With Pac-10 media day now in the books, it's time to start looking toward training camp and the actual 2010 season, which will likely be one of the more wide-open races in the recent history of the conference. We certainly know a lot of the ins-and-outs of the USC roster, but how much do we know about our Pac-10 counterparts? To shore up any gaps in our knowledge, we'll be running a 9-part interview series with many of the best team-specific Pac-10 blogs on the web. For part three, here's a Q&A with Kodiak and atomsareenough of SB Nation's California Golden Blogs for some info on the Cal Bears:
Q: I have to ask, but honestly, what the hell happened against USC last year?
Kodiak: Total facepalm. Although Tedford teams usually play 'SC fairly even with inferior talent, the wheels just came off last year. Riley lost his confidence after Mays picked him off in the endzone. With him rattled and inaccurate, it was easy to just stack the box against Jahvid. It's pretty sad when you have to run the Wildcat on every play because your QB can't even hit a wide open RB on the sideline. On defense, it was a pattern we suffered through all year. Inexperienced LB's + poor safety play + inconsistent play at one corner = the worst pass defense we've seen under Tedford/Gregory. The most disappointing thing for me is that the guys let themselves get beaten in addition to losing the game. Even under the hapless Ayoob-led team, I don't think I've seen the Bears look so overmatched, outcoached, and just mentally broken.
Q: Kevin Riley has seemingly been at Cal for the past decade. What are the chances he puts a really memorable senior season together?
Kodiak: Surprisingly, I think there's a good chance he's going to be pretty good this year. Our o-line should be much stronger this year. We have several returning starters, experienced depth, and some might argue that our only losses were addition by subtraction. He has a solid WR in Jones, an upcoming star TE in Miller, and a great running game. If any of the newcomers or returners step up to provide another threat at WR, then he simply doesn't have any excuses. Reports out of spring were that he routinely was really working hard on his fundamentals, often staying after practice to put in extra time. This will be his 2nd year with the same offensive coordinator and same o-line coach. If he's ever going to get it, this sure as heck has got to be the year.
Q: The loss of Jahvid Best certainly hurts, but Shane Vereen actually led the team in carriers and yards gained last season. How confident are you all in his ability to be a feature back? After all, he's a pretty small dude.
Kodiak: Absolutely 100% confident. You know how McKnight got a lot of press, but many people thought Johnson was the better overall back? It wasn't an exaggeration when Tedford relied to Best and Vereen as 1a and 1b. Vereen may not have the pure speed and game-breaking ability as Best, but he has better vision and balance. Best would give you a few 1-2 yard gains and then rip off a long one. Vereen's style is patient and balanced; he's always leaning forward and keeps the offense in manageable downs by consistently getting 4-5 yards. He also has the speed to take it to the house and is dangerous as a receiver.
Atomsareenough: Very confident. Vereen is about as solid all-around as a back can come, I think. He's tough and fast, shifty and strong. Most importantly, I feel like we have 3 quality backs behind him in Sofele, Deboskie-Johnson, and Yarnway, so I don't think we will have to depend on him to carry the entire load.
Q: How cool is Mike Mohamed's name, and with him back, how good is the defense going to be?
Kodiak: The Prophet will live forever in Cal lore after picking off Luck last year to seal a Big Game victory. Still, we have no idea how good the defense is going to be. It's a new coordinator and with a new philosophy and different schemes. All we know about Clancy is that he has a cool name, wants to be more aggressive, and runs a hybrid 3-4. His past history says that he's not above switching it up to a 4-3 if personnel or down/distance dictates it. He's supposed to be good at improving a pass defense which is great considering we couldn't stop anyone through the air last year without tricking them into a double pass. I would suspect that we're going to look better, but not necessarily be better. It's hard to lose your best D-lineman and CB with no proven stars ready to step up. We're going to make more big plays, but will also give up more because of the emphasis on aggression.
Q: Tedford admitted during Pac-10 media day that 2nd place finishes aren't satisfactory anymore. How much pressure is there for Tedford to win now?
Atomsareenough: There's a lot of pressure in a general sense, but I don't think Cal fans seriously expect to win THIS YEAR. Everyone senses an opportunity with USC in the penalty box, but I think Cal fans are realistic that this year is probably not going to be the one where we finally get back to the Rose Bowl. With the talented recruits we have coming in though, some of us are hoping we can make that leap to the top of the heap within the next couple of years.
Kodiak: I don't know that 2nd place finishes have been satisfactory for a while now. Tedford has been here long enough to spoil us. Still, I don't get the sense that there's any pressure on Tedford in terms of being on the hot seat. Replacing Gregory and Alamar has bought him some PR capital. Also, I think many of us realize that although we can nitpick or second-guess, he's still the best thing that's happened to Cal football in over a decade. We epically stunk before he arrived. There's a resigned sense that Riley may or may not be the guy we need, so we're just going to do the best we can. Once the upgraded facilities and the stadium renovation are complete, and the highly-regarded recruiting classes mature, I think the expectations will be raised.
Q: The preseason media poll pegged Cal 7th. Too low? How do you see 2010 playing out?
Atomsareenough: We feel like we're probably better than that, and we're hopeful that we can finish the season higher than that. But on the other hand, I think most of us would acknowledge that a 7th-place preseason ranking isn't exactly unfair. In light of our inconsistent performances over the last few years, it's not hard to figure out why we're not being given the benefit of the doubt this time around. It's a bit like the boy who cried wolf. Eventually you're gonna need to see the damn thing in the flesh in order to believe it's for real.
Kodiak: Well, we've underachieved the last few times we've been rated higher and definitely stunk last year...so I think the rating is fair. Quite frankly, besides picking 'sc at #1, all the other spots have been a crapshoot of guessing by the media for the past decade. So, maybe this year will be our turn to come out of nowhere. At first glance, I think #7 is too low...But I think you could group the #3-7 teams fairly interchangeably. There is plenty of parity in the league and everyone has question marks. For us, it comes down to the o-line. Improved protection lets Riley fulfill his potential and opens up our running game. If our defense and special teams improve from mediocre to average, that would be considered a win in and of itself. The bluest glasses show me that we actually have a shot at contending, but a lot of things have to fall just right. What's more realistic is a finish around #4-5 in the conference. We'll win a game or two that we shouldn't, and lose at least one heartbreaker.