Time to Start Anew

That phrase carries a lot of meaning for the California Golden Bears (4-4, 2-3) this week. Another lackluster road performance – this time a 35-7 route at the hands of Oregon State – not only saw the Bears lose the game, but also their quarterback…

Senior Kevin Riley – in the cold weather of his home state – caught the helmet of Beavers' defensive lineman Brennan Olander right to his knee, causing it to bend backward. Riley immediately went down to the ground in pain, and he was escorted off the field.

Sprained ligaments and a partially torn calf muscle was not the worst that could happen, but it does signify the end of a rollercoaster career for Riley.

From his ill-advised scramble in his first start (against Oregon State, no less), to his comeback performance in the Armed Forces Bowl, to the quarterback controversies that ensued, to leading his team to great wins over rival Stanford, to the criticisms of being an inconsistent fifth year senior, to this.

It is time to start anew.

Riley's injury forces junior Brock Mansion into the role of starting quarterback. At 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds, Mansion definitely has the size to perform well. The Texan with the baby face has waited four years for this opportunity, and it has finally arrived.

"It's been a long journey and there's definitely been some huge growths made," says Mansion. "I was talking to one of my coaches from high school. He saw the game on Saturday and was like, `Wow, it's crazy how much you've changed from when you last left here to what I see on TV now."

From his first snap last week, Mansion gradually became more comfortable in the pocket. From his jittery first throw – a quick pass in the flat on 3rd-and-7 – to his best and last one – a 45-yard touchdown strike to Anthony Miller after rolling out of the pocket, Mansion sensed that the game was slowing down for him. That last two-minute drive has the team more than confident that Mansion can lead the Bears to victory against Washington State this weekend.

"Getting the physical reps is a different feeling and different understanding," says Mansion. "It's that much better. I can't really describe it but you just feel that much more comfortable throwing the ball."

It is time to start anew.

The Bears are 0-4 on the road, being outscored by a 145-62 margin. At times, they have looked lost. At times, they have looked tense. At times, they have looked poor in execution.

But, like the ups-and-downs of Riley's career, the road woes are a thing of the past. The Bears have one last chance – one opportunity to do right – to get a W in a foreign environment and to make the return flight home a party instead of a morgue.

When asked if a road win would be good for the team, junior running back Shane Vereen said it plainly.

"I think it's huge."

Vereen emphasized the importance of this game as a kick-start to the final four games of the season.

"I think as the season dwindles down, we have four games left, 16 quarters to get it done," said Vereen. "We've got to take each and every game step-by-step, week-by-week. But at the same time I think these next four weeks are very important to us."

With many Cal fans in turmoil over the state of the football program, a strong finish to a regular season can quiet critics and put people at ease as they enter a long offseason.

When looking for "up-and-coming" teams, experts and analysts start by evaluating how a team performs in the final stretch of the season. For a team, a strong finish means great momentum, which can be used in everything from recruitment to the weight room.

For those teams that finish strong, that momentum has the chance to be carried over into the next season, when higher goals are set, and dream seasons are meant to be made.

With No. 1 ranked Oregon and rival No. 13 Stanford still on the schedule, a strong finish for Cal will only amplify the momentum.

But, if the Bears are going to get there, it has to start this weekend: new quarterback, new opportunity, and new mindset.

Indeed, it is time to start anew.

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