Even before this season started, any Cal fan could see that this two-week stretch of Cal's football schedule was likely the most daunting one the Bears would face this year. Two straight road games at Ohio State and at USC would be an unenviable task for anyone. For Jeff Tedford's California Golden Bears, who have gone a long time without a signature road win (take your pick between the 2009 Big Game or the 2007 Oregon game), this two-week stretch seemed to hold even more potential for the sort of disaster that could shake the confidence of a team (not to mention an already apoplectic fanbase).
Today, the Bears face the second half of the two-week gauntlet. For many a Cal, the first half of the gauntlet went better than expected. Cal represented itself (and the Pac-12) quite well in Columbus, Ohio, before losing a hard-fought 35-28 game to the Buckeyes. It was a game that Cal had every chance to win and maybe should have won. But despite 512 yards of total offense and a silly four-carry, 160-yard, 2 TD performance by sophomore running back Brendan Bigelow, Cal still finds itself 1-2 on the season heading into today's Pac-12 opener at USC. Perhaps unfortunately for the Bears, however, this week's part of the two-week gauntlet got a little bit tougher last week. With USC losing its Pac-12 opener at Stanford, 21-14, for the Trojans' fourth straight loss to the Cardinal, one can imagine that coach Lane Kiffin's team will come in a little bit more ornery than it may have otherwise been. (Heck, Coach Kiffin is so jacked up about getting back on track that he cut his press conference to 28 seconds!)
Cal is not only battling the Trojans, but is also battling the demons of recent history. The Bears have lost eight straight to USC, including a 48-14 thrashing two years ago in Cal's last trip to the L.A. Coliseum. In fact, you could say Cal has not even been competitive in a game against USC since 2008, when Cal stayed close until late in the fourth quarter of a 17-3 loss at the Coliseum. Throw in the fact that the Bears have not scored more than 17 points against USC since 2003 (Cal's last win in the series), and it's little wonder that there is still not a huge amount of optimism from Cal fans about this one.
But throw all that recent history and pessimism out the window. At least for today. Maybe there's a chance. Why? Because today is Cal's Pac-12 opener and the last time Cal opened its Pac-12 season against USC, something really good happened. That kind of karma has to mean something, amirite?
This is your official gameday thread for today's game. Use this post as your pregame thread as you warm up for the action. Watch for the first quarter thread here and in the comments as the kickoff draws near. Subsequent quarter threads will be posted in the individual quarter threads. If you get lost, mosey on back to this post: we'll post links to all the quarter threads and the postgame thread here.
More game info after the jump. GO BEARS!
Saturday, Sept. 22, 3:00 p.m. (PT)
Cal (1-2) at No. 12 USC (2-1)
Los Angeles Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
TV: Pac-12 Networks - Ted Robinson (Play-by-Play), Glenn Parker (Analyst), Ryan Nece (Reporter)
Cal Commercial Radio: KGO 810 AM (San Francisco) - Joe Starkey (Play-by-Play), Mike Pawlawski (Analyst, *Pregame Show), Todd McKim (Sideline, *Pregame Show), Lee Grosscup (^Postgame Show), Kate Scott (^Postgame Show) ^Postgame Show: Claremont Hotel Club & Spa, 41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley, CA
IMG College/Cal Radio Network Affiliates:*KFPT 790 AM (Fresno), KGO 810 AM (San Francisco), +KLAA 830 AM (Los Angeles), KRAK 910 AM (Los Angeles), KAHI 950 AM (Sacramento), KESP 970 AM (Modesto), KFIG 1430 AM (Fresno), XEPE 1700 AM (San Diego) ^Primary, *Secondary; +preempted by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim broadcast Saturday
All-Access Radio: The Cal commercial radio broadcast feed of the Golden Bears' game at USC can be heard on the Internet through the All-Access channel on CalBears.com. All-Access can be found under the Multimedia tab at the top of the page at CalBears.com.
National Radio: ESPN Radio - Rich Cellini (Play-by-Play), John Machovic (Analyst), Brett McMurphy (Sideline)
Cal Student Radio: KALX 90.7 FM, kalx.com (Berkeley) - Isaac Wolf (Play-by-Play), Josh Toyofuku (Analyst)
Sirius XM Satellite Radio: USC's commercial radio broadcast feed of the Cal-USC game can be heard on Sirius XM satellite radio on channel 93 on Sirius and channel 194 on XM.
CalBears.com: Visit CalBears.com for complete coverage of Cal football, including a live play-by-play update via Gametracker.
Oh, joy. Ted Robinson. Time to mute the sound, unless your personal facepalm/reward calculus dictates that the analysis and entertainment value of Glenn Parker outweighs the annoyance of Robinson. Totally up to you. There's no right answer here. To each his own.
Anyhoo, Cal will have to deal with a USC offense that was harried and hounded by a relentless Stanford defensive front last week. Stanford held USC to just 14 points and pressured USC QB Matt Barkley all night long. If you're an eternal optimist, you hope that our enemies from the Farm provided Cal's defense with the blueprint for slowing down and defeating the high-powered USC attack. But does the Bears' front seven have the ability to do what Stanford did? ManBearCal previewed the USC offense earlier this week and does not hold much optimism that Cal can do to Barkley what the Stanford defense did.
The bad news? They're still SC. They're still loaded with talented and athletic playmakers. They've still beaten us 8 years in a row...most of which have been neither close nor competitive. We have a suspect secondary, and they have two incredible wide receivers. We have yet to demonstrate an ability to consistently pressure the quarterback. Stanford may have provided the blueprint, but it will take an incredible effort and a soundly executed gameplan to duplicate what they did. Plus, the Trojans are probably pretty angry right now, and this game is in the Coliseum. The last time Cal won there? 2000.
I'm pleased that our team showed some real flashes last week in Columbus. It certainly would seem to speak to a positive trend and a renewed effort by the team and the staff to turn things around (what took them so long?). I'm all for that and excited about what it could mean for the program. If we were facing just about any conference foe BESIDES SC (and Oregon), I'd be feeling pretty good right now. But this is a really tall challenge, and I don't think the little bit of positive momentum that may have stemmed from last week's loss is gonna be enough to overcome the Trojans. We're not there yet, in my opinion. I sure would like to be wrong though. That's the story of my fandom recently. Maybe I'll just make that my new signature.
As for the Cal offense against the USC defense, perhaps there is some room for optimism for the Cal fan prone to optimism. The Bears moved the ball well against Ohio State last week and unveiled a new weapon in the running game: Bigelow. Will we see Bigelow get more touches this week? If so, will we see the same dynamic playmaking ability that we saw last week? Will we see quarterback Zach Maynard play as well today as he did last week in front of 100,000 hostile Ohioans on the road? If so, maybe there's a chance. norcalnick drew the same hopeful conclusion when he previewed the USC defense.
Even if USC gets surprisingly healthy between now and Saturday, Cal's offense should be capable of putting up yards and points. I see no reason to expect that USC's defense is better than, say, Ohio State's defense, and Cal moved the ball with relative ease in Columbus.
From the opposite perspective, Cal's offense just might be the best offense USC has faced so far this year. I'm quite confident Cal is more talented than Hawaii and Syracuse. And while Stanford has an offensive identity that is ultimately effective, without Andrew Luck there's a ceiling on how good they can be. Stepfan Taylor will get his yards and they'll complete some nice passes to the tight ends, but it's not an explosive, quick strike offense. They don't have a player like Keenan Allen, they don't have a running back like Brendan Bigelow, and Zach Maynard's QB rating is nearly 20 points higher than Josh Nunes.
In other words, no excuses. There are zero excuses for not scoring points. If Robert Woods goes nuts and Cal loses a shoot-out, fine. But if this team gets held to 17 points or less again . . . I don't know what I'll do. I'm worried it will be something rash. We know this team has talent. We know they're capable of executing. We know that USC's defense has been mediocre for more than a year now. I'm not asking for 45 points - I just want to see enough points that a win is a reasonable prospect. For the love of God, make it happen. 2003 was cool and all, but it's getting harder and harder to look back on it fondly because you can't help but think about how depressingly unique it is.
Speaking of 2003, what the heck. Here you go.
You're welcome. Hopefully, the Bears can go out and get another one against USC. For Cal fans, it's been long overdue.
Enjoy the game.