Bear Hunting Season: Ranking Cal's Most Dangerous Games Left on the Schedule

WarderroCorrespondent ISeptember 22, 2009

It seems like everything is falling into place for Cal after the Bears' big road win over Minnesota: a No. 6 national ranking, Jahvid Best going from darkhorse to contender overnight in the Heisman circles, and an upset loss by some rival down south. 

The rational thing would be to devote an article celebrating the team's accomplishments, right?


Being the ever neurotic, pessimistic, and psychologically frail Cal fan that I am, I can rarely let myself bask in my team's moment of glory.

Instead, I grow nervous, pick apart my team's errors, and spend time laboring over where this magical season can end as the Bears ascend near the nation's top five.

(If your school had to endure a five year stretch of being robbed of a BCS bid in 2004, Joe Ayoob as quarterback the year after, a game like this to cost squander a Rose Bowl bid in 2006, a season like Cal's in 2007, and Maryland in 2008, you'd feel the same way).

In all seriousness, however, it is important to keep some perspective and realize that only three games have elapsed in this young campaign; for Cal, only one of them has been against a quality opponent (sorry, Maryland, but another loss to Middle Tennessee State?).

The Bears still have considerable tests ahead as Pac-10 play opens in a conference which got a whole lot tougher than it appeared at the beginning of the season, and one in which everyone will be giving Cal their best shot. 

Let's take a look at the games with the most potential to derail Cal's BCS run.

1. USC, Oct. 3


Why the Bears Should Worry

It's quite simple: to be the best, Cal has to beat the best. Loss to Washington be damned, USC still has a swagger that can only be achieved by being the reigning Pac-10 champions seven years running—not to mention five consecutive victories over the Bears. 

The Trojans will likely come in with a healthy Matt Barkley and safety Taylor Mays, a talented backfield and defense, and one heck of a mean streak.

With the game on national television, the Bears can't wilt under the bright lights like in seasons past.


Ed's Panic Meter: Through the Roof

Think the Trojans will simply allow a changing of the guard in the Pac-10? Pete Carroll will sooner stop tweeting. 

Yes, USC lost a lot on defense, but you know the Trojans will be amped up to give Kevin Riley and Jahvid Best another rude greeting to follow up last year's domination of the Bears' offensive attack.


2. At Oregon, Sept. 26


Why the Bears Should Worry

The term 'trap game' many times implies that a team is overlooking a clearly inferior opponent, but that won't be the case Saturday.

Cal is running into a surging Oregon team (remember them?) whose offense is starting to click at just the right time after the opening week debacle against Boise State.

Despite dropping the last three to the Bears, the Ducks have history on their side at Autzen Stadium, where Cal has won just once in about 20 years. It's also by far the loudest place Kevin Riley will play in all season. 


Ed's Panic Meter: Extremely High

The Bears are coming off an emotional weekend after finally getting that road monkey off their backs. The Ducks will be fired up. If that doesn't signal danger in a conference opener, I don't know what does. 


3.  At Washington, Nov. 28


Why the Bears Should Worry

The fighting Sarkisians will be the last obstacle standing between the Bears and a BCS bowl if Cal should come in undefeated.

As the Trojans learned, the northwest isn't the easiest place to play, and you can bet the stadium will be rocking.

Cal will be playing to get the taste of a bitter 37-23 road loss from 2007 out of their mouths; in that game, they got flat out trounced—and that was without Jake Locker playing.


Ed's Panic Meter: Very High

These aren't Ty's Huskies that the Bears (and Best) ran all over; after beating USC, this team looks inspired and I'd be scared to death of facing them for the opportunity to go to a Rose Bowl. 


4. At Stanford, Nov. 21


Why the Bears Should Worry

As if Stanford didn't need any more motivation to beat Cal and take back the Axe. This Big Game may give the Cardinal a shot to ruin the BCS hopes of a potentially unbeaten Cal team. 

Furthermore, the Cardinal finally appear to have a solid quarterback in Andrew Luck and a pair of receivers to complement bruising running back Toby Gerhart.

Coach Jim Harbaugh also has the confidence knowing he beat a Bears team loaded with talent just two years ago.


Ed's Panic Meter: High

I'll have to see more from Andrew Luck throughout the season. But oh, those rivalry games...


5. At UCLA, Oct. 17


Why the Bears Should Worry

Once again, history is not on Cal's side on this road trip.

I guess one of the reasons the Bears want to play in the Rose Bowl in January so badly is that they have yet to win there during the regular season this decade; the last two losses in particular have come in late, heartbreaking fashion. 

Cal will be going against a stiff defense, bolstered up front by tackle Brian Price. The secondary is led by Alterraun Verner (a continuing source of nightmares Bears fans and Nate Longshore) and Raheem Moore, who have eight combined picks. 

Lastly, the pressure will be on for the Bears, if they get past USC and Oregon, to finally start a season 6-0 under Tedford.


Ed's Panic Meter: Moderate

Los Angeles has not been kind to the Bears for some time now, but Kevin Craft will have to prove to me he's really changed since last season. 


Any thoughts on the list and rankings?

I toyed with putting Oregon State in here considering the Beavers have owned Cal of late, but until the Bears show they can win consistently on the road, games away from Strawberry Canyon that are not against USC will always make me sweat more.


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