Nine Reasons Why Cal Might Beat U$C
In a week where the political sphere saw a decisive underdog perform exactly like an underdog, allow me to caution that these are reasons why Cal might beat U$C, not a declaration that Cal will beat U$C. In truth I only restrain myself for fear of jinxing the team. Since way back in 1996, I’ve consistently believed Cal would beat U$C every season. But let the official record before the Football Gods show that I am technically being humble this year. No whammies.
1. Cal is improving as the season goes on.
The Oregon game, while far from perfect, shows steady improvement in several key areas — most notably in areas central to the passing game: (1) improved pass protection; and (2) fewer receiver drops. If Cal can bring a balanced offensive attack to the game, we’ll have a chance at taking it.
2. Cal 2008 is better than the Cal team that played U$C tight for most of last year’s game
Whether the 2008 Cal edition has the raw talent or depth of 2007 is debatable at best. But the 2008 edition is undoubtedly coallescing and performing better. We now have more conference wins than we had all last season, and our 6-2 overall record is better than the 5-3 record we sported at this point last year. Moreover, our losses have come exclusively on the road to good teams with winning records (can’t say that about 2007) and our out-of-conference win over Michigan State probably trumps our win over Tennessee last year.
3. U$C 2008 is not markedly improved over 2007
I remain unconvinced that this year’s U$C team is any better than last year’s. Granted U$C 2007 had two losses at this point, but those losses came against a Stanfurd team that snuck up on them to win by the narrowest of margins, and a 7-point loss to a healthy Oregon team capable of winning a national title. By contrast, this year’s road loss to Oregon State was a game in which U$C spotted the Beavers a several touchdown lead and failed to mount a legitimate comeback.
4. U$C has less experience winning gritty games
Almost every U$C-Cal matchup since 2002 has been a gritty contest that wasn’t decided until late in the game. For better or worse, Cal has played those gritty games all this season — and has won nearly all of them. U$C has arguably played in two such contests this year — at Oregon State and Arizona — and split them. All the rest of U$C’s wins have been routs. Obviously that’s because U$C is pretty damn good. But the point here is Cal has more experience winning the tight ones than U$C.
5. It’s hard to gameplan against Cal
U$C always wins the big games big. When U$C loses, it always loses to some team they didn’t see coming. I think that’s because Carroll’s greatest strength as a coach is his tremendous gameplanning ability. The upside of being a volatile team with an ongoing QB controversy is that U$C can’t know exactly which Cal it’s going to face on Saturday.
6. If you lack faith, just remember 2003
If Cal 2003 could beat U$C 2003 at home, then it’s within the realm of possibility that Cal 2008 can beat U$C 2008 on the road.
7. In recent years, homefield advantage has been muted in this rivalry.
As noted above, this rivalry has in recent years produced mostly tight contests that aren’t decided until late in the game. The one exception to that trend was 2005, when Cal was dominated at home. 2002, 2004 and 2006 were all gritty contests played in the Coliseum.
8. U$C sports a first-year starter under center
Cal beat U$C in Matt Leinart’s first year as a starter. During John David Booty’s first year as a starter, Cal played right with U$C until the final minutes of the game. Perhaps Cal can deliver enough harassment to Sanchez to make him play more like a first year starter than a national-champion-to-be.
9. U$C is a program in decline
I’ve said it before, and I mostly say it just to get a rise from U$C fans. But it is obvious that the U$C program peaked in 2004 and has been in gradual decline ever since. Now, it’s certainly possible that 2008 is an inflection point in the program’s development and U$C is on its way back up (I know the media always assumes U$C is on its way back up). Having watched the loss to Oregon State however, this year doesn’t feel to me like U$C’s return to dominance.
Now let’s Go Bears and Beat the Trojans. It is time.
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