DeSean Jackson was so impressed with his team’s 45-10 dismantling of Texas A&M in last year’s Holiday Bowl he immediately predicted California would win the national championship this season.
If the Golden Bears are going to back up their junior receiver’s boasts, they will have to enter this season better prepared than they did the last one.
For the second consecutive season, Cal opens its season against Tennessee, and last year’s foray into SEC territory didn’t go too well. The Volunteers rolled to a 35-18 win and Cal’s margin for error was shot.
The result no doubt delighted Louisiana State coach Les Miles, who named Cal specifically when dissing Southern California’s conference schedule last month. The dig was an indicator of the ground still left to be covered — specifically, a BCS bowl appearance — in Cal’s turnaround under Jeff Tedford.
Tedford said the Bears won’t be looking to avenge last year’s defeat or shut up Miles when Tennessee comes calling in a few weeks. They’ll be looking to stay in the hunt for a national championship.
“Our motivation is to prepare to reach our full potential,” he said.
“We’re not going to be motivated by something coach Miles said. … We’re going to play our best to try to win our conference championship and a national championship.”
The offense should be of championship caliber with junior quarterback Nate Longshore, last year’s Pac-10 passing efficiency leader, spreading the ball around to Jackson and seniors Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan.
The defense could be another story.
Only five starters return from last season and the unit is particularly weak at defensive end and cornerback. The latter deficiency could be especially dangerous with so many experienced quarterbacks returning around the league.
Cal could start a freshman and a sophomore at its two corner spots.
“We have a lot of confidence in those guys,” Tedford said. “Even though they’re young, they’re talented.”
Overlooked in the Bears’ quick rebound under Tedford is that though they have won two out of every three games in his five seasons they still haven’t played in a BCS game.
Tedford denied the assertion the jump from the bottom of the Pac-10 to Top 20 status was easier than the jump from the Top 20 to the BCS.
“Nothing has really changed as far as our thought process,” he said.
“A lot of people think it’s easier to recruit than it was five years ago. The answer to that is no.
“When we started we were recruiting against some of the lower-level Pac-10 schools or Big West.
“Now it’s Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, Notre Dame — the top programs in the country.”
They’re not among that company yet, but if they live up to Jackson’s expectations for this season, they will be.
2006 record: 10-3, 7-2 in Pac-10
Head coach: Jeff Tedford (43-20 in five seasons)
Returning starters: 12 (seven offense, five defense)
Five guys to eye: WR-PR DeSean Jackson (Jr., 59 catches for 1,060 yards and 9 TDs), TE Craig Stevens (Sr.), C Alex Mack (Jr.), WR Lavelle Hawkins (Sr., 46 catches for 705 yards, 5 TDs), QB Nate Longshore (Jr., 227 of 377 for 3,021 yards, 24 TDs, 13 INTs)
Schedule: Sept. 1 vs. Tennessee, Sept. 8 at Colorado State, Sept. 15 vs. Louisiana Tech, Sept. 22 vs. Arizona, Sept. 29 at Oregon, Oct. 13 at Oregon State, Oct. 20 at UCLA, Oct. 27 at Arizona State, Nov. 3 vs. Washington State, Nov. 10 vs. Southern California, Nov. 17 at Washington, Dec. 1 at Stanford
Cal will succeed if: Longshore and his trio of top-flight receivers score points in bushels again this year.
Cal will fail if: The defense, with only five starters back and question marks at cornerback, yield bushels of points.