Much has been made of the history as well as personnel similarities between Cal and the National Champion, University of Southern California Trojans. And there can be no doubt that Jeff Tedford's Cal Bears are a team with talent, featuring two of the best backs in the country, solid wideouts, a defense that has held its own against some stiff com-petition, but despite all that, Cal is nothing without a field general and cannot compare to their Cardinal and Gold counterpart.
Cal's, Jeff Tedford spent his playing days as a quarterback for Fresno State. He has since, as a college assistant and now head coach, built a reputation and made his living turning unknown hurlers into NFL first round draft picks. Ayoob might be his greatest experiment.
Completing under 50% of his passes through his first season of Division 1 ball, Ayoob has not lived up to his junior college ratings. In his first game, after taking over for fallen starter, Nate Longshore, Ayoob managed to go 0 for 10 on the day. Frustrated by his performance, he raced home to consult with his father. Upon arrival, he walked through the door and tossed his jacket onto a chair – missing it by a country mile. His father smiled and said "0 for eleven." It's definitely been a tough start for Ayoob.
Last week, in a near repeat performance of his first outing, Ayoob struggled through an entire game against Oregon and then, in overtime with a chance to tie, missed a wide open receiver and Cal lost the game. Not the way to build confidence in your quarterback or your team's confidence with him.
So you can bet Tedford's spent the week putting together a game plan that will somehow allow his quarterback to not only survive but succeed, much like he did with Rodgers the year before, three step drop and high percentage short passes to that speedy receiver corp.
The perfect man to catch those quick release bullets is Cal's fastest player, freshmen wideout Desean Jackson. This former Long Beach product was part of a recruiting war between the Trojans and Bears. Cal won but Jackson explains, for him, the battle's still on… "You know this day has been marked in my calendar. Whatever it takes, how ever much…it's on…"
It appears that Jackson is still upset about USC pursuing Patrick Turner as their top receiver. Coach Carroll had every intention of making young Desean a featured product, as much as was possible, but when you've already landed the top rated receiver in the nation, have two of the highest ranked playing for you, with other top players waiting their turn on the sideline, being the headliner is pretty tough.
Cal, on the other hand, had lost their top four pass catchers and were in desperate need of a talent infusion. Along came Jackson and the rest is history. What he forgot to assess, however, is that it takes two to play catch.
Even with Cal's run game, they don't have the quarterback to manage a keep-away strategy, the way Notre Dame tried.
Much ado about nothing.
For Patrick Turner, now a part-time starter on the National Champion Trojans, the idea of playing Cal or going up against Jackson, just wasn't the reason he came to SC.
Turner knows that the Trojans' last loss occurred 31 games ago against California, but he doesn't understand that was then, this is now.
"I wonder why it's a big game, but I have no clue," Turner said.
Turner's not alone. The loss was only 26 months ago, but for many of the Trojans remaining on the team, the 34-31 defeat in double overtime to Cal is a distant memory.
There's one Trojan, however, that has the game etched in his mind…
"That loss is always going to be with me."
USC's leader hasn't forgotten. Throwing three interceptions and barely into his career as the Trojan signal caller, Leinart took the loss personally. In most minds he avenged himself last season in a shootout that had everyone claiming Rodgers as the greatest show on earth but with Leinart getting the win, a Heisman and a solo National Championship.
Perhaps 23 straight is something to crow about, but I'd say the good guy won that war and all the spoils that go along with it.
SC has separated themselves from the Pac but Cal doesn't seem to realize it. And as much as things remain the same, so much has changed.
Just two players on offense (right guard Ryan O'Callaghan, fullback Chris Manderino) who started in 2003 for Cal and defensive rover Donnie McCleskey return from that crew.
Tedford was asked this week what his returning players think of a rematch with USC (9-0, 6-0).
"Well, we don't have many," he said. "We are a totally different team. We are very young. I don't think that they went in to this season saying we can't wait to have another chance at them next year. But it is a great opportunity to play the No. 1 team."
Carroll counters with his own little diddy to make it seem this is just another Saturday. It is clearly obvious that the game is as much on the sidelines as it is on the field. Competition fuels both men and that's why their teams, even when undermanned, perform.
Carroll holds a 2-1 advantage, but the margin of victory in the three games is just 3.7 points.
Carroll remains clear about his nemesis…"They are a challenge. Their defense has done well against us. And the last couple games, they scored fast."
Tedford knows experience played the key role in the close games of the past three years, which, for Cal, after replacing the majority of their two-deep from a year ago, is no longer the case.
"I am not surprised by our team last year because we had a veteran group and they did a great job," Tedford said. "USC is more powerful this year. It is going to be a big test to try to control them or at least try to slow them down a little bit." Both men seem to be playing chess – a bit of coach-speak.
Everyone knows it's, despite the lack of popularity for the chant, War Time! This time the Trojans leave no survivors.
USC 54 Cal 28