Forget about California's first three opponents for the 2009 season. Think of them as totally meaningless games. The teams Cal faces in its first three games—Maryland, Eastern Washington, and Minnesota are are all non-conference opponents.
Think of these initial games for Cal as being mere warm-ups to prepare for PAC-10 conference play. These three games, two at home and one away, will be a chance to to get the chinks out of Cal's defensive armor and to iron out the wrinkles of the Golden Bears' offense.
For sure, these games will have an impact upon Cal's final rankings at the end of the season and may even have BCS implications, but let's just forget about them for now. Besides, Old Blues don't care about the BCS anyway. It is the Rose Bowl that they want.
The real season for Cal begins September 26th, when Cal opens their PAC-10 season away in Eugene, Oregon versus the Ducks. Only one week later, Cal faces the USC Trojans at home. Beat these two teams back-to-back in early conference play and the Golden Bears are well on their way to being a true PAC-10 contender next year. Lose both of these games in a row and Cal fans will spiral into a dark depression which will last all season.
Assuming the Golden Bears are 2-0 in PAC-10 play after the aforementioned games, the real barriers for Cal next season will likely come against Oregon State and Arizona, but both of these games will be played at home in Berkeley.
I know that at this point, Oregon and Trojan fans alike are most likely scrolling ahead to the "leave a comment" section of this article to say what a complete moron I am and to tell me that I don't know what I am talking about. If so, I thank those USC and Oregon fans for their participation and wish them well next season.
For those of you that are still with me, here is my logic:
Every Golden Bear fan, heck, every PAC-10 fan for that matter, knows that Oregon and USC are both very beatable. Cal has played both teams extremely tough in nearly every matchup over the past several years.
Cal nearly owns Oregon when they are in Berkeley (Duck fans have grown used to leaving Cal's Memorial Stadium as losers while being taunted by numerous Cal fans' wooden duck calls) and Cal broke the Oregon wining streak against them up in Autzen a couple of seasons ago so that spell is broken for now.
As for the Trojans of late, they always seem to mail one in early in PAC-10 play—most likely having read too many of their own press clippings early in the season. Given that the Trojans open PAC-10 play against cream puffs Washington and Washington State, Cal will be waiting to trip them up.
If the Bears can knock off the Ducks in Autzen Stadium—a noisy and difficult venue to play in to say the least, the Trojans will seem like easy street at home the following week.
Cal will beat Oregon in Eugene in a close game. Oregon is a team in transition with a new head coach.
Cal will then beat USC at home the following week. I don't believe it will even be that close of a game. Cal will win and win decisively. Cal always rises to the occasion early in the season at home against tough opponents with their roaring home crowd behind them. USC had better be ready when they come to Strawberry Canyon next season.
Now for the real tests in Cal's 2009 football season: Oregon State and Arizona.
Oregon State owns Cal—winning all but one game against Cal during the Tedford regime.
Arizona seems to enjoy the spoiler role in beating Cal every year Cal seems to be on the verge of greatness.
Next year, both of these tough opponents travel to Berkeley in the back-to-back weeks of November 7th and 14th. I believe Cal will be highly focused for both games and win these games at home next season.
Here is my assessment of the Golden Bears team.
To start, everyone seems to think Cal has a quarterback problem. They don't. The only quarterback problem Cal may have at the moment is too much talent on their roster to pick from.
Kevin Riley has something to prove next year, and he will have two top-notch quarterbacks in Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney driving him on to greatness. Riley knows Tedford's offense and has played in pressure games before.
I personally believe Riley will be Cal's starter for the entire season next year (barring injury) and will show flashes of greatness much like Aaron Rodgers did in his junior season. It takes a while to learn Tedford's offense and Riley will be more than ready.
Jahvid Best, if he can stay healthy, should compete outright for the Heisman Trophy next year. While he likely won't win it (Colt McCoy from Texas will), Best will be nearly unstoppable in his junior season before turning to the NFL's draft in 2010.
Let's face it PAC-10 fans, Best deserved PAC-10 player of the year over Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, and with one more year of maturity and physical conditioning under his belt, Best will be a beast and a nightmare for every Pac-10 defensive coordinator.
Cal's offensive line is always among the PAC-10's elite and I see nothing changing this season even with the departure of their center Alex Mack.
Cal's wide receivers remain a question mark for sure but with defenders coming up to stop Best, Cal's tight ends and wide-outs will surely see single coverage often and will get open this season again and again.
Special teams play for Cal last season was solid. With speedsters Best and Syd Quan Thompson running back kickoffs and punts, Cal's offense may not even get the ball very often next season.
Now for the defense. Cal has numerous studs up front on the defensive line and they are ready to rumble. Cal runs a 3-4 defense and lost most if not all of their starting line-backing corps in the off season with two being drafted by NFL teams. However, Cal gave plenty of playing time to its underclassmen last season who will rise to the occasion.
The Golden Bears secondary is among the conference elite with Syd Quan Thompson shutting down his corner.
This is the season the Bear's Roar is back.
It will be the run for the Roses