And Now We Wait Again: Cal Football Resurgent

Posted by: Avinash on Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Twelve games, fifteen weeks. How quickly the time goes.

Football is one of those sports where you can ride the highs but escape the lows without feeling like you’re wasting an epic proportion of your time. If you sense a down year coming, if the season goes south, you can quit it easily and not look back. The time commitment is short, the moments you have to spend paying attention to it are minimal. The diehards will always obesess manically, but for the majority of Cal football fans can hang it up, get ready for a bowl game, then prepare for the eight month interlude where there is nothing but hoops and hockey.

California’s 2008 campaign didn’t really pick up on the theme of redemption many were hoping for. Many of the seniors did assume the mantle of leadership and ensure that dissent would not be a problem this season. Nate Longshore settled into an uneasy relationship, never quite part of the experience yet never quite being able to associate with it either (three starts, seven game appearances). Kevin Riley never became starter de facto, bouncing around with average efforts followed by clunkers

This season was more about rebuilding identity for the new wave. It’s about figuring out where we want to go the next three years rather than discovering about where we were bowling in December. There were glimpses of promise followed by frustrating letdowns. But these things were expected from a mainly raw offense and an emerging defense.

Obviously you can’t be totally happy with the way the offense, whose strategy seemed to be ‘hand ball to #4, he knows what’s Best’. Although Cignetti’s offense had a few gimmicks that opened up the offense a few times during the home stretch, this was clearly Jahvid Best’s offense from Arizona onward. When he had a great game we won, when he had a good game we were always in it, and when he struggled we did nothing. A battered offensive line and an uncertain rhythm between quarterback and receiver plagued every facet of our game, and we struggled every Saturday to get going without Best unleashing.

However, we did discover that there was more than one way to win than an explosive passing game. discovered how to win using the other side of the ball too.

Although the 2004 Golden Bears had a monster defense, it was far from their trademark; we knew the team for its offensive machinery rather than its defensive efficiency. This season would have been lost though without the weapons on the defense stepping up. Sure, there were occasional lapses, as to be expected from a weak 3-4 and an anemic offense not doing its part, but the Bears D more than did its job for much of the season, and will always remain a bright spot for the future.

All in all, 8-4 is what reasonable fans expected, and that is what they got. Four closely contested losses, eight very strong wins. It was satisfying in a way to get exactly what we expected, especially considering the chaos of the past season. It was a welcome relief to the usual pain that accompanies a California loss (the Bears lost the three games they were expected to lose and only had one well-explained stinker in College Park), and provided a quiet reflection before being plunged back into the sea of expectation.

Next year the Bears will again be thrust into a position where they are expected to challenge for the Pac-10 crown. Best returning for what could be his prime season. A hopefully healthy offensive line returning under the stewardship of left tackle Mike Tepper. A defense that will be stronger and should fill in many of the gaps our seniors leave behind. USC coming to town to October. At the moment, outside of Eugene and Minneapolis, what is looking like a very anemic road schedule. If only the quarterback issues could be resolved, we’d have a competitive conference contender. For now we can only wonder.

There are reasons to be brimming positivity. The potential for great things is just around the winter, spring and summer.

Grades for Cal-Washington:
Quarterback: B
Running back: A+
Receivers: B
Run blocking: A
Pass protection: A
Run defense: B+
Pass rush: A
Pass defense: B+ 

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