Nothing Like It

BERKELEY - It wasn't that long ago that Cal fans would look to the Big Game as a way of salvaging a season of shortcomings.

No longer is that true. Saturday, the first recruiting class brought into Strawberry Canyon by Jeff Tedford will take the field for the last time at home. Senior day for 4th and 5th year seniors will carry its own emotional impact, but the 109th Big Game can only be a season-saver for a Stanford squad that, at 1-10, is dealing with real disappointment.

For Cal, it's something else entirely. It is another game on the schedule but one with almost no implications on their season. Well, almost no implications. Of all of Cal's lofty expectations entering this season, there are three still available to be accomplished.

The national championship will be contested by USC, which also is the Pac-10 champion. The unexpected upset loss to Arizona wound up costing Cal a possible shot at the Rose Bowl when they dropped out of the top 14 BCS spots (even though the computers actually rank the Golden Bears in the top 14, those darned voters, who don't watch other teams unless they are next week's game opponent, ranked Cal #20 or lower.)

But they can still finish with 10 wins if they defeat Stanford (Cal is favored by 29 points by the odds-makers) and then finish their season with a victory over Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

And one other thing - something that carries a lot of weight with the young men who will contest Saturday's game. They will succeed in preventing a class of football players that graduate from Stanford from ever having set eyes on the Axe - except when in the possession of Cal students at the Big Game itself.

The Golden Bears can win 5 in a row from Stanford on Saturday. That would make them perfect vs. the Cardinal in the Jeff Tedford era. Don't think that doesn't matter.

"There's a little extra pride, especially in cross-town rivalries," senior offensive lineman Erik Robertson explains, "and in being able to actually play for an object. In high school, I played Victorville for a bell. I kind of took that same pride and emotion from high school and just funneled it to this. It's just a great game, and I think that there's a lot of respect, with emotion. You will see a lot more of all of that from this game. I did not have to be sold on this as the Big Game, I was pumped from day one."

When we interviewed some of the seniors at the Big Game media luncheon Monday at Perry's in San Francisco, Cal had not yet received or accepted their Holiday Bowl bid.

There was still an outside chance that the Rose Bowl might come calling if the Golden Bears could move up 4 spots in the BCS rankings on Big Game weekend.

To do that would mean running up the score on a Stanford team that has clearly struggled this year. It posed an interesting dilemma for young men who are both competitors and sportsmen, who want to win, of course, but at what cost?

Robertson, again: "That's a similar situation to 2004, when we had to run up the score on Southern Mississippi, and just missed the Rose Bowl by a little bit. As a competitor, in the Stanford game, I have no animosity towards them, but I don't have any problem running up the score on them either. It's a rivalry game, and I don't think that is unexpected, or dirty or cheap. That's just how it is. Especially if there's a reason to do it. If we are able to do it, we should."

Brandon Mebane agreed, basically saying that while he has no interest in running up a big score, he plays on defense and he certainly wants to do his part by keeping Stanford out of the end zone and off the scoreboard, while letting the offense do its share.

Fellow defender Desmond Bishop, who can finish as the Pac-10's leading tackler with a big game in the Big Game, felt the same way: "I pretty much go into every game with the same goal. That is, to keep the offense out of the end zone, and for our offense to score as many points as possible, so whether they score 20 or 80, our approach to the game is always the same.

"I can't say we have to stop them and try to score 100 points. We always try to stop them and we always want to score 100 points. We just have to do what we do."

AD Sandy Barbour has to be a little more diplomatic, and when presented with the scenario, she offered the following opinion:

"I certainly would not be supportive of a system that would reward that kind of behavior. We've taken a lot of that out of the system now - it's better than it used to be.

"A couple of things would have to happen - we would have to move into the top 14, however we got there. Then, the Rose Bowl would have to still pick us.

"We will play Stanford and do our best to play it in a way that will do justice to this rivalry, as well as in the way that Jeff and I feel represents our institution in the best way."

Of course, all of this went by the wayside when Cal accepted the Holiday Bowl bid on Tuesday. Now, Cal fans have to take a hard look at the glass and decide whether they think it's almost full, or emptier than they want. There's no doubt that, 5 years ago, any Cal fan who was actually attending games would have given up a precious body part to witness the first group in Cal history to go to a bowl game in four consecutive seasons.

But expectations were higher this year. Cal started the year ranked #8, lost its opening game, and spent most of the rest of the season fighting their way back to #8, which seemed to contain its own sort of dismal power. As soon as the Bears returned to#8 status they went to Arizona, and it all went to hell in a hand basket.

So, were those expectations reasonable? And, more important, did the players think they were fair?

Brandon Mebane said "Yes, absolutely," without a moment's hesitation. Byron Storer was just as quick to ratify the notion that the expectations were high, but reasonable. These young men didn't view them as a burden, or a source of pressure. They viewed them as a source of pride.

Erik Robertson: "I think they were fair, because I think we definitely had the talent to achieve those expectations. It's just that some things didn't go right - a close game in Arizona, a decently close game at USC. We just struggled on offense. I think they were fair expectations, because I do think we had the talent and we were right there to achieve things, but things didn't go right, and the expectations disappeared really fast with a couple of losses. I think they were fair, but we did not meet them."

We'll let Desmond Bishop have the final word on the subject. "If you want to be a top-notch program, the expectations are going to be high. I think they were fair."

"I don't think the team put pressure on themselves. I think sometimes that's just how the cookie crumbles. Some games slipped away, some things happened, and they just happened. I don't think it had anything to do with pressure, or anything like that - it's just how it goes sometimes."

It seems as though the players aren't harboring many regrets. When Bishop was asked if he was over the loss to USC yet, he said "No!" but then he began to laugh. They will go out and play hard Saturday, but they will have fun.

If you are going to the Big Game, here's something that you can add to the proceedings. Once again, Erik Robertson shares his Big Game memories: "I saw them carry Kyle Boller off the field. It was really funny - I think that was the first time, I can't remember though - might have been UCLA that year - but I think that was the first time our field was rushed by the fans. I was out there on the field, and that's pretty crazy. I had never played in front of that many people, and that's a huge thing, exciting.

Oh, yeah, unfortunately, I was on the field when Arizona's fans rushed it a few weeks ago, but, yeah, it's always awesome to see your fans get that excited over something. And, I hope this year, if we win, it happens again. That would be a good indicator that they were excited about us again."

How about it, Old Blues?


©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.


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","mobileBody":"

No longer is that true. Saturday, the first recruiting class brought into Strawberry Canyon by Jeff Tedford will take the field for the last time at home. Senior day for 4th and 5th year seniors will carry its own emotional impact, but the 109th Big Game can only be a season-saver for a Stanford squad that, at 1-10, is dealing with real disappointment.

For Cal, it's something else entirely. It is another game on the schedule but one with almost no implications on their season. Well, almost no implications. Of all of Cal's lofty expectations entering this season, there are three still available to be accomplished.

The national championship will be contested by USC, which also is the Pac-10 champion. The unexpected upset loss to Arizona wound up costing Cal a possible shot at the Rose Bowl when they dropped out of the top 14 BCS spots (even though the computers actually rank the Golden Bears in the top 14, those darned voters, who don't watch other teams unless they are next week's game opponent, ranked Cal #20 or lower.)

But they can still finish with 10 wins if they defeat Stanford (Cal is favored by 29 points by the odds-makers) and then finish their season with a victory over Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

And one other thing - something that carries a lot of weight with the young men who will contest Saturday's game. They will succeed in preventing a class of football players that graduate from Stanford from ever having set eyes on the Axe - except when in the possession of Cal students at the Big Game itself.

The Golden Bears can win 5 in a row from Stanford on Saturday. That would make them perfect vs. the Cardinal in the Jeff Tedford era. Don't think that doesn't matter.

\"There's a little extra pride, especially in cross-town rivalries,\" senior offensive lineman Erik Robertson explains, \"and in being able to actually play for an object. In high school, I played Victorville for a bell. I kind of took that same pride and emotion from high school and just funneled it to this. It's just a great game, and I think that there's a lot of respect, with emotion. You will see a lot more of all of that from this game. I did not have to be sold on this as the Big Game, I was pumped from day one.\"

When we interviewed some of the seniors at the Big Game media luncheon Monday at Perry's in San Francisco, Cal had not yet received or accepted their Holiday Bowl bid.

There was still an outside chance that the Rose Bowl might come calling if the Golden Bears could move up 4 spots in the BCS rankings on Big Game weekend.

To do that would mean running up the score on a Stanford team that has clearly struggled this year. It posed an interesting dilemma for young men who are both competitors and sportsmen, who want to win, of course, but at what cost?

Robertson, again: \"That's a similar situation to 2004, when we had to run up the score on Southern Mississippi, and just missed the Rose Bowl by a little bit. As a competitor, in the Stanford game, I have no animosity towards them, but I don't have any problem running up the score on them either. It's a rivalry game, and I don't think that is unexpected, or dirty or cheap. That's just how it is. Especially if there's a reason to do it. If we are able to do it, we should.\"

Brandon Mebane agreed, basically saying that while he has no interest in running up a big score, he plays on defense and he certainly wants to do his part by keeping Stanford out of the end zone and off the scoreboard, while letting the offense do its share.

Fellow defender Desmond Bishop, who can finish as the Pac-10's leading tackler with a big game in the Big Game, felt the same way: \"I pretty much go into every game with the same goal. That is, to keep the offense out of the end zone, and for our offense to score as many points as possible, so whether they score 20 or 80, our approach to the game is always the same.

\"I can't say we have to stop them and try to score 100 points. We always try to stop them and we always want to score 100 points. We just have to do what we do.\"

AD Sandy Barbour has to be a little more diplomatic, and when presented with the scenario, she offered the following opinion:

\"I certainly would not be supportive of a system that would reward that kind of behavior. We've taken a lot of that out of the system now - it's better than it used to be.

\"A couple of things would have to happen - we would have to move into the top 14, however we got there. Then, the Rose Bowl would have to still pick us.

\"We will play Stanford and do our best to play it in a way that will do justice to this rivalry, as well as in the way that Jeff and I feel represents our institution in the best way.\"

Of course, all of this went by the wayside when Cal accepted the Holiday Bowl bid on Tuesday. Now, Cal fans have to take a hard look at the glass and decide whether they think it's almost full, or emptier than they want. There's no doubt that, 5 years ago, any Cal fan who was actually attending games would have given up a precious body part to witness the first group in Cal history to go to a bowl game in four consecutive seasons.

But expectations were higher this year. Cal started the year ranked #8, lost its opening game, and spent most of the rest of the season fighting their way back to #8, which seemed to contain its own sort of dismal power. As soon as the Bears returned to#8 status they went to Arizona, and it all went to hell in a hand basket.

So, were those expectations reasonable? And, more important, did the players think they were fair?

Brandon Mebane said \"Yes, absolutely,\" without a moment's hesitation. Byron Storer was just as quick to ratify the notion that the expectations were high, but reasonable. These young men didn't view them as a burden, or a source of pressure. They viewed them as a source of pride.

Erik Robertson: \"I think they were fair, because I think we definitely had the talent to achieve those expectations. It's just that some things didn't go right - a close game in Arizona, a decently close game at USC. We just struggled on offense. I think they were fair expectations, because I do think we had the talent and we were right there to achieve things, but things didn't go right, and the expectations disappeared really fast with a couple of losses. I think they were fair, but we did not meet them.\"

We'll let Desmond Bishop have the final word on the subject. \"If you want to be a top-notch program, the expectations are going to be high. I think they were fair.\"

\"I don't think the team put pressure on themselves. I think sometimes that's just how the cookie crumbles. Some games slipped away, some things happened, and they just happened. I don't think it had anything to do with pressure, or anything like that - it's just how it goes sometimes.\"

It seems as though the players aren't harboring many regrets. When Bishop was asked if he was over the loss to USC yet, he said \"No!\" but then he began to laugh. They will go out and play hard Saturday, but they will have fun.

If you are going to the Big Game, here's something that you can add to the proceedings. Once again, Erik Robertson shares his Big Game memories: \"I saw them carry Kyle Boller off the field. It was really funny - I think that was the first time, I can't remember though - might have been UCLA that year - but I think that was the first time our field was rushed by the fans. I was out there on the field, and that's pretty crazy. I had never played in front of that many people, and that's a huge thing, exciting.

Oh, yeah, unfortunately, I was on the field when Arizona's fans rushed it a few weeks ago, but, yeah, it's always awesome to see your fans get that excited over something. And, I hope this year, if we win, it happens again. That would be a good indicator that they were excited about us again.\"

How about it, Old Blues?


©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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