High Expectations a New Feeling at Cal
Aug. 16, 2004
BERKELEY - By JOSH DUBOW
AP Sports Writer
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - A short walk around the California campus thissummer was all Geoff McArthur needed as proof of how much Golden Bears footballhas changed since his freshman year.
A program that won only one game in 2001 and has the longest Rose Bowldrought of any Big Ten or Pac-10 team is finally getting noticed at a schoolmore known for its protests than its passing.
'People come up to us and tell us where we're ranked and how good we'resupposed to be,' said McArthur, Cal's star receiver. 'It's like we're at anational level now. It's crazy. Some of the new guys think it's always beenlike this. Hopefully we can keep it up because it can easily go back the otherway.'
After two years of exceeding expectations under coach Jeff Tedford, theBears would be successful if they could just meet them this season. Cal wasranked 13th in the preseason poll, its highest preseason ranking and best atany time since finishing the 1991 season at No. 8.
That has Cal fans talking about the possibility of making the Rose Bowl forthe first time since Joe Kapp led the Bears there after the 1958 season. Boy,what a difference from the 1-10 team Tedford took over.
Instead of convincing his players that they actually can compete, Tedford'sjob this season is making sure the preseason publicity doesn't go to theirheads.
'It's not what people are expecting of them. It's what they expect ofthemselves. That's the key,' said Tedford, who went 15-11 his first two years.'If we go into this thing worried about what people think about us or whatpeople expect of us, that's a tough thing to be under all the time. What weexpect from each other on a day to day basis, that does matter.'
There's plenty of reason for optimism for a team that's looking to puttogether three straight winning seasons for the first time since 1950-52.
The Bears feature a high-powered offense that averaged 40.6 points per gameduring a 5-1 stretch to end last season. They return an electric passing duo,with McArthur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
McArthur caught 85 passes for 1,504 yards and 10 touchdowns last season andranked second in the nation to No. 3 overall NFL draft pick Larry Fitzgeraldwith 107.4 yards receiving per game.
McArthur will benefit from Rodgers' experience. The junior college transferwas inconsistent last season despite passing for 2,903 yards and 19 touchdowns.Another year in Tedford's quarterback-tailored system should help Rodgers showthe improvement he needs for Cal to contend with No. 1 Southern California inthe Pac-10.
'He really showed a lot of progress by the end of last year,' Tedfordsaid. 'His confidence level was evident. He really looked like he had commandof the offense.'
Rodgers' inconsistency showed in the Bears' biggest game last season, a34-31 triple-overtime win over eventual national champion USC. Rodgers led Calto a 21-7 lead in the first half but was pulled in the third quarter after hethrew an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
The Bears also had an up-and-down season, following up the win against theTrojans with losses to Oregon State and UCLA. They also lost to Utah andColorado State but beat Virginia Tech 52-49 in the Insight Bowl.
'Beating USC was a really good feeling, but those six other losses bringyou down a bit,' said defensive back Ryan Gutierrez, who anchors an improvedsecondary with All-Pac-10 selection Donnie McCleskey. 'We feel like we canplay with anybody. We feel like this year we'll be able to get over the humpand not finish with those six losses.'
For the Bears to achieve their goal of a conference title, they once againwill have to deal with USC - this time on the road. But before meeting theTrojans on Oct. 9, Cal has a difficult early stretch to navigate.
Four of the first five games are on the road, including trips to Air Forceand Southern Mississippi and the Pac-10 opener at Oregon State the week beforethe showdown in Los Angeles.
'We have to take care of business before USC or we could lose our chance toachieve our goals. We need to be totally focused,' Rodgers said. 'We need tobe more consistent and eliminate some of the highs and lows we had last year.We can't play down to the level of our opponent like we did sometimes lastyear. We need to play like we did against USC and in the bowl game everyweek.'
If the Bears do, even more positive publicity should follow.
'You want to be noticed and you want to be recognized,' Gutierrez said.'It's a nice feeling but at the same time we have a lot of work to do.'