There are now well under
100 hours remaining until Cal kicks off a potentially monumental 2009 season
against the visiting Maryland Terrapins Ė hours filled with excitement and
anxiety, yet also with an eerily confident calm.
The Golden Bears start the
season ranked 12th in both major polls. An increasingly growing minority
(but still a distinct minority) of talking and writing heads are selecting
the Bears as the PAC10 favorites. Cal managed to make it through the
off-season and fall camp suffering only two injuries which will linger into
the season, and only one (a season ending knee injury to tight end Tad
Smith) to a player expected to receive significant playing time. The Bears
open the season a 21.5 point favorite against Maryland. Everything seems to
be trending positively for Cal, optimism threatening to burst out of even
the most hardened Old Blue.
There are off course causes
for concern. The offensive line is talented but relatively young and
inexperienced, especially as a unit. The two most experienced guard
candidates were displaced in camp by younger, more talented players.
Preseason Heisman candidate Jahvid Best appear to be over a toe injury that
kept him out of chunks of camp, but also appears to have a lot of troubling
avoiding injuries. Kevin Riley finally won the starting quarterback job
outright but still has to prove he can perform consistently well in games.
And then thereís the
opponent, the schizophrenic Terps. Over the last two seasons Maryland is 6-2
against ranked opponents and 8-10 against unranked opponents. The 21.5 point
spread they face against the Golden Bears is the largest of Ralph Friegden
era. The Terps have been 18.5+ point dogs twice and won both games outright.
To add to the insanity, Maryland brings in a new defensive coordinator who
loves to blitz from every angle and last plied his trade at D1AA UMASS, so
there isnít much relevant game film for Tedford, Ludwig, and company to
Yet the quiet confidence
has been growing the entire off-season. The confidence in Marvin Jones,
Verran Tucker, and the rest of the receivers stepping up and making plays.
The confidence in Mychal Kendricks, Mike Mohamed, and the rest of the
rebuilt linebacking core. The confidence in the 8 returning starters on
defense, including the entire defensive line and secondary, which have been
augmented by increasingly talented depth. The confidence in All World punter
Bryan Anger. The confidence in Best and backups. The confidence in Riley,
now a redshirt junior and the unquestioned quarterback and team leader,
performing on a consistent basis.
The confidence will be
tested from the opening kickoff against the Terps. Despite Marylandís recent
history of playing their best against top opponents, it says here that the
Bears will win handily on Saturday. Since the beginning of the 2004 season,
only Oregon State and USC have come to Memorial Stadium and defeated the
Golden Bears. The Bears will be pumped for the game, wanting to exact
revenge for what happened last season (and Cal has done well in revenge
situations during the Tedford era).
There are reasons beyond
trends and gut feelings to think Cal will win handily. Cal is the more
talented and by far the more experienced team. For example, Maryland is
going to roll out a patchwork offensive line, including two former walk-ons,
against a talented and experienced Cal defensive line. Maryland is unveiling
a new defense (as Cal was last year) and there are inevitable assignment
mistakes when that happens, especially when the practitioners of the new
defense are young and lack game experience at the college level. That
defense, while it will likely cause some confusion and blow up plays here
and there, is very blitz heavy which leaves it vulnerable to big plays.
Jahvid Best thrives on big plays. Expect at least one or two long touchdown
runs by the Bears.
Cal has what may be an
elite defense with multiple playmakers at every level. Cal has experience
everywhere on the field except field goal kicker (where true freshman Vince
DíAmato shocked Cal fans by overtaking David Seawright, who began last
season as the kicker until he was injured, and Giorgio Tavecchio, who spent
much of last season as the starting kicker, at the end of fall camp). Cal
has a legitimate Heisman candidate in Jahvid Best.
Itís time for the
confidence to be turned into execution. Itís time for the belief to turn
into reality. Itís time for the Bears to take an assertive first step on
their path to Pasadena.
Predicted final score: Cal
41, Maryland 17
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