Weekend Picks

October 11, 2008

Another solid week, going 5-0 straight up and 4-1 ATS, leaving me 8-1 and 7-2 respectively.  This week, Cal and U-Dub are off and the Pac-10 matchups are not that intriguing.

USC 30 Arizona State 10 (USC by 27): What was a battle of the backups is just now a mismatch.  That said, ASU has held Georgia to 27 and Cal to 24.  The Sun Devils won’t score a lot of points, but they won’t give up a lot of big plays either.

Oregon 31 UCLA 17 (Oregon by 17): I’m still not sold on the Ducks.  They’re 4-2 and with average quarterback play, they’d be at least 5-1.  Even worse is their vaunted secondary that has struggled thus far.  Oregon will win, but UCLA will be ready for the Ducks.

Oregon State 41 Washington State 10 (Oregon State by 30): Wazzu had an American Idol competition for their third string QB.  No, really.

Stanfurd 27 Arizona 24 (Arizona by 6): This is not a bad Arizona team, but their schedule thus far has been extremely week, including a loss to New Mexico.  The Furd will present the toughest test thus far for the Wildcats.  If they’re for real, they win this game.  Preblem for them, they aren’t for real.

Weekend Picks

October 4, 2008

Last week, I went 3-1 straight, 3-1 ATS, and failed to make any pick whatsoever for the Oregon State versus USC contest, convenient, I know.  Well, I did it again, I forgot to make a Thursday selection.  For the record, last week I would have selected USC and this week I would have selected Utah, so it’s pretty much a wash.

Notre Dame 16 Stanfurd 10 (Irish by 7.5): The talent gap between the Furd and the rest of college football is beginning to close.  Add their 2009 recruiting class and Harbaugh may build a competitive football team.  I’m not saying they’ll finish in the top third of the conference, but they might be back to bowl game competitive.  That said, I don’t think they’re ready to beat Notre Dame on the road, even a very average Notre Dame team.  The Furd defense has some decent pieces, but thus far they’re surrendering 27.5 points per game.  In the end, I hate both of these teams and want both of them to lose.

California 38 Arizona State 20 (Cal by 9): The QB1 position is unsettled.  Their Heisman candidate RB1 is injured and out for the game.  Their defense captain DE is out 6 weeks with a broken foot (maybe).  And, their starting LG is out for the season.  So, Cal is favored by 9.  Talk about having faith in home field advantage, Shane Vereen, and Cal’s depth at TB.  I’m siding with Vegas, particulalrly if it rains-Cal’s ground game and run defense is stronger than ASU’s.  The nly question mark is whether Longshore AND/OR Riley will spark the passing game which has been doormat for 2.5 games.

Arizona 100 Washington -2 (Arizona by 21): Is anyone going to watch this game?  No Locker.  At Arizona.  Too much Tuitama.

USC 27 Oregon 16 (USC by 16): This is an absurd line.  If Oregon State ran over USC, the conventional wisdom is Oregon will do the same.  It’s not as if Oregon State had a world beater at quarterback, and Oregon likewise doesn’t.  USC on the other hand will be motivated and it’s at the Coliseum.  I’d love to pick the Ducks, but I don’t think they have the nastiness to beat USC and the Trojans will be a lot more prepared than they were last year against the Furd (the only team to beat USC at the Coliseum since 2002).

UCLA 31 Washington State 10 (UCLA by 17): Please Wazzu, prove me wrong.

Four New Starters?

September 28, 2008

Last season, after Cal slipped by Colorado State 34-28, fans continued to harbor BCS dreams.  This season, Cal destroyed the Rams 42-7 with an inspired defensive effort, a DJax-esque return fro Syd’Quan, and a strong second-half from Nat Longshore.  But, despite the score, a significant percentage of fans are freaking out (See here, here, and here).

In addition to the announcement of a sequel to the quarterback competition, Cal suffered three “devastating” injuries.  Chris Guarnero is out for the year with a torn tendon in his big toe (not sure if it was the same toe that had Guarnero listed as questionable for the Colorado state game).  Rulon Davis hobbled off the field with a leg injury (again) after the second quarter ended.  Worst of all, Jahvid Best went down in the third quarter with a dislocated elbow, x-rays do not show a fracture but Best will undergo an MRI today.

Hopefully, Rulon’s season isn’t over.  During spring ball and training camp, Rulon was apparently a force.  And, when he appeared in games last season, he consistently got pressure on the quarterback and made several athletic plays from the end position.  However, the loss of Rulon probably hurts more from a leadership standpoint than in production on the field.  Davis hasn’t emerged as a dominant pass rusher and it has been reported that Cameron Jordan was already pushing for the starting position.  Also, thankfully, Cal has developed some solid depth at defensive end, with Owusu and Browner playing well against the Rams yesterday.

The loss of Guarnero is unfortunate but Cal has recruited extremely well along the offensive line and his position will likely be filled by Mark Boskovich.

Best.  Our fragile flower.  Assuming he merely has a dislocated elbow, Best shouldn’t miss more than a week or two of playing time.  Actually, with Cal’s bye week after Arizona State, it’s highly possible he’ll miss only a single game.  What’s strange is the reaction to Best’s injury, as if Cal doesn’t have Shane Vereen to start in Best’s place.  Is there any evidence that Vereen can’t perform?  Yesterday, Vereen had 12 carries for 75 yards and 2 receptions for 19 yards.  Best ran 11 times for 85 yards and gained 27 yards from three catches.  Not much of a difference there.  Remember, when Best won the state 100m finals, Vereen came in third.  The bigger concern is whether Slocum can replace Vereen.  Slocum’s 4 rushes for 35 yards is a pretty good start.

The injuries, in my opinion, are not catastrophic.  They will not affect the team’s win-loss record.  What will impact the team’s success going forward is whether the passing game continues to struggle. Riley has struggled in 2 out of 4 games this year, and that gives him credit for a Maryland game where he was abysmal for the first half.  He has missed too many receivers over the past three weeks not to be concerned.  Riley still makes the remarkable play by often throwing passes that, at some point, are going to get intercepted.  Most troubling, the offense has been sputtering with Riley at the helm.

On the other hand, even the most pro-Riley fans can’t seriously ignore how smooth the passing game has looked with Longshore.  Yes, Nate threw two bad passes against Michigan State, but outside of those, he has looked very good.  Yesterday, Nate threw 2 touchdowns, including a dart to Jeremy Ross on a slant.  After the game, when asked whether Riley was still QB1, Tedford said, “We’ll see.”

The message boards, in response, have erupted.  How could Tedford pull Riley?  Tedford hates Riley!  Tedford wants to have Nate’s illegitimate baby!

Isn’t this exactly what Riley supporters and Tedford doubters wanted last year?  When a player isn’t performing, said player gets pulled.  Always comPETE.  Sorry, just because Tedford stuck with Nate last year doesn’t mean he owes Riley anything this year.  If things really have changed under Tedford, and Riley truly is ineffective in the eyes of JT and Cignetti, then Riley needs to sit.

From my armchair, I think Riley, assuming he has a good week of practice, should start against Arizona State.  But, the leash should be extremely short.  No waiting until the second half or until it’s too late.  There’s no guarantee the defense and special teams are going to put up 14 first half points.  With USC down and Cal controlling its own destiny at this point, there’s no time to play favorites (I’m looking at you Riley worshipers).

Weekend Picks

September 27, 2008

For some reason, I have yet to make my picks known.  Probably because I’ve rarely posted since the season begun.  As conference games are pretty much underway, starting this week I’ll select winners in each game involving a Pac-10 team.

UCLA 20 Fresno State 17 (Fresno State by 7): Pat Hill should win this game.  The Bulldogs are more physical and are senior-laden.  Yet, Slick Rick has a way of getting his team up for one game.  The Rose Bowl will have an estimated 25,000 Fresno State fans in attendance and even the UCLA athletic department seems to think the Bruins are in trouble.  While Hill has a motto of “Anyone, Anywhere” that hasn’t really translated into consistent 10 win seasons, even in its non-BCS conference.  The Bruins force some turnovers, play well on special teams, and sneak away with an upset victory, for the second time this season.

Oregon 38 Washington State 9 (Oregon by 20.5): Oregon has absolutely no luck at all when it comes to quarterbacks.  But, that running game is still dominant and against Wazzu, that’s all you need, ask Cal.  As incredible a victory as Oregon State over USC, this would by far be the biggest upset thus far in the Pac-10.

Stanfurd 23 Washington 20 (Washington by 4): Until they prove otherwise, the Huskies are the seconde-worst team in the conference.  At least the Furd has beaten USC, and, according to the transpositive theory of college football, Ohio State.  I expect a pretty competitive game and I’m actually interested in seeing if Jake Locker can finally get something going this week against a decent Furd defense.

Cal 45 Colorado State 14 (Cal by 26): The Bears will break the conference’s losing streak against the Mountain West and will recover from their disappointing loss at Maryland.  This is still, in my non-expert opinion, the second most talented team in the conference lacking only experience.  Last year, Cal played a fairly avrage contest against the Rams, even letting them back into the game late while backups played soft.  This time, the Bears know how to close.  Cal’s second’half play is much improved and it seems to be where Riley shines.  That said, the key to Cal winning this game is running the ball, doing so early, and not giving up even if the Rams load eight in the box.  With Calvin recovered, the passing game should be able to take advantage of the stacked front and finally start connecting on deep routes.

Game On

September 27, 2008

I’m as amazed by USC’s turnaround under Pete Carroll as anybody.  Carroll took a floundering traditional power and restored some luster to the Trojans.  But, can we finally get beyond this idea that USC is unbeatable?

Every year we go through the same game.  USC blows out a couple nonconference opponents and once again they turn invincible.  The rest of the conference is portrayed as dwarfs to USC’s giant stature on the college football landscape.

However, as terrible as the conference is portrayed, it is the only consistent thorn in the side of a team that has beaten Oklahoma, Ohio State, Auburn, Arkansas, and lost only once in nonconference games, to Texas, in a nail-biter at the Rose Bowl.

Cal.  Oregon State.  UCLA.  Stanfurd.  Oregon.  Oregon State.

The Pac-10 has chalked up 6 wins against the Men of Troy while the rest of college football has amounted to a lone win by Vince Young.  Point being, while the Trojans have reigned supreme winning conference title after conference title, nothing is guaranteed.

As it stands, Cal, Oregon, Arizona, and Arizona State sit atop the standings and each of the control their respective destiney.  And, last I checked Cal’s the only team that has yet to lose to a non-BCS team.  I’m not forcasting Cal breaking its Rose Bowl drought, but even at 2-1, Cal is as much of a threat as any other team in the Pac-10’s top-half.

Cal Alumni Power Rankings

September 22, 2008

There are 31 Bears in The National Football League.  Not only does Cal produce a prodigious number of professionals, they’re staring to produce Pro Bowl caliber players at a much higher rate.  From time to time (hopefully weekly) I’ll rank our top Cal alumni and provide updates on their professional endeavors.

1. Marshawn Lynch: Statistically, Rodgers should be ranked first.  From a yards per carry standpoint, Marshawn has struggled this season.  However, the Bills are 3-0 and Marshawn has scored 4 touchdowns already.  Last week Beast Mode ran for 83 yards and 2 scores while catching 4 passes for 31 yards.  The run blocking hasn’t been there thus far, but Buffalo’s new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert has started to take advantage of Marshawn’s pass catching ability.  In the end, although the asendency of Trent Edwards has likely taken the Bills to the proverbial “next step,” it’s Marshawn who changed the team’s attitude.

2. Aaron Rodgers: The former Brett Favre backup is attempting to follow the Great Favre and is doing so in Favreian fashion.  Though, even Brett favre would tell you that there’s no reason to get all googly eyed when there are still 13 games left in the regular season.  Still, Rodgers has a 102.9 quarterback rating. completed 64.6% of his passes and has yet to throw an interception.  A-Rod had a tough game against probably the best team in football last week, the Cowboys, but he was still efficient and mistake free.

3. Nnamdi Asomugha: Through 3 games he has 10 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 3 pass deflections and rarely challenged by opposing quarterbacks.  Nnamdi did an excellent job limiting Buffalo’s receivers to underneath routes and was in shutdown mode for the first three quarters.  At 6′ 2″ and 210 Lbs. Nnamdi is one of the most physical corners in the NFL.

4. Desean Jackson: First rookie wide receiver sincewell before the merger to start his career with 2 straight 100 yard games.  Desean has also racked up the return yardage with a 60 yard punt rerutn against the rams in the season opener.  Unfortunately, much of Desean’s early success has been overshadowed by his bonhead play against the Cowboys, erasing what would have been his first NFL touchdown.  Nevertheless, DJax is 11th in receptions and 7th in yards after 3 games.

5. Langston Walker: A Raider castoff, Walker has found a home as the starting RT for the Bills.  Walker has been especially dominant in pass protection.  Most of the rush Edwards faced last week was due to poor protection from Jason Peters and Derrick Dockery.  Walker on the other hand has been pretty consistent and has routinely locked opposing LE’s down.

Honorable Mention: Brendan Mebane, Andre Carter, Scott Fujita, and Tony Gonzalez, in no particular order.

Let’s Break That Mtn West Streak!

September 22, 2008

Incredibly, the Mountain West is 5-0 against the Pac-10 this year.  So, apparently it’s time to drop the Pac-10 from the BCS.  After all, even Arizona State and Oregon have fallen victim to the Mountain West.

But, lurking in the shadows stand a few sturdy Golden Bears.  Cal takes on Colorado State this week and has the opportunity to not only snap its one game losing streak this season, but it can also salvage the season for the entire conference.  Seriously, imagine the stories in the national media if Cal loses this game.

Going into this weekend’s game, Cal is a ridiculous 25 point favorite.  I guess Vegas didn’t read last year’s box scores to find out Cal only squeaked by 34-28 against the Rams.  Vegas probably also didn’t take into account Shane Vereen’s high ankle sprain, Marv Jones’ sprained knee, Mike Calvin running a 75%, and Mike Tepper lost for the remainder of the season.

None of this is to say Cal will lose.  They DID win last year.  The conference was 42-20 against the Mountain West the past 10 years entering this season.  I’m just saying, in another year of parity, maybe we should temper our expectations a tad and just pray for a win.  That’s all, just a win.

Rankings Insanity

September 14, 2008

Cal, according to some pollsters was ranked as high as 9 last week.  Overall, the Bears were ranked 25th in the Coaches Poll and 23rd in the AP Poll.  Today, the Bears received only 7 voted in the Coaches and none in the AP.  Yes, you read that right, none.

In the AP the following teamns received votes where as Cal received none: Arizona (2-1, lost to New Mexico), South Carolina (1-2, lost to Vanderbilt and Georgia), Tennessee (1-1, lost to UCLA, who lost 59-0 to BYU), and Arizona State (2-1, lost to UNLV).  That list doesn’t even include several teams that are undefeated and played absolutely no one of consequence (I am looking at you Minnesota, Nebraska, and Florida State).

None of this is to say Cal should be ranked.  I just cannot phathom why not a single voter would have Cal ranked after the garbage most teams have showed in the first three weeks.  Cal’s victory over Michigan State and walloping of the terrible Washington State should count for something.  And, one would think losing to Maryland by 8 wouldn’t be the end of the world.

For some reason voters dislike Cal.  They are unfairly dropped when other teams with similar flaws or resumes don’t face nearly the same level of scrutiny.  I assume the only way to change things is by actually playing in a BCS game and winning (as opposed to deserving to be in a BCS game in 2004).  Even then, you have to wonder why plenty of teams without BCS appearances faily to suffer the same fate as Cal.

While I Was Away

September 14, 2008

So, apparently some trees have been knocked dow,m Jahvid Best was and now isn’t a Heisman contender, and Cal wasn’t then was and now isn’t ranked.

The sky is not falling.

Maryland, despite their early season struggles, has talent.  Cal, while clrealy more talented, is still very young and it wasn’t exactly a pleasant road trip.  None of that totally excuses the Bears.  Despite all the above, If Cal converts in the redzone with touchdowns 2 out of 3 times in the first half they win the game.  The defense made plenty of stops to keep it close in the middle but the offense, when it needed to, sputtered when it mattered most.  at one point in the first half, Cal was 0 for 6 on third down.  That’s inexcusable.

Going forward it was nice to see the receivers get going in the fourth quarter.  Boateng made some very nice catches and Cunningham and Calvin turned it up a bit too.  Thankfully, Vereen will probably be ready to play in two weeks and as it stands, the team isn’t suffering any serious injuries.

The fact is, second place in the Pac 10 is wide open.  Tier 1 is USC, Tier 2 is Oregon, Cal, and ASU, and Tier 3 is everyone else.  It’s a down year and there isn’t a single game on the schedule that Cal can’t win, including USC, though that will be the only game where the odds are less than 50 percent.  Most prognosticators pegged Cal somewhere between 7-5 and 9-3.  Not much has really changed, but after watching this team over the past three weeks I tend to think they will finish more around 9-3 than 7-5.

A Frustrated Team

August 23, 2008

Zack Follett was recently quoted diagnosing some of the problems Cal faced last year.  I do not know if his views represent the entire team – in fact, most of the reports say the team was fractured – but they are troubling never the less.  Bud Whithers of The Seattle Times quoted Follett saying, “We’ve been hearing the same thing the past two years . . .when I was a freshman, they promised [the improvements] were going to be here, and they promised it last camp [in 2007]. I’m never going to see it.”  Follett also said “We had too many individuals on the team last year” and “You’d see guys walk by on campus [last year], and they wouldn’t even talk to each other. That’s how our team was.”

None of this is that newsworthy but it does point to a growing sense of frustration that surrounded the program last year and continues to dog them today.  Most of these guys were promised word class facilities they never came.  They endured an epic collapse last year.  And, until this year, apparently the offense rarely spoke with the defense.  That was a recipe for disaster and the make no mistake, the seeds still exist for similar frustration in 2008.

That is not to say Cal will lose 6 out of their last 7 games and they will probably not finish 7-6.  However, while Tedford named Riley the starter against Michigan State, the quarterback situation is still not settled.  We still do not know how effective the defense will be against the run.  We also have suffered yet another setback in court, continuing the injunction at least well into September.

All of this, I believe, points to a make or break year for Cal football.  They don’t need to go to a BCS game, but they do need to improve upon last year’s record, they can’t finish so poorly, they can’t let team chemistry fracture any further, and the SAHPC construction has to begin within the next twelve months if Tedford is to stay and if we have any chance of continuing to put together top notch recruiting classes.