(Bumped up for discussion. The argument expressed here does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of CGB's writers, but is meant to encourage debate of the issue.)
Let me start by saying, I still thoroughly respect Tedford for being a class act and salvaging the program from a perennial Pac-10 doormat. He is loyal. He has high graduation rates and is very much driven by good intentions and high character. Recruits like him, players are loyal to him, and he is a role model to the Pete Carrolls and Jim Harbaughs(John doesn't seem like such an A-hole.) of the world. He seems like a nice guy; he is starting to seem like Ben Braun. Good but never going to be great.
Scheme and Strategy:
Braun's hallmark, in his prime at Cal, was playing stiffling defense which often held more talented and larger opponents. His weakness seemed to be offense which seemed haphazard and often lacked form or consistency. Then his last year, he stumbles upon first round NBA scorer Ryan Anderson paired with NBA-body Devon Hardin and decent guard play and the scoring problem disappears. Unfortunately, so did the trademark defense.
Tedford's hallmark was developing NFL quarterbacks starting with Fresno State (David Carr, Billy Volek), Oregon (Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, AJ Feeley, etc.) and Cal (Kyle Boller, Aaron Rodgers). He was considered an offensive mastermind, running an efficient and creative passing attack out of a "pro-style" offense that has consistently produced 1,000 yard rushers along with the quarterbacks. When his quarterbacks didn't succeed in the NFL (pre-Rodgers), I believe the criticism stung him that they were not being prepared enough or that he was babying them with giving them half-field reads, etc. This coincided with attempting to be more of a head coach than just a offensive coordinator and quarterback coach following the 2007 meltdown post-Oregon State. Fast-forward to the QB run of Ayoob, Longshore, and Riley with people questioning his QB credentials.
Why Not Go to More Spread like everyone else in college football and increasingly in the pros?
The Former Andy Ludwig vs. the Current Andy Ludwig: Contrasting what Utah was doing with what Cal was doing helped define why Cal hasn't been successful or consistent on offense for a while. Utah had a true freshman QB, Jordan Wynn (who wanted to go to Cal) throw for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. He had more poise, accuracy and success than Riley but it wasn't because he was better. It was because his offense made it simple for him; watching him was nothing more than pitch and catch. Wynn didn't do much other than throw laterally most of the time like most spread QBs (i.e. Bradford or McCoy) to wide open receivers who counted on their other receivers to make blocks or allowed their talented skill players beat one on one matchups or sometimes 3 on 2s. QB builds confidence, throws a high percentage, the ball is out quickly which puts less strain on the O-line (clearly a Bear weakness), and it gives great athletes the opportunity to make plays in the open field (Cal has in spades.) It is like water torture on a defense, especially an undisciplined one like most college defenses, which is bound to break sometime which Cal did. It gets consistent first downs which the Cal offense hasn't been able to do in years and it keeps a subpar defense or threatening opposing offense off of the field (also means less punts and special teams which are always an adventure for Cal.) The short passing/screening game also leads to shots down the field once the defense starts being overly aggressive which is how Utah scored over the top.
I'm not sure why Tedford Doesn't Employ More Spread/Short Passing Offense but here are my theories:
1. Mike Dunbar and his spread didn't mesh with Tedford's desire to maintain a ground game.
2. He still has NFL ambitions and knows that the League still prefers a balanced "pro-style" attack, so if he ever aspires to be an NFL offensive coordinator, he wants to stay in a "pro-scheme."
3. He can sell QB recruits that they won't be Alex Smith once they go pro. He also can promise carries to running backs.
I don't think Cal needs to go to shotgun spread, but it needs to make the game simpler for its quarterbacks. For all their frequently noted deficiencies, Ayoob and Longshore had some strengths but they needed 2-3 years to get the ever changing offense with its annual change of coordinators. By the time they got a handle on the offense, by which time, their confidence (and the teams and fans confidence in them) was too damaged to repair. I remember Kyle Boller getting flack for only having to read half the field and those Tedford-coached QB questions raised by Mel Kiper explained why Rodgers went from the consensus #1 or 2 pick to falling to #24. But I think Tedford has been overreacting to criticism and needs to focus on making it easy on the 18-19 year olds that are committing to leading his offense.
Making the Most of Talent:
As much as the new facilities will help by 2012, I don't think Cal should look at USC as its model to emulate in the Pac-10. With the academic rigor and less tradition, I think Cal needs to gear its program around its talent instead of making the talent be restricted by the "system." With top 50 of all-time point guard, Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray, Shareef Abdul-Rahim, Sean Lampley, Ed Gray, and Ryan Anderson, Cal shouldn't have struggled to get in the tournament. Similarly, while Cal Football hasn't had multiple 5-star recruits at every position like the USCs or Floridas, Cal has had some serious studs in Justin Forsett, JJ Arrington, Rodgers, and Marshawn. I think Desean Jackson best illustrates the problem with talent. Desean was a star of stars and electric anytime he got the ball in high school; he is gaining a similar reputation in the pros. At Cal, he gained Heisman consideration merely on the strength of his punt returns and the few balls that actually got to him. Few times did Cal run reverses or screens (the double-moves or stop and gos) to him, they just hoped he would get open.
When Oregon State got major league talent in the Rogers brothers, it built its offense around them and insured they got 20-30 touches a game because they were equalizers. At Stanfurd, they knew they had Toby Gerhart and built a power running attack around him and slowly worked in their freshman QB. I don't think the same could be said about Cal with Desean or Jahvid. For Cal to compete with the big boys, it needs to find its strength and exploit it (like the Stanford game.) If Cal sticks with Riley, then I don't think his strength is being a pocket passer waiting for long-developing downfield routes.
Hope for the Future:
I have very little hope things can be any better next year, just as with Braun when Anderson declared. For the past two plus years, its not just losing but not even being competitive in big games that is depressing. The lack of consistency seems to point to a lack of a direction or focus. I have no sense that the coach or team know how to fix what is wrong. Cal had USC at home with a returning QB, a Heisman candidate running back, and almost all of its defense except the linebackers but still failed to even approach second place in the Pac-10, in a year when Arizona, Stanford, Oregon, and Washington all got SC. Recruits won't help a flawed strategy nor will increasing motivation when there does not seem to be an identity to the team. In rebuilding teams, you can point to youth but I don't think that this team can use this excuse. Since next year holds any promise of being any better, can Tedford survive another year of this, whatever it is?