California Football Midseason Report Card
Cal's 2010 season is halfway done, and it's time to draw up their report card.
Saturday's meltdown in LA was probably not the best way for the Golden Bears to end the first half of their season. If they weren't out of it already, they sure as hell are now.
As a result, for perhaps the first time all year, this is not a time to look forward. This is a time for evaluation, in the form of neat little letter grades, of the various parts that have had a say Cal's 3-3 record.
Fair warning: it might be a good idea to hide this one from Mom and Pop.
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For the most part, the Bears offense has been a frustrating spectacle to behold. Then again, this shouldn't be all that surprising, particularly concerning the play of senior quarterback Kevin Riley.
In the Cal's three wins, Riley has a rating of 182.7. In their three losses, his rating is 106.7. Hardly a surprise, right?
The abbreviated truth is simple: despite being the winningest quarterback in the conference, Riley never was and never will be among the upper echelon of Pac-10 quarterbacks.
The lone bright spot for the Bears on offense is obvious: Shane Vereen. He's third in the Pac-10 in rushing with 630 yards and also has 11 touchdowns.
On balance, Cal's offense ranks more towards the bottom of the Pac-10 in yards (378.2 yards/game) and points (32.2 points/game) than it does the top.
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When they've played well, Cal's defense has looked absolutely unbeatable.
When they haven't played well... not so much.
In their four good games (their three wins and their close loss to Arizona), the defense allowed an average of 193.8 yards a game. If they could maintain even something remotely close to that average, they would boast the best defense in the country.
However, they have completely fallen flat against good offenses. They went into Nevada as the number one defense in the country, and got torched for 497 yards and 52 points. They then went into Saturday's game at USC as the eighth ranked defense, and were bludgeoned to the tune of 602 yards and 48 points, 42 of which came in the first half.
Inconsistent is one thing. The Bears defense is something else: mediocre.
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Cal's play on special teams hasn't had too much of an effect on their record, which is a good thing.
The return game has been nothing spectacular. On punt returns, handled mainly by Jeremy Ross, the Bears boast an average of 12.2 yards per return, with no touchdowns. On kickoffs, Ross, Isi Sofele and others have racked up an average of 19.2 yards a return.
The real star on special teams has been junior punter Bryan Anger. He regularly punts the ball well over 45 yards, and always with good hang time. He was named the Pac-10 special teams player of the week following the UCLA game.
And then there's junior kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, who is 6-for-9 in field goals with a long of 40 yards. Many people want to blame him for single-handedly losing the Arizona game, where he missed two field goals, including one that would have clinched the game late in the fourth quarter.
Get over it. It's not his fault the Wildcats drove down the field and took the lead in the final minutes.
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The Bears are off to their first 3-3 start since 2003, and already many people are putting the heat on Jeff Tedford. He has been particularly criticized by some of the more zealous fans of failing to get his squad fired up for big games, a claim evidenced this year in Reno, Tucson and LA.
If your head is level enough, you'll realize that this is more of a matter of Cal losing to better teams.
But Tedford's coordinators should not be exempt to a portion of the blame. Second year offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's scheme is predictable to a fault. Using the Wildcat is about as creative as he gets on offense, and good defenses like Arizona's and a resurgent USC unit had absolutely no trouble keeping the Bears down.
First year defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast certainly deserves credit for raising Cal's defense from the depths of the Pac-10, but he has shown an inability to make adjustments. He had absolutely no answer for Nevada's pistol offense, and his squad was absolutely atrocious against USC.
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Cal students, alumni and fans can call this season a disappointment all they want, but it seems more reasonable to take a look at the larger picture.
As many people probably know by now, Cal was picked by many college football experts to finish seventh in the Pac-10. Guess where they're currently sitting right now.
That's right. Seventh.
In a year in which the Pac-10 is very strong, Cal's mediocrity may not be such a damning fate. There are three Top 15 teams in the Pac-10, a total that is matched only by the SEC and the Big Ten.
Therefore, as much as we want the Bears to be among the elite, there really shouldn't be too much shame in looking up at teams that are clearly superior.
2011 is likely to be a rebuilding/retooling year, so it's probably a very good idea to step off the ledge and try to enjoy the 2010 edition for what it is. Besides, even the worst season can be dignified by winning the Big Game.