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2009 Cal Football: Hype vs. Reality

I know people are depressed with 72-6 the past two weeks, but despite the one-sided scores, there's much to be encouraged about. Like I said in yesterday's post, people seem to look at the final scores and see Cal getting destroyed in both games. I firmly disagree; the Bears adjusted and played miles better versus SC, especially along the lines. One big deficiency (quarterback) ended up submarining all of those hopes on Saturday, but it's a long season and easier opponents await. Don't forget that.

So now that the last two weeks have totally ripped away the gloss on our season, let's start separating the hype from the reality of our team. ESPN and the mainstream media did their dirty work early in the preseason, again falling in love with talented skill players without looking deep into the Bears and exploring weaknesses that only hardcore football enthusiasts delve into.

Now we'll get plenty of hype this week, only it'll be of the negative side. Just like the positive hype, most of it will be wrong.  Let's take a look at some aspects of it. Add your own hype vs. reality discussions of the Bears in the comments.

Hype: California was returning 17 starters, most in the Pac-10. Perception? The Bears have a deep, experienced, unit.

Reality: California was returning 17 players with starting experience. Okay, let's break this down, because none of us really analyzed this well, me included.

  • Our starting QB got the call in the first four games last season, was pulled in the fourth game, didn't return until late in the sixth game, was knocked out in the eighth game, came back in relief in the ninth game, then was out for the bowl game. To say that Kevin Riley had a "typical returning starter" experience short-sells the situation.
  • As for the offensive line, Chris Guarnero is a returning starter despite playing only a third of the season and playing at a different position than center; Justin Cheadle was playing out of position much of last season, as was Mitchell Schwartz. These shifts don't mean the experience they received is worthless, but there is something to playing the same position week. And of course Mike Tepper is the furthest thing from returning starter--he hasn't played competitive football in a year, and it's clear he isn't close to his 2007 form.
  • There's also the receiver roulette, where it's hard to say Verran Tucker and Nyan Boateng had anything close to typical starting years, especially considering one only emerged as the starter after Michael Calvin got injured, and the other kept on dropping catches both this season and last. It's hard to say our receiving corps is playing up to form.
  • Mike Mohamed did start most of last season, but his role is drastically different from last year. Although he's played okay, we might've gone overboard with our effusive praise for his abilities. The Prophet was clearly effective at being the most productive linebacker last season because he was the last resort guy. Stepping into Follett's shoes has not been easy for him; he does not have great rushing abilities on the edge and the coverage suffers without him back there. So he's been sort of switched back and forth between outside and inside the past two weeks, with little result.

Thus, the only starters with typical "starting" experience were Best, the defensive linemen, and the defensive backs. Maybe Mohamed and Riley. That's about eight to ten starts with strong, stable starting experience. 

Moreover, our losses were definitely crucial. Subtract our two best blockers from our offense, our best pass rusher from our defense, and half of our coverage players...and, well, we're going to have our woes. Hopefully the worst is over in that regard.

More examples after the jump. What are your thoughts on the hyped Bears versus the real Bears, both positive and negative?

I covered this yesterday, but I'll add it in here.

Hype: We have one of the most talented players in the country and we can go far if we ride him all the way.

Reality: He is only as good as the rest of our offense.

Jahvid has his weaknesses, there's no doubt--his pass protection and blitz pickup abilities need plenty of work. However, in terms of running ability, he needs his blockers to open gaps for him and a stable passing game that plays in tandem with his abilities. He got neither in Oregon and only average run blocking against the Trojans. And even if he had Alex Mack and Will Ta'ufo'ou, they too would have had their difficulties against eight to nine Trojans in the box in that first quarter when it was a relatively close one.

Besides, how can Best step up if his counterpart in the backfield steps down?

I should also note something about the malevolent influence of ESPN. When given so much to cover, they focus on what's  most likely to intrigue the entire nation--Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow's heart, Notre Dame, Tim Tebow's leadership, USC's daily drama, Tim Tebow's NFL Draft prospects... Their previews are painfully weak, usually looking back to last year's results for almost complete, blind guidance as to pick who will be back (and we see virtually the same teams that made last year's BCS getting picked again by the 'experts'!).

So obviously when Jahvid is our most prominent representative of the university, and he puts up almost a thousand yards of offense in the final four games of 2008...he's going to get pub. When he bursts for a 70 yard touchdown on Cal's first scoring drive or when he puts up all five scores in Minneapolis, it only gets worse.

This is a dangerous example of hyping a player to a level he cannot perform at, no matter the quality of the opponent. We always have to be prepared to lower our expectations in an age where media is dynamic in spinning messages that have no basis in reality (this is true in all worlds, entertainment, political or sports).  Be careful how much you buy into the ESPN hype machine. They spin nothing but misinformation and lies, especially in college sports, when they tend to know only the barest of what's going on.

Listen to fools and be prepared to get fooled.

Now we turn it around the other way and blow up dumb hype.


Hype (of the negative sort): Our players showed no fire and heart this weekend. Holmoe era teams showed better spirit.

Reality: Are you joking? Did you watch the game? After the opening touchdown Cal's defense had three red zone situations where they could've caved and let USC blow the doors off. They gave up three points on each possession and kept it within a three score game late into the fourth. They even gave us a turnover that led to the Bears only points. If that's not heart for a team that didn't really have a prayer of winning in the second half, I don't know what it is.

The offensive line tried their best against eight/nine man fronts when it was clear Riley wasn't going to have his best game, even getting that bizarro Wildcat formation going for a full drive and chugging something out of it. You could tell Jahvid was trying all he could playing against overstacked run defense. There was occasional chippiness late, including a brief trash talking session with a Trojan on the Bears sideline.

The feeling I get is that fans are looking at the players glum, downcast expressions on the TV,  and playing their best version of Dr. Melfi sans restraint.  The team happens to be losing the biggest game of the season. Do you want them all to be doing push-ups on the sidelines and headhunting Trojan receivers to get themselves going?

Our guys played hard all the way to the end. It just happened that the more talented and focused team won. In football that tends to happen.


Hype: Jeff Tedford's stoic sideline nature is the reason we're falling behind the rest of the Pac-10.

Reality: People who believe this are the reason Roe v. Wade should never be overturned.

I'm usually nice to bitter, tired Cal fans. I don't mind people who glumly predict Tedford won't get us to the next level, because, well, it's normal for fans to feel that way after disappointing defeats. Especially when it happens in games we could've won if things had gone right here and here and here...

But I'm not tolerating stupidity, and this particular aspect below truly riles me:

There is this popular, annoying theory that what we need is not better recruiting classes, or even better playcalling, or we need USC to go on probation. No, what we need is firebrand leadership.

On whether he should yell at the team

We need to work hard. I’m never going to scream and yell at the guys. I’m never going to do that. They don’t deserve that. They play hard. I get e-mails saying you should chew them out. I’m not going to do that. I’m going tom motivate them and we’re going to work hard to get better and create a positive environment to get some confidence going.

In other words, what some Cal fans want is Tedford to go off on Riley and rip him for bad passes. Which, you might remember he did, last year against Colorado St. before inserting Longshore for the rest of the 2nd half.  Moreover, they want Tedford going up to Best and ripping into him for not finding nonexistent holes, rip into Holley for not being Will Ta'ufo'ou, rip into the receivers for not catching uncatchable pases, rip into the defense for giving up 16 points through three quarters.

You know why? Because look at all the other 'great coaches' in the conference! Sarkisian RALLIED THE TROOPS and had everyone believing they can beat the mighty Trojans (it has carried onto the next two games, where the Huskies have won their next two by a combined total of negative 27 points). You've got Harbaugh getting mad and pissed at everyone, and clearly the Furd are a transcendent team. They beat UW, UCLA and Wazzu, who won a combined 6 games last year, by a combined 54 points. You've got Neuheisel chewing out Kevin Craft before sending him back out to the fire to throw another horrid interception. And of course you have Petie, who's a bigger cheerleader for his team than the Song Girls.

The solution, clearly, is to hire Rope Guy for Coach. He seems to get everyone fired up.



Look. We have no idea how Tedford handles his team behind closed doors. The pregame stuff is off-limits, and we know he's ripped into his team during halftime after unsatisfactory first half performances.  What does a coach ripping players in public accomplish other than to satisfy the libidos of idiot Cal fans?

Probably about the same as Pete Carroll at the Sanchez press conference: It makes you look like a dick.

Let's be thankful we don't have a coach who doesn't treat his players like shit when they decide not to return (see Aaron Rodgers his junior year, Marshawn and Desean after their junior campaigns, and probably the same for Best this season) and never, ever throws them under the bus. In the long-run, karma will pay us back for showing respect to someone who has put up with our and the media's slightly unreasonable expectations.

Unless the angry fringe Cal fans become the majority of Cal fans, that is. It's not a situation I'm interested in courting, so let's roar through the rest of the season to silence hype of all sorts, alright guys?