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TGS 2012 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW...CAL GOLDEN BEARS
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet. com Editor


Well, we all know that Rome wasn’t built in day. Around Berkeley, they also know that Cal’s Memorial Stadium wasn’t rebuilt in a day, either. Or a decade, for that matter.

But, slow as progress has been on the long-discussed revamp of the Strawberry Canyon football facility, its new and improved version will finally be on display this fall. The debut comes on September 1 when the Golden Bears host the Nevada Wolf Pack for the 2012 opener.

It’s about time!

The overdue stadium upgrades were a key negotiation point for HC Jeff Tedford in contract extension discussions midway in the last decade. Tedford insisted upon facility improvements which would also include a state-of-the-art training center. At the time, Cal backers were petrified that Tedford, under whom the Golden Bear gridiron program had revived, might bolt if the school couldn’t meet his requests.

Ironically, now that the projects are nearing completion, many Cal supporters are probably not that bothered about the thought that Tedford might rather coach somewhere else. If anybody else remains interested in his services, that is. After deflecting attention from suitors that once included Notre Dame, the Washington Huskies, Chicago Bears, and San Francisco 49ers, Tedford’s phone has not been ringing nearly as often in recent years.

The reason? Although they have never descended to the levels the program reached under predecessor Tom Holmoe, the Golden Bears have slipped precipitously from their peak early in Tedford’s Berkeley tenure.

In recent years, Cal has disappeared into the middle of the Pac-10 mix; Tedford is 12-13 over the past two seasons. Since 2007, the Bears are a very so-so 36-28, a far cry from the high-water mark in the Tedford years, 2004, when Cal would rise as high as the fourth spot in the national polls.

The recent emergence down the Peninsula at hated Stanford, which has risen to heights that Tedford's program once promised, has further fueled the angst. Moreover, a Rose Bowl drought that now extends 54 years, back to when Joe Kapp led the Golden Bears to Pasadena in the 1958 season (where Iowa, behind star back and future Packer Bob Jeter, clobbered Berkeley 38-12...but who remembers the score, anyway?) has become such an annoyance to Cal fans that the subject triggers the sort of angry response in town that is normally reserved for Charles Krauthammer's segments on Fox News.

Still, given how much of a fuss Tedford made over the facilities earlier in his career, it is only fair to give him a chance to reap the benefits of the upgrades.

It’s too bad Tedford wasn’t coaching at Stanford, which undertook similar facility upgrades in recent years. The difference between Stanford and Cal, however, was that once they decided in Palo Alto to remodel their aging Stanford Stadium, they were able to immediately mobilize the project. Thanks in large part to influential alum John Arrilaga, the entire process took less than a year. Indeed, it took just over nine months to completely remodel Stanford Stadium. Now, the Cardinal prepares to play its seventh season in its new and fancy gridiron home.

Berkeley? It took the better part of a decade to get the renovations finished in Strawberry Canyon. Chalk it up to the differences between private and public enterprise, and how quickly the former can accomplish things as opposed to the latter.

Of course, the folks in Berkeley had to get around to upgrading Memorial Stadium sooner or later, or mother nature was going to take care of dismantling the facility by itself. The stadium was built on top of the Hayward Fault, which had been slowly pulling the structure apart. A 1998 seismic safety study gave the stadium a “poor” rating, meaning that the building represented an appreciable life hazard in an earthquake.

Whenever visiting the stadium, we always made sure to make quick use of the restroom facilities that were built underneath the stands and into the side of the hill. There was little overhead room, and the claustrophobic feel was not too much different than a coal mine in West Virginia. The restrooms, we reckoned, were the last place anyone would want to be at Memorial Stadium if a quake ever struck. We were Bob Hayes-quick, in and out, just in case.

The retrofit finally commenced in June of 2010, with an almost-complete demolition (save for the familiar facade) of the old facility begun after the 2010 football season, forcing Cal across the bay to San Francisco’s Candlestick Park and the Giants’ AT&T Park for home games last season.

The west side of the stadium and both end zones have been completely rebuilt. A surface rupture block has been placed in each end zone where the fault passes through the stadium; these blocks can move independently from the rest of the stadium and are built on top of three feet of sand and plastic sheets. Expansion joints will be placed between the surface rupture blocks and the rest of the stadium.

As summer progresses, the finishing touches are being put on the remodeled facility. Upon first glance, the new press box is particularly striking. There is still one phase to go that would add more modern amenities to the east side of the stadium, including a new concourse, restrooms, and vending areas, but that portion of the project, essentially the gingerbread of the remodel, has been delayed.

No matter, the stadium had finally undergone its most-urgently needed upgrades. Now, we can use the restrooms when we next return to Strawberry Canyon and feel safe about it. There is still nowhere to park near the stadium, but that’s part of the charm of the Cal campus on an autumn afternoon. A walk up the hill from main campus is enough to get even the handful of radicals remaining in town to get in the college football mood.

Now, what about Tedford’s prospects to revive the recently-moribund Bears...and his prospects for lasting into the future?

Curiously, Cal’s descent since the heady early days of the Tedford regime has mostly involved inconsistent play at QB, which once seemed about as unlikely with Tedford in Berkeley as Pat Buchanan delivering the commencement address on campus. But after Tedford turned Kyle Boller into a first-round NFL draft pick (which no doubt helped Boller eventually land Miss USA Carrie Prejean as his wife...let's see a Stanford guy top that!) and molded Aaron Rodgers into a first-rounder as well, the Bears have had one flop after another at QB for the past seven seasons.

There is hope that things might improve this fall, however, as former Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard (left) embarks upon his second year as a starter. The senior southpaw was mostly erratic in his Berekey debut, although his performance pattern did improve down the stretch last fall when he cut down on his interception rate and began to rely more upon a burgeoning infantry diversion. After throwing eight picks in his first eight games last season, Maynard tossed just one over his last four games and finished the season with almost 3000 passing yards.

Strong-armed and ballyhooed frosh recruit Zach Kline, a product of nearby Danville and rated by Rivals.com as the No. 2 pro-style QB prospect in the most-recent prep class, arrived on campus in time for spring practice but is unlikely to see action this fall, almost sure to redshirt. Tedford at least knows he has his QB of the future on campus...now, can Tedford stick around long enough to coach him?

Maynard will likely to continue to play off of the ground game that surged in the last half of 2011 and made it much easier to sell play-action. Lightning-like sr. RB Isi Sofele (right) bolted for a whopping 1322 rush yards a year ago and was complemented effectively late in the season by big back C.J. Anderson, who provides a nice change-of-pace and even took a swing pass 74 yards for a TD in a late-season win at Arizona State.

Tedford, however, has some gaps to fill on the left side of his offensive line that saw tackle Mitchell Schwartz depart for the NFL, where he was an early-round draftee of the Cleveland Browns. Senior C Dominic Galas has also moved to the RG position.

Making sure the line is shored up properly will be important for Maynard to give him time to locate half-brother WR Keenan Allen (shown left at Colorado last September), one of the nation’s elite wideouts who caught 98 passes for 1343 yards a year ago. True frosh wideout Bryce Treggs, a five-star prep from the southern part of the state and St. John Bosco High in Bellflower (once known as the hometown of the boxing Quarry brothers, Jerry and Mike), was regarded as the West’s top prep wideout last year and could slide into a spot opposite Allen, although Treggs won’t participate in drills until arriving for fall camp.

Cal scored enough points to fare a bit better than 7-6 a year ago; what it didn’t do particularly well was stop teams from scoring. The Bears’ impressive 25th ranking in total defense last fall deceives slightly because Cal also allowed 30 points or more to seven different teams. And that was with a stop unit that featured three talents who were drafted by the NFL, including second-round LB Mychal Kendricks.

In all, the Bears must replace seven starters on d.c. Clancy Pendergast’s platoon, which transitioned to a 3-4 upon his arrival in 2010 and will be deployed in similar alignments this fall.

It’s in the secondary, however, where Pendergast could be looking for the most help. Although starting CBs sr. Marc Anthony (right, intercepting a pass last November at Arizona State; now playing football after being dumped by J-Lo?) and Steve Williams return, there are questions about Anthony’s status after sitting out spring practice while rehabbing a recurring shoulder injury. Another well-regarded CB, Stefan McClure, is iffy for the fall after undergoing ACL and MCL surgeries last November. And the Bears must replace both starting safeties after the departures of Sean Cattouse and D.J. Campbell.

There was also a near-mutiny in the offseason when popular DL coach Tosh Lupoi decided to jump ship and enlist with Steve Sarkisian’s Washington staff instead. The adjustment to new DL coach Josh Howard went slowly in the spring.

Many Pac-12 sources, however, still believe the DL could be the strength of the platoon, so high do they rate the talents of DEs Deandre Coleman (left, being held by USC lineman in a 2010 game) and Mustafa Jalil, who get their cracks in the starting lineup this fall after emerging as terrors in spring work. Similarly, there are high hopes for the LB crew despite the return of only one starter, jr. OLB Dan Camporeale. But RS soph David Wilkerson flashed plenty of upside as a frosh and even earned the start in Holiday Bowl vs. Texas. After campaigning mostly at an OLB spot as a frosh, he’s expected to move inside this fall and take the place of the playmaking Kendricks.

Tedford also has some readjusting to do with his kicking game, which lost significant and established weapons when both P Bryan Anger (a third-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, an especially-high pick for a punter) and PK Giorgio Tavecchio graduated after 2011.

The Bears have a chance to get off to a quick start, hosting Nevada (in a revenge game for a blowout loss at Reno two years ago) and Southern Utah as the new-look Memorial Stadium debuts. But Cal had better hit the ground running with games at Ohio State and Southern Cal (which has beaten the Bears like a drum in recent years, winning eight straight since Tedford's most-memoriable Cal win in 2003, the last three Trojan wins by a 108-26 aggregate) next in the queue, Curiously, the annual "Big Game" vs. Stanford has been moved to midseason (October 20 in Berkeley) after being at the end of the regular-season slate for the last century.

Tedford's Cal treams have also been mostly overrated by oddsmakers since that big 2004 campaign; the Bears are sub-.500 vs. the number (41-50) since late in the 2004 season. Even Tedford's once-solid underdog mark has downgraded significantly, as Cal is only 7-12 as the "short" since '05.

Summary...Cal backers are legitimately worried that the Bears have already hit their peak under Tedford, who is starting to feel pressure to get the Berkeley bunch back into contending status in the Pac-12, and soon. There are enough skill-posiition weapons on offense to suggest the Bears have a chance to make a move this season, but Maynard hardly appears the second coming of Aaron Rodgers, and Tedford's once-sterling rep as a QB guru has lost much of its gloss. Cal probably does enough to get back to a minor bowl, but legit questions fegarding the rebuilt defense suggest that's about as far as the Bears get in 2012. Whether a 6 or 7-win season gets Tedford another chance remains to be seen.


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