Well, as disappointing and frustrating as Saturday’s loss was, the season goes on, and there’s still plenty to play for. The Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl berth are still very much on the table, and a National Championship Game berth is still possible, although now we’re going to need a good bit of help. However, as we’ve already seen this year, there doesn’t appear to be any team that is upset-proof, so winning out and hoping for everyone else to lose is still a viable strategy.
I don’t blame Kevin Riley for Saturday’s loss; in fact, I thought he played quite well under the circumstances, and I’m definitely excited that he’ll be our quarterback once Longshore leaves. Did he make some mistakes? Sure. Would we have won with Longshore under center? I don’t know. Why do I even bring this up? Well, I’d like to point out an entry in Stewart Mandel’s blog; I’m sure it doesn’t represent the feelings of everyone who saw the game, but I’ll bet a lot of voters feel the same way.
Out of all the latest, seemingly inexplicable developments, the one most easily explained is Cal. It’s pretty simple, really: They didn’t have Nate Longshore.
Not only was the Bears’ offense less explosive without its veteran
quarterback (DeSean Jackson: four catches for 4 yards), but Longshore’s replacement, Kevin Riley, was directly responsible for the ultimate, final straw. One could only cringe in agony for the redshirt freshman when, after doing nearly everything in his power to rally Cal from a 10-point deficit in the last three minutes — first by throwing a 64-yard touchdown to LaVelle Hawkins, then by driving the Bears from their own 5 all the way to the Oregon State 12 — he made the crucial mistake of taking off running on a first down with 14 seconds left. Cal had no timeouts remaining, so when Oregon State brought him down well short of the first down, the clock ran out before the Bears could get the kicker onto the field to attempt a game-tying field goal.
I can’t think of a much more painful way to lose — especially with the school’s first No. 1 ranking in 56 years there for the taking.
Whether Riley vs. Longshore was the difference in the game is not really important. However, if pollsters think that that’s why Cal lost, and if Longshore comes back and Cal starts running off some dominant victories, voters are going to be more likely to give Cal a pass for losing the one game they played without their starting quarterback. It might not be fair (to Riley) or even accurate, but when has the BCS ever claimed to embody fairness or accuracy?
Anyway, while you all were out getting drunk and trying to forget what had just happened, here’s what you missed around the rest of the Pac-10:
- Arizona took a 13-10 lead into the 4th quarter at USC before Joe McKnight decided to show why he was the #1 recruit in the country last year, busting out a 45-yard punt return and a 59-yard run to set up USC’s final 10 points as the Trojans escaped with a 20-13 victory. Honestly, until the last 5 minutes or so, I thought the Wildcats had ‘em, but they just couldn’t hang on. Right now, USC’s name is more imposing than their actual team, and I can’t see how this team doesn’t lose another game or two down the Pac-10 stretch.
- Oregon bounced back from their loss to Cal to absolutely bomb Washington State, 53-7, and it could have been uglier, as this game was 40-0 at the half. Still, Oregon’s relief at getting back in the win column has to be tempered by the loss of both receiver Cameron Colvin and running back Jeremiah Johnson to injuries; both might be lost for the season. I still think this team takes it to USC in two weeks.
- Arizona State once again got down early, this week to Washington, before reeling off a 31-3 second half. And this was without their leading running back, Ryan Torain, who left with a bad sprain in the 1st half. Having run their record to 7-0 against a cupcake filled schedule, the Sun Devils now get a week off to rest and prepare to host Cal in two weeks. Meanwhile, anyone remember earlier this year, after Washington destroyed Syracuse on the road and ended Boise State’s winning streak, and they were 2-0, filled with optimism, getting top 25 poll votes and ready to take on Ohio State? Yeah, that’s now 4 straight losses for the Huskies, and Ty Willingham is going to need to do a heck of a coaching job to hold this young team together through what is widely considered the toughest schedule in the nation.
- Finally, Stanford went out of conference to host TCU and nearly had themselves a second straight victory. Alas, ’twas not to be. They led nearly the entire game before the Horned Frogs’ second touchdown of the 4th quarter put them ahead for good. It’s baby steps for the Cardinal right now, but I can say one thing: there’s a lot of fight in this marginally talented team, and for that, credit has to go to Jim Harbaugh.
As you can see, Cal is no longer in first place in the Pac-10, but given that their one loss was to an Oregon State team who already has a pair of conference losses, they still control their own conference destiny. Win out, and the worse they can do is the Rose Bowl. Also controlling their own destiny: Arizona State, UCLA, and USC. Notably needing help is Oregon, who, with the loss to Cal, needs to win out and have the Bears lose again this year.
If you’ve checked out the first BCS standings of the year, you may have noticed that although Cal remained in the top 10 of both polls, they only place 12th in the initial BCS calculations, mostly because Cal has a rather poor computer average. Why are impartial, fact-based computers not showing California the love? Well, if you’re looking to assign blame (and among Cal fans, who isn’t looking to assign a little blame right now), our non-conference schedule would be a good place to start.
While Tennessee is playing pretty well, winning at Mississippi State this past weekend 33-21 (and the computers don’t know how awful that 59-20 loss at Florida was, as they are not allowed to consider margin of victory), our other non-conference opponents have been disappointing, to say the least. Louisiana Tech finally got a win over a I-A opponent on Saturday, edging New Mexico State at home 22-21, but they’re still only 2-4. Meanwhile, Colorado continued its dismal season in falling to Air Force 45-21, which extended their school-record losing streak to 13 games. Next week’s visit to 2-5 UNLV might be their best shot at a victory, at least until they get I-AA Georgia Southern at home in November. It’s been a tough run for CSU, especially considering that they were beating Colorado in the season opener until a last-second field goal sent the game to overtime (the same Colorado team that has been the only one to knock off Oklahoma this year), and were an onside-kick recovery away from possibly knocking off our Bears.