Week 1 vs. Northwestern: Success!
Week 2 vs. Portland State: History diversion!
Week 3 vs. Ohio State: Success!
So far, the up-tempo Bear Raid has been quite successful running up points and yards despite bouts of inefficiency, and as a result Cal has set a program record for most points scored against Ohio State and Northwestern. But it gets harder now. The Pac-12 season has begun, and now the Bears will be continuing series that, in some cases, have gone on for more than 100 years. That means that past teams have had many opportunities to run up high scores that will be very, very difficult to best.
Spoiler alert: Cal's program record for most points scored against Oregon is the lowest total against any of the original Pac-10 teams. Which, when you think about it, is pretty surprising. A long string of competence under Mike Bellotti and a recent streak of dominance under Chip Kelly disguises the fact that, for a long time, Oregon was as mediocre as our Bears. Perhaps, for whatever reason, Oregon's worst seasons rarely matched up against Cal when the Bears had an above average offense. In any case, the Bears set the record with a 48-16 win in Autzen against the Ducks in 1977.
The game, and that team, haven't especially lived long in the memories of Cal fans. The blowout win over the Ducks was sandwiched between bad defeats to Washington and Stanford, and there weren't any stars on the '77 squad that made a lasting impression. A two quarterback system of Charlie Young and Gary Graumann was reasonably successful, but didn't light up the scoreboard the way the Joe Roth led Bears did a few years earlier.
What was special about 1977 for the Bears? Well, it was the first year after Joe Roth's passing. Cal finished a respectable 8-3, but a mediocre 4-3 in the final year of the Pac-8. The season resulted in the end of the Mike White era, in part due to allegations of recruiting impropriety. It does seems like a pretty great year in the context of what was to come under Roger Theder and Joe Kapp, but that's just hindsight.
So, if Cal wasn't a special team, how did they score 48 points on the Ducks? Probably because the late 70s was the absolute nadir of Oregon football. Under head coach Don Read, the Ducks set numerous school records for futility, and Mike White's Bears had already enjoyed a few blowout wins over Oregon before Read was show the door. 1977 saw the introduction of Rich Brooks, who would eventually turn things around after about a decade of more mediocre-to-awful football. Even if Cal wasn't great in 1977, they faced a barren program with a brand new head coach. Almost makes one feel nostalgic for the dark days of the late 70s/early 80s, no?
The '77 Ducks finished just 2-9, and the 48 points Cal scored didn't even finish in the top three for most points allowed in a game by Oregon on the season. Washington, Washington State and LSU all ran up more than 50 points against a defense rather more pliant than what the Bears will face on Saturday night.
Since then, Cal has come close to breaking the record. A 45-7 blowout in 1991. A 45-24 romp in 2006. But the Bears haven't been able to get over that 48 point boundary. Can Sonny do it?
Can Sonny Dykes break the record?
In some ways, this is the most attainable single game scoring record against conference opponents. As mentioned above, it's the lowest total against original Pac-10 opponents, and Oregon shares Cal's penchant for warp speed football, so opportunities to score will be abundant. If Cal could find a way to score seven touchdowns, that would do it. Is that so far-fetched in a game where each team is likely to get at least 12 or 13 possessions? If Cal managed six scoring drives against Ohio State, why not seven against Oregon? Sure, it would take perfect red zone efficiency, but weirder things have happened, right?
The problem, of course, is that Oregon's defense is good. Probably better than Ohio State's. Mounting seven scoring drives would be a tremendous level of success, let alone seven touchdown drives. The template here would be akin to last year's Oregon/USC game, when the Trojans managed to score 51. But as much as I love Jared Goff, Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs, they aren't Matt Barkley, Marquise Lee and Robert Woods . . . yet. Give ‘em another year or two. A man can dream.
The other factor in favor of breaking this record, either this year or in the near future, is the need to run up the score. If you're winning 42-13 in the early 4th quarter, it's time to bring in the back-ups and call off the dogs. But the idea of having a lead that is safe against Oregon sounds rather silly, doesn't it?
For at least the next few years, this is the simple reality against the Ducks: To win the game, the Bears must almost certainly threaten to break their record for most points against Oregon. Best of luck, Sonny!