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Golden Nuggets: Beating Cal Appears to be the Key to Success in the Pac-12

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Ted Miller continues to run through his "Most Important Game" series, which is looking more and more like "Everyone's success is predicated on a victory against Cal." Today we have two more whose seasons will be made or broken after a trip to Memorial Stadium. As they are our two California rivals, let us hope we break their seasons with extreme prejudice. First up are the Lobsterbacks.

The visit to Cal feels important because it something more approximating a "must-win." Start with the fact that Stanford, Washington and California seem like a troika that falls together -- in that order -- below Oregon in the Pac-12 North Division pecking order. This could serve as a separation game for the Cardinal, which will have already visited Washington on Sept. 27. Stanford has dominated the Huskies lately, so a win over Cal may be enough to ensure at least a second place finish in the North -- with a puncher's shot still remaining in Autzen Stadium. So this is a rivalry game with significant North Division ramifications.

But it's even more than that. Stanford has won two Big Games in a row and played in two consecutive BCS bowl games. It has taken over the Bay Area after years of struggling versus Jeff Tedford and the Bears. Some Cal fans might try to write off the Cardinal surge as something produced by a serendipitous aligning of the college football planets. As in by the flash-across-the-sky tenures of charismatic former coach Jim Harbaugh and a once-in-a-generation quarterback. If Cal wins this game, it could claim exactly that with justification. "Ah, the Bay Area pecking order has been righted," Bears fans might say. "Stanford's reign of terror is at an end. Ad perpetuam memoriam! Or not. And ad victoriam!"

But wait, there's more! UCLA at Cal was tabbed as the Bruins' most important game.

Not counting Nebraska in Week 2 -- which falls under the category of we won't know much about the Bruins -- Cal is UCLA's toughest opponent in the first half of the season. And it's on the road.

Tevin McDonald had the game of his career last season with three interceptions in a 31-14 win over Cal, so there is some internal confidence that this is a winnable game. Plus the Bruins rushed for 294 yards on Cal. Don't expect those kinds of numbers again with Cal's talented defensive line. But if UCLA and new coach Jim Mora want to make a statement, this is the game to do it.

After the jump the Bears pick up a linebacker commitment and several teams shake up their coaching staffs.