The California Golden Bears came into the season with a lot of excitement and anticipation, albeit amongst some serious questions.
How would the Bears offense handle the loss of three wide receivers: Lavelle Hawkins, Robert Jordan, and most notably, speedster and current Philadelphia Eagle DeSean Jackson? Could their rushing attack be sustained without the departed RB Justin Forsett? Who was going to be the quarterback of this team?
Head coach Jeff Tedford opted for the young gunslinger out of Beaverton, Kevin Riley, to lead the Bears into the year, leaving senior QB and two-year starter Nate Longshore to ride the bench with his inconsistent play.
Riley and Cal passed a stiff first test to start the year, winning a 38-31 shootout at home against an impressive Michigan State team, anchored by Heisman candidate RB Javon Ringer.
After quickly dismissing a weak Washington State team 66-3, the Bears fell flat, losing their road game the following week 35-27 to Maryland, who lost the week before to Middle Tennessee State.
Now the Golden Bears have had a week to recover, get their players healed, and anchor up for a home game against the Rams of Colorado State. Despite falling out of the Top 25 and rightfully earning flak for poorly representing the Pac-10 against the Terps, we should expect to see Cal strike back fiercely by finishing CSU early on Saturday.
The running back duo of Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen has yielded much fruit, as each has exploded for 100-yard-plus running games.
The defense, anchored by shutdown corner Syd’quan Thompson and tackling machine OLB Zack Follett, must elevate its performance, especially against the running game, where that weakness was exploited by MSU and Maryland.
The Pac-10 has not been very impressive to date, posting only one team in the Top 25—not surprisingly, that would be USC.
With Oregon struggling in a home loss to Boise State and Arizona State losing for the second consecutive week, it looks right now to be a three-horse race for second with Cal, an explosive Arizona squad, and an Oregon team with a powerful running game but quarterback issues galore.
Expect the Golden Bears to get back on track against CSU, and elevate their performance in a season still packed with showdowns: Oct. 4 vs. ASU, Oct. 18 at ARIZ, Nov. 1 vs. ORE, and Nov. 8 at USC.
Tedford’s brilliant offensive mind will have Cal putting up many points throughout the year, but for all the loyal followers of Golden Bear nation, expect to finish second or third in the Pac-10 and win big in either the Sun Bowl (El Paso, TX) or the Holiday Bowl (San Diego, CA).