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SINCE JEFF TEDFORD ARRIVED ON THE BERKELEY CAMPUS, IN 2002, Cal football has been transformed on the field and in the classroom. Winning seasons and bowl invitations are now the norm, as well as GPAs and graduation rates a university president can be proud of. But with high standards have come dashed expectations: After starting last season amid talk of making their first Rose Bowl in more than 50 years, the Bears won just five conference games and were blown out in their four losses. They wound up tied with USC for fifth place and then fell to Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl. Losing running back Jahvid Best, then a Heisman hopeful, to a concussion for the last four games didn't help. Neither did making only 62% of their field goal attempts, nor surrendering a combined 114 points to Oregon, USC and Washington.
Tedford, though, sees a bright side in the way the Bears responded midseason, winning three straight games after back-to-back disasters against Oregon and USC. "We beat Arizona when they were in the top 20, and then we won at Stanford when they were probably the hottest team in college football," he points out. "To go to their place, fall down 14-0 and come back and win, that said a lot."
Likewise, he saw things at spring practice that made him hopeful the Bears can improve. Senior quarterback Kevin Riley, a target of fan criticism for his inconsistency, "looked solid and comfortable," says Tedford. "You could really see his experience [show]. He's figured out how to keep it where he doesn't get too high or too low."
If Riley is consistent, and if one of Cal's newbie receivers steps up to complement junior Marvin Jones, the Bears could thrive on offense. The line is experienced, and the running game will be in good hands with junior Shane Vereen. A defense that was passive and porous at times last year is getting a schematic and attitudinal adjustment from new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, a former Arizona Cardinals coordinator whose defenses were known for their high turnover rate. Another good sign: Players are embracing the underdog role. "We don't feel there's too much pressure for us to succeed; actually a lot of people expect us to fail," says senior linebacker Mike Mohamed. "People aren't giving us a lot of respect. We've got our work cut out for us to prove them wrong."
COACH Jeff Tedford (9th year)
67-35 (41-27 in Pac-10)