For Cal supporters who wonder what happened to the Bears this season, I’d suggest an answer: the Pac-10 Conference.
For a number of reasons — geographical alignment, concentration of population and media east of the Mississippi, biased perceptions — the Pac-10 conference is underrated nationally, but top to almost bottom, it’s very strong.
The one exception is Washington State, which has fallen so far behind it may suffer the same fate as Idaho, which was once part of the conference but was expelled because it wasn’t competitive. With the resurgence of Washington under Steve Sarkisian, not to mention non-conference Boise State nearby, the Cougars will have even more trouble recruiting in the northwest. And geographically, Washington State is the least attractive location of the conference schools.
Otherwise, though, the conference is solid and will be even more so as UCLA improves. Every week is an adventure. The Pac-10 is the only major conference which plays a round-robin schedule, which makes it difficult to produce a national champion.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at Cal’s results this fall: The wins came over Washington State (the gimme), UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and Stanford. UCLA was overmatched physically. Arizona State was a cliff-hanger in Tempe. The Arizona game was also a cliff-hanger, but an impressive win over a team which finished in a tie for second. The Big Game was probably the Bears’ best game of the season, as they dominated the high-rolling Cardinal for most of the game, though it took a dramatic interception in the end zone to seal the victory.
The losses were all lopsided ones, to Oregon, USC, Oregon State and Washington. Oregon is in the Rose Bowl, USC was playing like USC against the Bears, though the Trojans had a late-season collapse. It’s no disgrace to lose to Oregon State, but the Bears also were in emotional shock after the Jahvid Best injury. The loss to Washington was the worst because the Bears were still nursing an emotional hangover from the Big Game. For those of you who say Jeff Tedford should have done a better job of motivating his players, I have a question: How many of you have had a teenage son of whom you’ve said, “He never listens to me?”
Overall, the Bears’ 8-4 record looks good. They should have beaten the Huskies, but their other losses were to better teams. They beat two teams, Stanford and Arizona, which were probably better.
That record will look better if they win their bowl game against Utah. I think they will. Despite their letdown in their final regular-season game, this team showed character by winning five of six games after the devastating back-to-back losses to Oregon and USC. I think they’ll be back on track in the Poinsettia Bowl.
There’s no question, though, that the bar has been raised for Tedford. His success, including the longest run of winning seasons since the ’20s, has only spoiled many Cal supporters who want more, including a Rose Bowl appearance. Meanwhile, the competition within the conference has intensified.
But that’s the way it is in the Pac-10, the nation’s strongest conference.
Cal (8-4) vs. Utah (9-3)
WHEN: Wednesday, 5 p.m.
WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
RADIO: KGO (810 AM)