Cal Season Rests On Next Game
Yes, everybody is anticipating the game against USC next Saturday at Strawberry Canyon, but tomorrow’s game is the one the Bears have to win to have a chance at a good bowl game. If they lose to the Ducks, they’ll finish no better than fourth in the conference and wind up only in the (Your Name Here) Bowl.
Beating the Ducks in Autzen Stadium, quite possibly the most home-team friendly site in the Pac-10, won’t be easy. The Bears haven’t won there since 1987, though Cal coach Jeff Tedford dismissed that this week. “I wasn’t here for most of that,” he said, “so it really doesn’t have any effect on me. I know when I came here, we hadn’t beaten Washington in like 20 years, but we’ve done all right against them since then.”
The Ducks run the spread offense, which has been a problem for the Bears, most notably in the Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech last year but also in the first half against Illinois this season. Oregon is the only team in the Pac-10 that runs this kind of offense, which means a defensive unit needs extra preparation. Fortunately for the Bears, they’ve had two weeks to get ready.
Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said this week that it is easier to recruit quarterbacks for the spread formation, adding that he could think of 15 preps he could recruit who could play that offense and only about three who could play in a conventional offense.
“Maybe he was thinking that there’s less a quarterback has to know to run the spread offense,” Tedford said. “And, you don’t have to recruit tight ends and fullbacks because you don’t use them in the spread, so you can concentrate on wide receivers.”
The disadvantage to the spread offense is usually that teams can’t run well from it, especially in the “red zone,” because they don’t have the tight end/fullback blocking a team needs for the power game. “But Oregon runs the ball very well,” Tedford cautioned. In averaging more than 35 points a game in their 7-1 season, the Ducks have rushed for 1097 yards.
The Ducks will be without a prime weapon tomorrow, though, because star quarterback Kellen Clemens is out for the season. Clemens leads the conference in total offense, averaging 329 yards a game. His replacement, sophomore Dennis Dixon, is highly regarded, but without the experience Clemens had, he can’t be expected to play as well.
DIXON ALSO represents the game within a game. He was a prep at San Leandro High, but Bellotti was able to get him away from Tedford and Cal.
Recruiting well is essential for a college coach, because no coach is good enough to win without good players. Bellotti has done a remarkable job at Oregon. There’s nowhere near enough prep talent in Oregon for a coach to succeed with home-grown athletes, so Bellotti has gone north and south in his recruiting.
Washington once was king of the entire northwest, but the Huskies have fallen on bad times recently, with the Rick Neuheisel scandals and the Keith Gilbertson incompetency. Bellotti has stepped into that vacuum and recruited well in the northwest. Now, it will be interesting to see if Tyrone Willingham can stem the bleeding at Washington. The Huskies still have a great setting, both for campus and stadium, and a nearly pro-like operation on game day, but Oregon has a nice setting, too, and probably the best facilities in the country. And now, they have a record of recent success to draw on.
Bellotti has also made northern California a prime recruiting ground, and he has the advantage of having strong ties to the area: He is a native of Concord, played at UC Davis and also coached at Davis and Cal State Hayward.
Since Tedford took over as coach at Cal, he has concentrated on keeping the best northern California preps home. He acknowledges that “you can’t get everybody”, because some players want to go away for college, just as some students who are not athletes do. He also started at a disadvantage because the Bears were so bad in the Tom Holmoe years that many of the top northern California preps went elsewhere. Miami was more successful at recruiting De La Salle stars, for instance, than Cal.
Once he revived the Cal program, though, Tedford has largely achieved his goal of keeping the top northern California players home, including tailback Marshawn Lynch. Tedford and Bellotti went head-to-head on many recruits in the last recruiting season. “I’d say that every one of the top players on our list was also recruited by Oregon,” Tedford said.
So, there is more at stake tomorrow than just this year’s record. The winner could also get a recruiting edge.
TEDFORD WAS an offensive coordinator for Bellotti, and he admits that much of his approach is modeled on his former coach. “Oregon has a very stable program, and that’s what we’ve been aiming for, too,” he said.
Last year, it appeared that the pupil was outdoing his mentor, as the Bears soared to a No. 4 national ranking. This year, the Bears have taken a step backward, understandably, with a much less experienced team, but it’s a very talented team, and one which could be very good next year, perhaps Tedford’s best team.
The back-to-back losses to UCLA and Oregon State killed the Bears’ hope for a top-tier bowl this season. There’s still hope for a good bowl – but only if the Bears win tomorrow.
TV: I am a panelist on “The Last Honest Sports Show,” at 6:30 and 11 p.m. Saturday on KHBK-TV (44).
CRUISE WITH ME:
I am organizing a group tour for a 12-day Eastern Mediterranean cruise on Holland America, starting on Sept. 28, 2006. It will begin in Athens and end in Venice. Among the stops are Istanbul, Alexandria and Dubrovnik.
It will be a sports-oriented tour, of course. When we are at sea, I will lead group sessions covering sports topics. I have only begun to plan these sessions, but we might have times, for instance, when we would play general manager and try to fix the Giants, A’s, 49ers. The last might take a couple of cruises! I welcome your suggestions.
There are 30 spots available. Prices range from $2,350 to $3,999, plus $110 tax and airfare. Holland America can arrange airfare, or you can do it on your own.
If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll pass your message along to Janice Hough, the travel agent who is working with me on this. She will send you complete information on the cruise, including a complete itinerary. I am not asking for a commitment from you at this time, just trying to measure interest.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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