Finding information on UC Davis is a challenge. In terms of mainstream media coverage, it's probably Phil Steele and bust. The only thing I know is they have a really cool cavern for a stadium (you can have a picnic from the end zone side!) And they beat that team above.
There's only one main source for UC Davis sports news--The California Aggie, the college's independent newspaper. We talked with Grace Sprague (football beat reporter) and Jason Alpert (California Aggie sports editor) to learn more about the UC Davis football team, the school, and how confident they are in victory this Saturday. Turnos out they're very confident in their team.
1. Let's be honest - we know nothing about the Aggies other than the fact that they're from close by. What should we know?
Grace: Well, you’re not alone. Limited TV and media exposure tend to keep FCS schools under the radar, and UC Davis is no different. However, we recently made the jump from Division II to Division I FCS, and have played such major conference opponents as Stanford, TCU, Boise, and Fresno State — and now of course, Cal. Perhaps the most important thing to know about this team is that they’re coming off of a Great West Conference championship, beating traditional FCS powerhouses, including our rivals Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Sac State.
Jason: Davis and Cal actually have a pretty intertwined history. Davis started off as the Agricultural extension of Berkeley in 1905, hence the name Aggies. We are Big West for a majority of our sports, but Great West for football. We actually won the Great West title outright last year. Starting in 2003, we started the transition to D-1. Before we were Division II for all sports. As of 2007, UC Davis was Division 1 for all sports. We are in D-I AA for football, so you won't be seeing the Ags in the Rose Bowl anytime soon. Something the Aggies and Bears have in common is that we've both beaten Stanford. UC Davis upset the Cardinal in 2005 20-17.
2. Who is the #1 threat on offense?
Grace: Our two-year starter at quarterback, Greg Denham, announced earlier this spring that he was leaving the team before what would be his senior season. A highlight on Saturday will be newly named starter Randy Wright’s debut at the helm for the UC Davis. Obviously, there was a large amount of emphasis placed on finding a new quarterback during the offseason, but the focus on the rest of the team remained intense as well. Losing a number of impact players to graduation has shifted the focus of the coaching staff to creating a blue-collar mentality. As cliché as it sounds, until individual threats emerge, the Aggies will utilize a unified team-centric mentality.
Jason: Senior running back Joe Trobbetta. If you asked me this question three months ago, I would have said QB Josh Denham without any hesitation, but since the former starting QB left the team to join the ministry, the Aggies are going to be a run heavy offense. Expect Trombetta to get a good load of touches. He's not the fastest runner, but he can barrel through the holes. Once he finds the openings, however, he has some closing speed.
3. Who is the #1 threat on defense?
Jason: Junior LB Dozie Amajoyi. The UC Davis Davis defense is solid. The Aggies have a lot of speed on the defensive side of the ball, and Amajoyi is no exception. Amajoyi recored seven tackles in the annual blue-gold scrimmage last week and it always seems like he;s involved in the play one way or another. Expect him to get some big hits key tackles throughout the game.
Grace: While you could say that our offensive firepower at this point is relatively unknown, our defense is a definite strength. Coach Biggs says at this point the defensive line looks pretty good, discussing in particular DE Bobby Erskine, who has recently excelled in the Aggies’ camp.
4. What schemes should we see UC Davis employ to stop the Cal offense?
Jason: Just from watching Cal, the best thing Davis could do is stack the box and take away the Berkeley run game. If there is one way to slow down the Cal offense, its to force Riley out of the pocket. He's not comfortable on the run, as evident by his famous run-right-but-throw-left play. If the Aggies can put pressure on Riley, some weird stuff can happen. Expect a lot of blitzes and pressure on Riley.
5. So if the WAC reaches out to UC Davis, looking for new members, any new members, to remain a viable conference, would Davis consider making the jump to I-A? I know they recently had to cut sports, though I'm not sure how the revenues/expenses changes would figure into such a calculation.
Grace: Our cutting of sports isn’t an indicator of instability in the athletic department, but more indicative of the struggles for funding in public education seen elsewhere in the state of California. We currently field 23 varsity sports — the second most in the UC system. As for the possible conference shuffle, being a school that has only been a Division I member since just 2007, it is a step in the right direction to be in the conversation for a FBS switch. From what I’ve been told, the Aggies’ coaching staff has been entertaining all ideas coming its way, but is focused and locked in on the upcoming season.
Jason: The idea of Davis joining the WAC was thrown out there. And yes, Davis did have to cut four sports last year, women's rowing, men's swim/dive, wrestling and men's indoor track. The Aggies might get the offer to join a D-IA conference, but in my opinion, I think its better for the Aggies to stay in the Big West primarily with football in the Great West. As mentioned before, we're just entering our fourth season as a full time D-1 team, so it wouldn't make sense financially and athletically to make the jump to a BCS conference. I'm not sure on the cost/revenue of joining a bigger conference, so I don't want to say anything that isn't true. I do know however, that Davis thrives on the "California" sports: volleyball, water polo, soccer and baseball. And there is no better conference for those sports than the Big West. For now, I see Davis staying put. But if you ask me this question in another four or five years, my answer might change.
6. The Aggies gave Boise State a run for their money last season. What did they do so effectively against the Broncos to hold up? Is this a foreboding sign that they can challenge the Bears on their turf?
Grace: Against Boise we played with resiliency and poise. In a hostile road environment and facing a deficit, we "stuck to our guns," so to speak, and converted down the stretch, especially in the red zone. Against high-class opponents like Boise and Stanford (2005), it is important to make the most of your chances and not waste any scoring opportunities. Controlling the tempo of the game and keeping their offense off the field is also a key. There’s no room for intimidation playing an FBS school on the road.
Jason: We did play Boise st. incredibly well. I'd like to point out that Davis lost to the #5 nation at the time, Boise St. by 18 points on the same day Cal, ranked 24, lost to #7 USC by 27. I'm not saying anything, except that UC Davis lost to a higher ranked team by less than a ranked Cal team did to a lower ranked USC. I think Davis just played its heart out in that game. It was a somewhat sloppy game on both sides, and UC Davis just never stopped fighting. I'd love to say that the Aggies can do the exact same thing against Cal, but we both know how random and lucky football can be. Like I said above, if Davis can run the ball effectively and force Riley to get uncomfortable in the pocket, anything can happen.
7. Bob Biggs has been at Davis a long time for seventeen years. Talk about the impact he's had in building up the team's football program, and his biggest accomplishments.
Grace: UC Davis hall of famer Biggs has been a part of the Aggie coaching staff for seventeen years. However, his impact on the Aggies dates back to the early 70s when he was the starting quarterback.
After playing in the Canadian Football League, the World Football League, and in the training camp of the Denver Broncos, he came back to coach the program in 1993 and has since taken this squad a long way.
During his seventeen years, the American Football Coaches Association has named him Coach of the Year twice (1993 and 2000), the Independent Football Alliance once (2002), and the Great West Conference once (2009).
Biggs has also seen four of his quarterbacks enter professional ranks, including Khari Jones (1991-1993), Canadian Football League MVP in 2001, Mark Grieb (1994-1996), Arena Bowl MVP for the San Jose Sabercats in 2007, and Kevin Daft (1996-1998), who was a fifth-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans in 1999. Additionally, J.T. O’Sullivan (1999-2001) was drafted in the sixth round by the New Orleans Saints in 2002 and is now a part of the Cincinnati Bengals.
8. How excited is the UC Davis fanbase over this game? Are there any special rituals by the UC Davis student community before gameday other than copious partying?
Grace: It’s exciting anytime you get the chance to play a team with the prestige and history of Cal. We’re probably most well-known for our student cheering section, the Aggie Pack. Its activities include launching tube socks and scantrons into the crowd at home games and it is purported to be the largest student-run spirit organization in the country. We’re a tight-knit community of fans and I’d expect to see more than a few white t-shirts in the crowd on Saturday.
Jason: I have a question for all you Cal fans. What university has the largest student run spirit organization? Is it the Gators of Florida. How about the wild crimson tide. Or the Cameron Crazies at Duke? The answer is D: UC Davis and the Aggie Pack. The Aggie Pack is the largest student run spirit organization for a university in the nation, so expect the Aggie Pack in full force. We're loud, obnoxious and love our Aggies.
The UC Davis fanbase extends much farther than the largest UC Campus. As sports editor, I've been getting emails all week about alumni and their connections to the game. One was Craig Austin, UC Davis class of 1980. He's only missed three Aggie home games since 1985. He has a friend who lives in Davis and graduated from Cal in 1971. Craig's licence plate says "GO AGGS" while the former Golden Bear's license plate says "CABEARS". Needless to say, the two won't be amigos come Saturday.
Another story I feel the need to share is the tale of, the Aggie starting quarterback for the infamous 1939 game. Anderson had the opportunity to go pro, but decided to fight for his nation in WWII. He later went on to be a tv host for KCRA and a judge for the Board of Equalization. But according to his grandaughter Allie Dixon, he never let go of the infamous 1939 grudge match. I quote Allie in an email-
"My grandfather led a very full and exciting life. The only grudge he ever held was against Cal for that 1939 game. I remember him talking about it when I was a kid some 60 years later. I have the program from the day. I have the reunion photo they took with Coach Hickey 50 years later. It was a huge deal. Davis was seen as the Ag school for Cal and the Aggie football team was seen as a bunch of farm boys who posed no threat. You can imagine how exciting it must have been to be on the field, winning, on their field no less. The extra time devastated those players. My grandfather could never understand why the Davis officials allowed that to happen. On the bright side, the sports writers wrote wonderful things about the team and everyone in Davis knew what the Davis boys had accomplished and they were treated like heroes back on the campus." Anderson's story shows how much UC Davis and Davis as a community wants to beat Berkeley. Needless to say, expect a loud visitor section at Memorial Stadium Sunday.
9. What do you think the final score will be?
Jason: Answering this question puts me in a pickle. I can channel my inner Aggie and say UC Davis will run the gauntlet and come our with a victory or I can channel my inner sports fan and make an educated prediction of the game. I will say this. The Aggies will surprise quite a few people. I've had my friends who go to Berkeley drop all kinds of insults about Davis. The best one I've heard is "Nah man...You don't rub in it when you beat UC Davis. That's like kicking a baby." I'm not going to go and talk trash about Berkeley because more than likely, the Bears will win this one. Cal is faster, stronger and bigger. But I will say this. The Aggie will make a game of it. They'll compete and execute all the way to the final whistle. UC Davis will open some eyes and make some of those obnoxious Berkeley fans squirm in there seats. Maybe in a few years, the two teams can meet up again and Davis can run the table and steal a victory. However, I don't see the Aggies getting lucky on Saturday.
Grace: We’re a team on the rise and hungry for victory: 14-12, UC Davis (like it was in 1939). Check out my preview of Saturday’s game in the Aggie to find out the real story from the last time our teams played over 70 years ago.
Thanks again to both Jason and Grace for taking the time out to talk to us.