The 35-18 gutting reinforced every stereotype about Pac-10 football: soft, too much finesse, pretty boys.
|Jeff Tedford's Bears will be ready to silence the constant questions from '06. (Getty Images)|
"I remember that five-hour plane ride home," linebacker Zack Follett said. "That's going to stick with you."
Cal gets the return game Saturday night with barely a visible scar. Total recall? Yes. But the shame factor is gone.
"No, not at all," said quarterback Nate Longshore who asked about lingering effects from arguably the worst game of his career.
"We're still getting asked about it. The sheer size of the stadium got to us. At the same time we had a great experience there. It was a pretty sweet stadium to play at. We learned a lot that game even though the outcome didn't go our way."
It seems another stereotype has emerged. These California kids really are laid back. Not sure, but there probably aren't too many SEC foes who have called Neyland Stadium "sweet."
|Dodd's Preseason Power Poll|
|2. West Virginia|
|6. Virginia Tech|
|15. Ohio State|
|19. Texas A&M|
|20. Boise State|
|22. South Carolina|
|24. Southern Miss|
The Bears rebounded from the humiliation to win 10 games and grab a share of the Pac-10 title. In the past five seasons, the only school to so much as share the top spot with USC was Washington State in 2002. (USC did beat Cal head-to-head last season, but the Trojans' losses at Oregon State and UCLA allowed the Bears to tie at 6-2 in the league.)
In terms of sexy, this season-opening weekend is somewhere between breakfast in bed with Joan Rivers and Joan Collins without makeup. Kind of blah. Tennessee-Cal is the only game featuring two ranked teams. Neither is in the top 10. Neither is projected to challenge for the national championship or even win its conference, but there are plenty of reasons to care.
• How will the teams react in this manhood game? Cal's was questioned last season in Knoxville. LSU's Les Miles made this more of a national game when he ripped the Pac-10 in the offseason. There's enough pressure on Tennessee already. A loss to a West Coast team it handled easily a year ago will not be taken well by Vol Nation.
• How will Erik Ainge's knee/finger hold up? The numbers suggest Tennessee's quarterback is about to become one of the school's best. Tennessee needs their quarterback locked and loaded. Torn knee cartilage was removed earlier this year. Monday, Ainge broke the pinky on his throwing hand (he'll still play). Throw in two injured tight ends and questions about the tailbacks and receivers and ... let's just say Mr. Ainge ought to get an armed escort into Memorial Stadium. Nothing else can go wrong.
• Can Cal really challenge USC this year? The Trojans come to Berkeley. A season-opening win over a ranked opponent would send a message. The Rose Bowl remains a nice consolation prize for the Bears if USC gets to New Orleans for the national championship game.
• Is this Jeff Tedford's best team at Cal? Receiver/returner DeSean Jackson is a Heisman candidate. Longshore is established and refined. The team is coming off a bowl romp over Texas A&M.
• Phil Fulmer turns 57 on Saturday. What better way to celebrate than blow out the Bears and the candles? Barbecue and sweet tea would be nice, but this is Berkeley. Might we suggest some sushi and green tea?
Scouting the nation
• Urban Meyer is a lot like his boss AD Jeremy Foley, a results-driven guy who doesn't have much room in his heart for sentiment. That's why kicker Joey Ijjas is, well, kicking in the season opener against Western Kentucky.
|WVU star Steve Slaton gets to start his assault on the Heisman. (US Presswire)|
You know what they say: Unless you have a reliable kicker, you can't win a national championship.
That's an inside joke at Florida. (Remind yourselves that Chris Hetland doesn't really work at Super Target now, but he kicked like it last season.)
Florida opens defense of its title with that reliable kicker, a new starting quarterback, nine new defensive starters and no slack from Meyer. Ijjas made six of six field goals in that job-clinching practice. Now he finds himself the man after handling only kickoff duties last year for Florida.
"It doesn't matter how good you are if you can't kick it under pressure," Ijjas told reporters.
• With the usual punching bags lined up for major powers, some significant yards could be gained by Heisman hopefuls.
Hawaii's Colt Brennan vs. Northern Colorado: Hawaii has punted a total of six times in the past seven games. That's against major-college competition. This is the Bears' first game against a I-A team in 21 years. Meanwhile, Northern Colorado had -- ahem -- punting issues last year, which means Brennan should get good field position and Mitch Cozad should get 20 years.
Slite (Slaton/White at West Virginia) vs. Western Michigan: There has to be some backsliding at Western Michigan. Broncos D-coordinator Steve Shafer was hired away from the nation's No. 11 defense for the same job at Stanford.
John David Booty vs. Idaho: Current USC defensive coordinator Nick Holt scheduled this game when he was the Vandals coach. Before it got him fired, he got out in time to coach what might be the nation's best defense.
DeSean Jackson vs. Tennessee: Me? I'd punt away from Cal's Jackson, especially with Tennessee punter Britton Colquitt nursing a pulled quad.
• Sam Bradford is only the 12th freshman to start at quarterback for Oklahoma (vs. North Texas). That list began with 22-year-old Darrell Royal who started against Nebraska in 1946.
• More Bradford: He is a certified member of the Cherokee tribe, in a state with the nation's most Native Americans (250,000). Great, great grandmother Susie Walkingstick would have been proud.
• You can count on one hand the number of Ole Miss offensive linemen who have been the subject of a best-selling book and had their life story optioned for a motion picture: 315-pound Michael Oher will reportedly start at left tackle -- The Blind Side -- Saturday at Memphis. "He's a nasty dude," Ole Miss offensive line coach Art Kehoe said. "He'd kick you in the head."
• If Arkansas defensive end Marcus Harrison was just not wearing a seatbelt last Friday, Houston Nutt would be laughing about his player's traffic stop. Hey, what's an unbuckled seat belt after what Nutt has been through? Then Harrison had to ruin it all by also speeding, driving with a restricted license, possessing ecstasy and the hippie lettuce. Allegedly. Senior Chris Wade will start for Team Trouble against Troy.
|Yes, it's the Big 12, Dan Hawkins, and you'll have to do better than two wins. (Getty Images)|
• If Colorado's Cody Hawkins loses in his first career start vs. Colorado State, it will be his first -- ever. Cody, the coach's son, is 59-0 since youth football.
• If dad loses, Dan Hawkins will suffer his 11th loss in 13 games at CU. That's how many games Hawkins lost in five years at Boise State (53-11).
• Could Gerry Faust do this?: North Texas' Todd Dodge goes into his first career college game as a head coach (vs. Oklahoma) with 10 commitments already for 2008. That's impressive because Dodge is making the move from high school at Southlake (Texas) Carroll. Dodge's presence has caused season-ticket revenue to increase 56 percent.
• You can stop holding your breath now: We apparently won't know Notre Dame's starting quarterback until he trots out for the first series against Georgia Tech Saturday afternoon.
• Florida State (at Clemson on Monday) has won 66 percent of its games the past five seasons (43-22). In the five seasons before that, FSU won more than 85 percent of its games (53-9).
• There has to be a portion of humankind that is looking more toward Sunday at Penn State than Saturday. Saturday marks a yawner of a season opener against Florida International. Sunday, the Nittany Lions take to the stands to become the biggest, brawniest stadium clean-up crew in college football. "Coach Paterno says do it, you go out there and do it. We'll work as if it's a practice," linebacker Dan Connor said of Paterno's mass punishment for off-field wrongdoing.
Best chances for upsets
|Willie Tuitama does have more experience, but will that translate into better results? (Getty Images)|
Troy over Arkansas: The setup is perfect. The Sun Belt comes to the SEC. No one gives the Trojans a chance at Fayetteville -- except the Trojans. They're coming off a 24-point bowl win and shared conference title. Quarterback Omar Haugabook was the Sun Belt player of the year. Eight starters are back on defense.
If you thought the fallout was bad from Nutt's cell phone records, stick around if Arkansas gets beat.
Arizona squeaking by BYU: Cougars are coming off an 11-win season with big roster losses while breaking in new quarterback Max Hall. Arizona's Mike Stoops hired Sonny Dykes to install the spread. The Wildcats will have a puncher's chance because they can finally score enough with experienced Willie Tuitama at quarterback.
Duke over Connecticut: UConn 2006 quarterback D.J. Hernandez has switched to receiver. The Huskies, 4-8 last season, start on the road. When you've lost 20 in a row like Duke, any victory -- even one against a low-level Big East squad -- will do.
Illinois over Missouri: Ask Bruce Weber how friendly St. Louis is to the Illini. Ron Zook has just enough young talent to make this interesting. Maybe more than interesting. Missouri can't stop the run. Illinois has a top-10 rushing attack.
Stanford over UCLA? We'll see if Harbaugh's makeover matches his mouth.
SMU over Texas Tech: The Mustangs were this close last season to getting to their first bowl since the death penalty. Playing at home with quarterback Justin Willis, they could knock off the Red Raiders.
Appalachian State shocking Michigan: Quick, call your co-workers over to your terminal to see what Dodd wrote ...
The defending I-AA champs will give the Wolverines all they can handle. The difference will be the fourth quarter when Michigan's 85 scholarships outlast Ap State's 63. I said best chance, not sure thing.
Now get back to work. The boss just came in.