Cal Bears, Barry Bonds
by Glenn Dickey
Oct 03, 2007

RECRUITING IS the name of the game in college football, and the Cal coaching staff is using the last three days of their bye week to hit the recruiting trail.

They’re doing that with the Bears ranked No. 3 in the country, the highest they’ve been since 1952, when they had the same ranking. The year before, they got to No. 1 before being beaten by USC.

“Obviously, that helps,” said Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who otherwise insists that ratings don’t matter until the end of the season. “Recruits take you seriously when you’re ranked in the top 10. But we’ve been ranked before. I don’t know if it makes a difference if you’re, say, No. 5 or No. 3.”

It also helps that the Bears have beaten two quality teams, Tennessee and Oregon, in ABC-TV games this season. The Bears had the advantage of playing at home against Tennessee, but they were playing in a very hostile environment at Autzen Stadium in Eugene last Saturday. Asked if that was the best road win since he’s been at Cal, Tedford thought for a moment and couldn’t come up with a better one.

The fact that three teams that had been ranked ahead of the Bears lost enabled Cal to move up, but when he was asked if he’d watched any of the games, Tedford just smiled. Obviously, he was more concerned with his team’s game, though he said he will try to take a break from recruiting on Saturday to watch Oregon State, the Bears’ next opponent.

Asked if he thought the teams that lost were looking ahead to tougher games, Tedford said he didn’t believe in the theory of “trap” games, especially for his own team. “I like to think we approach each game the same way,” he said.

One writer brought up the loss to Arizona last season, just before the USC game, but Tedford again insisted that his team was not looking past Arizona. “I didn’t see that in practice, and I didn’t see it in the game,” he said. “As for the bad plays, I don’t think a receiver says ‘I’m not going to catch this pass because we’re playing USC next week.’”

Frankly, I think the Bears’ problem against Arizona last season was the result of the increasingly predictable play calling by offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar, who left after one year. There was one play in particular that stood out in that game, a fourth quarter interception of a Nate Longshore pass to the sidelines that was returned for a touchdown. Longshore’s pass was poorly thrown but it was a play that should not have been called.

Tedford was absolutely right, though, when he said the Bears have to try to keep getting better. Given the talent on this team, I think they will probably play their best ball in the second half of the season.

One player who has exceeded already high expectations is freshman Javid Best, who Tedford called a “phenom” on special teams, with his ability to get downfield on kicks and make a sure tackle. “That’s not easy for a tailback because it’s not a natural thing for him.”

Best’s ability on covering kicks is the reason he’s playing instead of redshirting. “Recruits always ask if they’re going to be redshirted,” said Tedford, “and the reality is that they have to show they can make a contribution on special teams to play as freshmen.”

But Best will no doubt get many opportunities as a running back in the future because he’s a very special talent.

The bye week comes at a perfect time for the Bears, who are seriously banged up, and it’s there because Tedford and athletic director Sandy Barbour worked it out.

“When we first went to the 12-game schedule, we didn’t have a week off,” said Tedford. “It’s pretty hard to play 12 straight games without a break. So, Sandy worked it out so we could change our game with Washington to give us this week off. She told me, ‘I don’t want to hear any complaining about having to go to Seattle in November, and I can tell you, there won’t be any.”

BONDS DEPARTURE: Barry Bonds’ career with the Giants ended badly, and at least part of that was the fault of Giants’ management. They really should have planned some type of tribute on the last home stand because of all that Bonds has meant to the Giants. Not just on the field, either. Does anybody think the Giants would have had these record attendance years without Bonds?

I was ambivalent about Bonds leaving because, while I believe they have to get younger, I also think that there will be a terrible power shortage without him. There’s certainly nobody on the roster now or in he farm system who can fill the vacuum that he leaves, and there isn’t going to be an answer on the free agent market, either.

That said, I believe that the Giants have to turn he page and work with their young players to rebuild. But what I’m really afraid of is that they’ll panic and start throwing money at free agents again. After all, they’ve said for the last two years that they were going to go younger but instead wound up with teams that were old and older. Brian Sabean rebuilt the team when he took over as general manager in 1997 but, ten years later, I’m not sure he remembers how to do that.

NO VACATION: My wife and I are just back from a two-week cruise through the Eastern Mediterranean, starting in Athens and ending in Cairo and including stops in Odesssa in the Ukraine and Istanbul and Kusadasi in Turkey, which was possibly the best stop of all because we saw the historic ruins of Ephesus.

It was a demanding trip because the tours were often arduous, involving much walking over cobblestones and loose stone. My feet and legs may never recover. But it was educational and exciting, and we’re very happy that we took it.

This was our second cruise on Holland America, our first being to Scandinavia and St. Petersburg two years ago, and I recommend the line highly. Not incidentally, this is not a paid commercial. In the good old days, columnists used to get freebies for column mentions. I doubt that Herb Caen ever paid for anything major on his European trips, and I got four free cruises in the 1974-86 period. Alas, those days are gone. I paid for everything on this cruise, and it was an expensive one. Bad for me, good for you because you can believe what I say.


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