Now, as they head to Seattle for Saturday's regular-season finale against Washington, it requires no exhaustive video study to identify the key figure in Cal's offense. He wears No. 34, bursts through holes with striking efficiency and, much like Best, is difficult to catch in the open field.
Here's telling statistical evidence: Vereen, not Best, might extend Cal's streak of having a running back gain 1,000 or more yards (seven years and counting). Vereen stands at 738 yards this season, so he needs to average 131 against Washington and Cal's not-yet-determined bowl opponent.
That's realistic, especially if Best misses the bowl game. Best, with 867 yards, could reach the century mark if he returns for the bowl game and reclaims his starting job.
Either way, the ball remains in reliable hands - and among friends. Vereen paid tribute to Best on his eye black against Arizona, wearing Best's jersey number (4) under one eye and his initials under the other. Best, standing outside Cal's locker room after the Big Game, said simply and nonchalantly of Vereen, "I knew he was just as good as me."
"I'm very pleased with how Shane has come in and done a fantastic job," Gould said. "I'm not surprised at all. ... I told him I can sleep like a baby because I know he's running the rock."
But Tedford wasn't surprised Vereen could handle it - Tedford didn't hesitate to say he could envision Vereen carrying the ball 42 times again.
"He can do that because he's in great shape," Tedford said.
The Bears probably will lean on Vereen against Washington, partly because of December weather in the Pacific Northwest. The forecast is decent - a high of 44 degrees, low of 32, no rain expected - but the chilly temperatures still seem better suited to running the ball, especially if Cal takes an early lead.
After the jump I have more confusion for Cal's bowl season, the gameday weather forecast, more on Vereen, a look at a couple Bears who attended high school near Seattle, a couple previews of the Cal-UW matchup, Wilner's pick for Cal-UW, injury updates, and more.
- Rumor has it (according to kicker David Seawright) the Sun Bowl will select Stanford no matter what. This would likely leave the Emerald Bowl to choose Cal again. They really must want to see The Great White Hope try to take on the impressive (except against Texas Tech) Oklahoma defense. Thanks for pointing this out to me royrules22!
- Saturday's gameday forecast calls for temperatures in the high-30s, cloud cover, and a slight but steadily increasing chance of precipitation as the game goes on. The chance of rain will turn into a chance of snow later in the evening (so let's take care of business in regulation, okay Bears?).
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer previews this weekend's matchup. It will be a battle between two teams with momentum, confidence, and a feeling that their offensive and defensive units have that have come together with great performances at the end of the season. SportingNews.com also has a preview of the game.
- It has been confirmed that Matt Summers-Gavin will miss the Washington game due to his concussion. Thankfully, Syd returned to practice and should be good to go on Saturday.
- Vereen says his body is all healed up and ready to go after the heavy workload in the Big Game.
- Wilner picks Washington to cover the spread, but believes Cal will ultimately win the game.
- Mike Mohamed is in the running for Pac-10 defensive player of the year. As the two-time winner of the player of the week award, Mohamed might be the favorite to win it.
- Defensive linemen Trevor Guyton and Deandre Coleman will have a bit of a homecoming this weekend, as they both attended high school in Washington. Coleman looks forward to playing in front of a home crowd, but he'll probably have to wait until 2011, as he's still learning the ropes of the 3-4. Whether either one will wear a purple suit to the game, like Anthony Felder did in 2007, remains to be seen.
- News Tribune looks at Cal's turnaround on defense this year. After some poor performances earlier in the year, they have really done a great job in the past few games. The article had an interesting pair of statistics at the end:
The stream of criticism has died down, at least for now. And compared to seasons past, Cal’s total-defense numbers and takeaways are pretty much in line with the others.
In fact, if Cal fans stepped back, they’d realize in terms of bang for their buck, they are getting a pretty solid return. Gregory’s defenses have averaged nearly 26 takeaways in his eight seasons – which would rank in the top 20 nationally almost every season.
All this despite the 46-year-old still being the third-lowest paid defensive coordinator in the Pac-10 ($241,320).
- After the blowout loss to Baylor, Joanne Boyle is pleased with how her team responded when facing Ohio St, another top-10 team. Although the Bears lost, they kept it a relatively close game and were much better about establishing a consistent tempo and flow throughout the game. With a likely matchup against Texas A&M, Cal will have another chance to take on a top-10 team.