which, really, is what everyone in the conference is chasing.
While there are many obstacles on the road to a Pac 10 conference title, the California Golden Bears are poised to make a splash this season.