What's a Non-Conference Game in September

In nearly every way, Cal's season opener today against Maryland means nothing…

Picture this scenario:

After knocking off the No. 12 Bears, the country wonders if the Terrapins are better than expected.

Maryland goes on to win its next four contests, all of which are at home and against teams ranked outside the top 25.

At 5-0, the Terps look to be the cream of the ACC crop (a notion that inevitably crumbles soon after).

After dropping to No. 20 in both the AP and coaches polls following September 5, Cal—a la 2006—rolls after opening the season with a loss and, after beating USC for the first time in six years, the 4-1 Bears ascend back to No. 12.

With its easiest second-half schedule in recent memory, Cal runs the table in the Pac-10, finishing 11-1 en route to its first Rose Bowl appearance in over 50 years.

Digested that yet?

While such a series of events seems unlikely, the Bears have lost season openers before…and have bounced back before.

Believe it or not, Cal can afford to lose tonight, so no need to fear the Turtle.

I mean, what's a non-conference game in September mean, anyway?

As long as Cal wins the conference and garners its first trip to Pasadena in over five decades, then 2009 was a success. Right?

Well, not to some of us.

Trust me, 11-1 and a Rose Bowl would be a WELCOMED occurrence for any Cal follower—fan or factician—but something tells me that this team is capable of more.

Something tells me that the Granddaddy isn't the ceiling.

And while my 12-0 prediction was somewhat driven by hope and a desire to rationalize the irrational, this Bears team truly is different than any Jeff Tedford has ever had.

Jahvid Best and all, this is the first time a Tedford team has been led by the guys on the defensive side of the ball, not just that, but there also seems to be leaders at every position on the field. Thompson, Alualu, Mohamed, Tepper, Riley, Best…all guys that may not be the most vocal cats (minus Tepper), but athletes that have earned the respect of each and every member of the Blue and Gold.

Athletes that the other 70 or so will follow without question.

Athletes that understand they're pieces to a larger puzzle, instead of a Heisman or Bednarik award winner.

Oh, by the way, they also happen to be athletes with a ton of skill.

For the first time in my (albeit young) Cal career I can honestly look at the Bears' schedule with absolute certainty that, barring injury, Cal harbors a combination of all-around talent and experience the likes of which no other team in its lineup can boast.

Realize it.

Embrace it.

As unlikely as it seems, this different kind of Bears team could do the impossible.

And if you believe that, then that makes tonight's game, along with every other week, all the more meaningful.

Cal Sports Digest is the new home of lead writer Jon Doss' award winning Daily Cal column "Who's the Doss". Jon will weigh in on hot topics pertaining to Cal and the Pac-10 conference throughout the season.

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