2009 Cal Bears Football: Will the Bears be Truly Golden This Year?
Excitement is building for another year of California Golden Bear football!
After a strong finish last season and a win over the University of Miami, in San Francisco's own Emerald Bowl, Bear backers are hungry for more.
While the Golden Bears have become perennial bowl contenders under coach Jeff Tedford, old and young blues alike long for much more than a "Holiday" or an "Emerald" on their bowl wish list next season.
With the building of a new Student-Athlete High Performance Center underway, and major upgrades planned to Memorial Stadium, the stakes are increasing for Cal to step up and become an elite football program.
There are many questions that revolve around this season, some of which follow here.
Will 2009 be the year of the Bear in the Pac-10, or will USC continue to dominate the conference?
Is Kevin Riley ready to step up and shine as the full-time starting quarterback for Cal, or will fans endure another season long "competition" at quarterback?
Will Jahvid Best be a legitimate top-tier competitor for the Heisman Trophy this year?
Will Cal's defense pick up where they left off last season, as one of the conference's most exciting and opportunistic units?
These and other questions await us as we near the kickoff of what promises to be another exciting campaign in 2009.
This slide show will address some of the more intriguing questions facing the Golden Bears in 2009.
Is Pressure Mounting for a BCS Caliber Season for the Bears?
There is no doubt that Jeff Tedford has brought excitement, respectability, and the crowds back to Cal football.
Even without a major BCS bowl appearance in his tenure to date, Tedford has ensured himself a prominant place in the history of the Cal Bears' football program.
With seven consecutive winning seasons, six consecutive bowl game appearances, a 5-and-1 record in bowls, and Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors in 2002 and 2004—it would be an understatement to say that Tedford's job is secure in Berkeley.
With that said, Jeff Tedford knows that Bears' fans want more and he does too.
Cal's athletic department is unveiling luxury seating accomodations for their biggest alumni and fans as part of a multi-million dollar planned stadium renovation.
To secure the donations they need for a mostly privately funded effort, Cal must energize and reward its most loyal and dedicated fans with a prominant BCS bowl game appearance, and soon.
Jeff Tedford knows what's at stake—for the program and for him personally. To date, a major BCS bowl game appearance has eluded Tedford.
While Tedford's job is secure, pressure from alumni doners will build for a breakout season and the ulitmate reward of a major BCS bowl appearance.
Who Will Win Cal's Quarterback Competition?
With pressure from both Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney, look for Kevin Riley to rise to the occasion and approach passing numbers put up by Aaron Rodgers and Nate Longshore in their junior, breakout seasons.
Riley knows the offense and has the arm and poise to excel at the quarterback position. Fans too easily remember his gaffe against Oregon State in 2006 in the closing seconds, and forget how well he responded to his first career start that day.
Riley is capable of huge games and seldom makes bonehead mistakes. This will be his fourth year in the program, counting his redshirt freshman season.
I believe Tedford knows Riley is his man for 2009 but needs Riley to step up and take the reins himself.
Expect big things from Kevin Riley this year.
Will Jahvid Best Strike the Infamous Heisman Pose in 2009?
Jahvid Best is probably the most exciting running back in recent Pac-10 history since USC's Reggie Bush. Had the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year voting not concluded before Cal's season finale, Best would surely had been the winner.
Instead, Best lost out to Oregon State's Jaquizz Rodgers.
If Best can stay healthy, his junior, and probably his last season at Cal before opting for the NFL draft, may be one for the record books.
Best has the potential to change an entire game with one play when the ball is in his hands, and Tedford plans to give him the ball as often as he can next season.
Key to Jahvid's and the Bears' success will be to strike a balance between letting Best get into the rhythm of the game without letting him get tired, over-used, and susceptible to injuries. To accomplish this balance, Shane Vereen will need to step up in a big way and show defenders that the Bear running attack is indeed a two-back attack.
Also, the passing game will need to keep defenders honest.
If Cal can achieve a consistent and balanced offense in 2009, and Best can stay healthy, he may be rewarded with college football's most prestigious individual award—the Heisman Trophy.
Who Will Emerge as Cal's Go-To Wide Receiver?
Last season, Cal's passing attack appeared at times to be inconsistent and uninspiring.
Receivers were often overthrown, and balls thrown right to receivers were often dropped. It seemed as if no one was willing or able to step up and excel at the position of Wide Receiver.
Some blamed the quarterback situation citing Tedford's season-long competition as the main culprit. Others blamed a lack of quality wide receivers and bemoaned the loss of the trio of DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins, and Robert Jordan from the year before.
I believe there is a wealth of young and unheralded talent among Cal's receiving corps, and I believe that critics and skeptics alike will be surprised at the play at this position this season.
I don't necessarily see one superstar wide receiver emerging but rather a platoon of players all contributing—particularly Nyan Boateng, Michael Calvin, Verran Tucker, and Jeremy Ross.
Keys to success will include the use of three and sometimes four wide receiver sets, and quick timing slant passes to the outside. The constant threat of Jahvid Best draws up the middle should provide for some loose zone and one-on-one coverages the Bears can exploit.
Aside from Jahvid Best — Who is Best Positioned to be Cal's Superstar This Season?
Syd'Quan Thompson is poised for another stellar season on both defense (shut down corner) and special teams (punt returns).
Fans don't always get to see the outstanding play of Syd'Quan on defense, but they rise to their feet everytime an opponent prepares to punt as Syd'Quan has the potential to "Take it to the House" everytime he touches the ball on special teams.
Look for Syd'Quan to be a spectacular player in 2009 and cement his first-round draft status in the 2010 NFL Draft.
With the Loss of Follet, Felder, and Williams, How Does Cal's Linebacking Corps Stack Up?
While Anthony Felder, Zack Follet, and Worrell Williams will all be missed on the field and in the locker room, Cal's Mike Mohamed and Eddie Young are ready to take over key leadership positions on defense.
For fans who attended last year's games, you will recall Mike Mohamed's name being announced as "in on the play" again and again last year.
Look for big plays from Mike Mohamed including sacks, forced fumbles and interception returns. He is a special player and will emerge as a star in his own right this season.