We expect Alabama to romp Ole Miss. We expect Vandy to get pummeled at Georgia’s homecoming. We expect the Redskins to lose to the Colts, although last night was proof of last week’s assertion that this is a team going the right way. In fact, with the revelation that the teams of the NFC North are not that hot, a season over .500 is looking lots more plausible.
No, this is about the other team in the household.
“IT IS EASIER FOR A CAMEL TO GO THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE THAN FOR CAL TO WIN A MEANINGFUL PAC-10 GAME”
“Bleeding Blue and Gold – But The Wounds Aren’t Healing”
42-0. This is the significant figure. Forget the final score, or for that matter the entire second half. All you need to know is that at halftime, the California Golden Bears – who were only catching two and a half on the Vegas line – were down by six (6) touchdowns to a team that struggled to beat Virginia at home.
It’s time to tell some hard cold facts about the state of the Bears:
1) When is the last time Cal won a meaningful game of any kind – not just conference – away from home? You can look as far back as the ill-starred Holiday Bowl in 2004, when the team came out flatter than a week-old Diet Coke – but one win in Los Angeles in the Tedford era, and the slaughters at Oregon and Washington last year, or Tennessee in 2006, or Nevada a month ago…this is a team that gets out of the Bay Area and drops off. Precipitously.
2) The characterization in some quarters of “Tedford-bot” is looking more accurate with every passing week. Just as in 2007, the head coach is absolutely unwilling to play the backup QB in any meaningful sense. Sure, Sweeney might get a few reps handing off against UC-Davis in the 4th quarter, but the second half of this week’s nightmare was the perfect time to save the starters for better things and see what else is in the bin. Put it this way: what would Tedford’s excuse have been if Riley – or, God forbid, Shane Vereen – had broken a leg trailing by thirty? Jeff Tedford has never yet learned that decisions made during two-a-days are not legally binding on the rest of the season, with the sole exception of the brief Riley-Longshore tilt-a-whirl in early 2008. (I guess theoretically there was a switch made in 2003 between Reggie Robertson and Aaron Rodgers, but that should have been an obvious move to anyone by that point, and looks pretty damn good in retrospect.)
3) The offense is in shambles. The wide receivers can’t hang onto the ball, the QB can’t get it to them, and the offensive line can’t protect anyone. And the playcalling is conservative enough to get its own AM talk radio program and a million-dollar contribution from Fox News. Right now, the most innovative thing we’re seeing on offense is the decision to run a direct-snap to a Smurf and run up the middle with a guy who weighs literally half what his offensive linemen weigh.
4) There is not one game in November where the Bears should be favored, and 0-3 through that stretch is entirely possible – including the first Big Game loss on home soil since 2000. It’s not time to hit the panic button, it’s time to sit on it.
5) Next year is going to be worse, if anything. Five home games, all at AT&T in front of twenty thousand fewer fans, with a new QB with no starts under his belt. And Shane Vereen, who will graduate in May, has very little incentive not to take the NFL money with a quickness – and he’s the only reliable thing on offense. The LA schools may be worse, they may not, but UCLA can’t struggle behind Price forever, and right now I wouldn’t count on the NCAA sanctions and scholarship limits laying USC low until 2012 when Matt Barkley is gone and the depth across the board is reduced.
6) Oregon is a national contender. OSU hasn’t gone anywhere. Washington, Arizona, and the Farm have all upped their game. Next year, Utah will be a conference opponent, and they’re still undefeated in the best non-BCS conference and have a way of tagging current BCS members (see: Pitt, Alabama, hell look at last year’s Poinsettia Bowl against Cal). Cal is better than they were in 2001, but that was nine years ago. The rest of the conference is moving on. Pete Carroll is in Seattle coaching on Sundays and the “Pac-1” no longer exists.
Jeff Tedford is still the coach of the Bears, but right now, his position hinges on the fact that a program that just cut multiple varsity sports is in no position to buy out a contract and go shopping for a Top-25-caliber coach at the current market rates. This year looks grim, and next year looks no better – right now our best bet is to start loading for 2012, when Keenan Allen will be a junior and (hopefully) a quarterback will emerge and get some reps. But by that point, Cal needs a different hand running the offense – Andy Ludwig is as limited and predictable an OC as the Utah and Oregon fans warned us – and assuming the economy has made some progress and state finances are in slightly better shape, and the new Memorial Stadium is increasing cashflow, it will be time to consider whose hand is running the program.
You know exactly what you get with Tedford – approximately 8 wins a year, solid wins at home, mediocre-to-nightmarish play on the road, and (usually) a win over Stanford. But this program dropped off a cliff in 2007 and is currently in its third straight season of stagnation. If Cal wants the kind of program they had in the early 90s or 00s, instead of the kind they’ve had most of the other past fifty years, something has to change.