What concerns me is the huge amount of optimism in the Cal fandom regarding the epic game of Cal vs. USC.
Perhaps my memory isn't serving me well, but I think this might be the most optimistic that Cal fans have felt about this game since 2004. This bothers me because I felt like our 2006 and 2007 squads had better chances to beat USC. So the fact that so many fans seem to think that this year's squad will do the unthinkable puzzles me - and worries me.
It worries me because expectations have been raised.
It feels like so many of us have moved from quiet and cautious optimism to expecting to win. Maybe I'm not quite in touch with the fan base mentality and this is not what most people are thinking but it sure feels like expectations for this game are becoming unreasonably high.
And with these high expectations come a harder fall should we lose. This is what worries me.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
The above quote applies not only to USC but to Cal too.
Should the team lose, the fan base is going to be even more critical of the players and coaches because expectations were higher.
Gazing into the future, we're going to hear people questioning whether Tedford can ever beat Carroll and USC again. Some might suggest Tedford can't get us past USC again and that we need to start looking for a new coach.
With Longshore starting, he's going to be the scapegoat (regardless if he plays the entire game or not). Longshore, along with the rest of the offense, is facing a USC defense that is giving up 7.1 points a game! A mere 2.47 yards per rushing attempt. A defense that has only given up 5 rushing TDs on the year. A defense that has only given up 2 passing touchdown on the year - but have logged 12 INTs.
Like every game, when a team is losing, the offense will have to throw. Even if Cal is winning, a time will come when the offense will have to throw. Longshore will be throwing into the teeth of one of the greatest defenses USC has ever put together since Carroll has been there. The chances of being victorious against such a defense, with an inexperienced and young OL, and with inexperienced and inconsistent WRs, is small. Very small. Smaller than Cal's chances in previous years.
But I think with these high expectations, people are going to overlook all that. It's not going to matter that Cal is facing one of the best defenses in college football (along with one of the best offenses too!). It's not going to matter that our offense is probably not as good as previous years.
If we lose, Cal fans are going to react like we did when we lost Big Game last year. I think it's going to be ugly.
The criticism will be sharp, and maybe even the worst we've seen this year. Suddenly, Tedford won't be such a great coach. Some will suggest he needs to go. Others are going to be furious that Longshore was tapped to start instead of Riley. People are going to wonder why Longshore started when so many believe that as soon as the clock flips over to the 4th quarter that something inside his brain goes haywire and he can't help but throw 4th quarter INTs. People are going to think that Tedford is an idiot for even thinking about starting Longshore. (As it is, some of us have already given up on the game merely because Longshore is starting)
Nevermind that Riley just got a concussion last week. Nevermind that Riley missed one third of the gameplanning practice days - not to mention that Riley missed out on critical pre-practice film room gameplanning. Nevermind that perhaps even though Riley practiced this week that Tedford has no intention of playing Riley unless Longshore gets injured - or even at all because Riley, like so many other players, lie about their symptoms to get back in the game (regardless of passing their baseline tests).
Should we lose, the fact that Riley practiced this week will mean that he should have started. Hindsight is 20/20. It's easy to say Riley should have started should Cal lose. But will people remember the reasons why Riley didn't start? Namely, his concussion and health concerns. Or are people just going to complain that once again Jeff Tedford squandered another season and matchup against USC by not starting Riley?
In summary, I think expectations are riding too high. We have a chance to beat USC. We always do. But I don't think this year's squad has a better chance than previous years. I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong. I hope we win. I do. But I'm not getting my hopes up. I fear though, that too many others are getting their hopes up beyond a reasonable level and that the repercussions of such high expectations are going to be bad. Cal fans are going to be even more critical of Tedford and the players when the fans have raised expectations beyond what they should be.
Should we lose this game, in Tedford people will no longer trust - both for losing the game and for starting Longshore. And Longshore, he'll once again become the convenient scape-goat because the guy that throws the ball is responsible for everything which happens on offense (sarcasm).
I hope we beat $C. I do.
But I hope that we remember that if we don't win, and before people begin ripping Longshore and Tedford, that people remember the circumstances:
(1) USC has one of the best defenses in college football. A defense which is only allowing 3.3 yards per play (#1 in the nation).
(2) USC's offense, despite being not as good as previous years, is still a great offense. An offense which is averaging 6.7 yards per play (#9 in the nation).
(3) Cal's offense is inconsistent - averaging 5.8 yards per play (#32 in the nation).
(4) Cal's offensive line is young and inexperienced.
(5) Cal's WRs are young and inexperienced.
(6) This is an away game.
(7) The game is on grass - if grass truly does have a negative effect on the team.
(8) Riley isn't starting. Fact is, Jeff Tedford said Riley got the start against Oregon because his feet give the defense an added factor to deal with. That same logic would apply this week against USC's aggressive pass rush. But for some reason, Riley isn't starting. Is it because Jeff Tedford is playing favorites? No. Riley sustained a concussion last week - remember, Riley didn't actually get cleared to practice until Wednesday. The concussion undoubtedly prevented Riley from fully participating in film-study early in the week, and gameplanning. Riley also missed one third of the team's gameplan-installing practice days. More than likely, Riley is behind the curve for this week's gameplan when compared to Longshore due to the concussion. So Cal's more dynamic offensive threat at QB isn't starting.
Cautious optimism, Bears. Cautious optimism. Let's not let our hopes inflate our expectations unreasonably high.