This time last year, California was poised to mend the scars from a stretch where the Golden Bears had gone 44-19, yet failed to secure a BCS bid.
Behind the fleet feet of Jahvid Best, the team soared to a record of 3-0 and a No. 6 ranking for its fourth appearance in the top ten in the last five years.
Unfortunately, it took only two weeks for rock to become rubble and the walls to come tumbling down on the Cal program once more.
In successive games against eventual Pac-10 champ Oregon and annual tormentor Southern Cal, the Bears were blasted by a tally of 72-6. After head coach Jeff Tedford (pictured, left) had seemingly righted the ship with three straight conference victories, Best’s college career and the team’s Rose Bowl chances were brutally knocked out one week later at the hands of Oregon State.
Although the season was salvaged by a heart-stopping road victory over archrival Stanford, the reopened possibility of a 10-win season was immediately slammed shut in disappointing defeats to Washington, and later, Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl.
The issue now is whether or not Tedford still has it. Once a hot candidate for NFL openings, the two-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year has assumed the mantle of elder statesman of the conference (if you discount Mike Riley’s NFL stint in between his two eras in Corvallis).
His longevity is a testament to his consistency, although one could argue that it has been dampened by the lack of New Year’s Day bowl berths on his résumé. Further compounding the issue is the fact that the Bears have not finished in the polls two out of the last three seasons.
Almost at a crossroads, Tedford underwent quite a bit of self-reflection during the off-season ahead of his ninth year at the helm.
“For me to sit here and say that it doesn’t take a toll on you would be very naïve for me to say, because it has,” the coach shared in an interview with Rivals.com. “I have to re-evaluate who I am and why I’m doing this, and what are the goals and how do I handle all the things that come along with the high expectations.”
Some of these alterations range from the important to the trivial. The new 6:45 a.m. position meetings have been accompanied by small wrinkles, such as giving the players more freedom to choose the loudspeaker music during practice.
Getting back to basics might be a welcome change for Tedford, as this year presents one of his biggest coaching challenges yet. With the loss of Best and defensive stalwarts Tyson Alualu and Syd’Quan Thompson to the NFL, along with the transfer of top defensive recruit Chris Martin to Florida, the media has forecasted a seventh-place conference finish for California. Are the prognosticators’ predictions an accurate appraisal of the team’s future?
Heading into the Bears’ season opener against FCS school UC Davis tomorrow, here are five smoldering questions that will go a long way in determining whether the pundits will be right come December.