Pac 10 Preview: Cal, Wildcard

We've already spent a good chunk of FanHouse real estate covering the Golden Bears and the likelihood of their mediocrity in 2008. But in the interest of equal time (and bet hedging), it seems only fair for us to explore the other side of the argument as well. After all, this team has spent their fair share of time in Top 25 the past few seasons, even if they have managed to lose more than a few seemingly winnable/gimme games.

Jeff Tedford's team enters this season as the prototypical wild card: (a) they've been successful the past few seasons but have seemed to struggle under the weight of high expectations, and this year will have a decidedly lower profile than they did the past couple; (b) they have some key departures, but several of the replacements for those who left could actually prove to be a substantial upgrade by the time everything shakes out; and (c) they have a schedule that sees all but one of their tough games take place at the comfy confines of Berkeley's Memorial Coliseum.

Let's take a closer look at how Cal might manage to shock the "experts" and contend in 2008.


Sure, they lost Justin Forsett and DeSean Jackson, their two most potent offensive weapons from the past couple seasons. But they have Jahvid Best and a handful of young receivers (Nyan Boateng, Marvin Jones, Jeremy Ross and Michael Calvin) that are so talented they may relegate the only returning wideout, LaReylle Cunningham, to No. 4 or 5 on the depth chart. Then there's their mainstay: a sturdy offensive line that will give whoever lines up under center time to find an open man downfield.

On the other side of the ball is a defense that features an experienced linebacking corps led by senior Zach Follett and overall strong front seven, and this 2008 edition may actually be an improvement over their more-hyped '06 and '07 predecessors.


Let's start where they left off -- that second half of 2007. A team that was at one point 5-0 and considered a serious national title contender managed to collapse faster than Mark Mangino's willpower at a Country Kitchen buffet and finished 7-6.

As any Cal fan will tell you, the 2007 Jekyll & Hyde routine started at quarterback, with the two guys who return this year to helm the 2008 offense. On paper, both Nate Longshore (pictured) and Kevin Riley are talented and fully capable of leading a Top 25 college football offense. On the field, both of them always seem to find ways to blow it at the worst possible time. Riley will have to mature into a QB of Montana/Brady legend to live down the final :14 seconds of the Oregon State game. Longshore's got a better track record (or at least doesn't have the black mark of a legendary brainfart on his resume), but he's been fragile in his time in blue and gold, and the smart money's not on him to sustain an entire season as the starter.

Beyond the quarterback, there are questions in the backfield on offense (Best is coming off a hip injury that sidelined him following the USC game last year) and defense (the core unit -- led by Chris Conte -- is solid, but depth is an issue), and with talk of experimenting with going back and forth between a 4-3 and 3-4 look for the front seven, it's anybody's guess how the rest of the defensive unit will shake out.


Make Nate Longshore air it out. Or put Kevin Riley in the position of having to manage the clock. Either one seemed to work like a charm over the past couple seasons. And if history is any indication, if you can get the Bears feeling down on their luck, focusing on the mistakes they've made instead of the opportunities in front of them, the odds are going to stack in your favor.


Can you really see THIS being the year that Cal finally gets over the hump and secures their first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1959?

The 2008 Golden Bears are probably better than preseason punditry and rankings are giving them credit for, but 1 or 2 loss good? Reality is probably more like 3-4 losses and a trip across the Bay to play in the Emerald Nuts Bowl.

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