Cal looks for answers after missing out on bowl
California began the season with a pair of blowout wins and high hopes. In very short order, it all came apart.
The offense sputtered, quarterback Kevin Riley suffered a season-ending knee injury and, ultimately, the Golden Bears missed out on a bowl game for the first time since ninth-year coach Jeff Tedford's initial season in 2002.
There's a lot of work to do, and Tedford plans to start right away. The program's first losing season since a 1-10 showing in 2001 doesn't sit very well - especially with three straight tough losses to end it.
''This is no doubt a disappointment,'' Tedford said. ''I have a great deal of pride in this program. I have a great deal of love for this program. ... This isn't acceptable to the coaches and this isn't acceptable to the players.''
Cal (5-7, 3-6 Pac-10) needed to beat Washington on Saturday to become bowl eligible, but instead watched the Huskies celebrate wildly after a game-winning touchdown as time expired lifted them to a 16-13 victory. Not the way the Bears wanted to leave in the last game played at historic Memorial Stadium before its facelift.
''Nobody wants to finish a season like this,'' receiver Marvin Jones said. ''There are going to be seasons where you don't do what you're expected to do. That's fine. But we seniors have to train hard in the offseason and come back and have a better season than we had this year.''
Making things worse, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour announced afterward that defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi was suspended for Saturday's game after admitting he instructed a player to fake an injury in a 15-13 defeat at No. 1 Oregon on Nov. 13.
Tedford said he plans to keep Lupoi on his staff, but it was yet more embarrassment on a second straight Saturday for a Cal team that got thoroughly outplayed in a 48-14 loss to rival Stanford in the Big Game a week earlier.
Tedford is ready to get things back on track.
''I'm not going to be happy about it. I won't be in a good mood the next couple of months,'' said Tedford, who will have a rare December without practices and preparation for a bowl game. ''It's not vacation time, it's work time.''
Junior Shane Vereen provided plenty of highlights in a career season. He ran for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns while moving up several Cal all-time lists. It's unclear whether he will return for his senior season or enter the NFL draft.
Either way, Cal will have its share of motivated returners.
That doesn't make it any easier on the departing players like senior linebacker Mike Mohamed. He had 14 tackles in his final game to finish the season with 95. Mohamed ends his Cal career ranked fourth on the school's all-time list with 340.
''Disappointed, angry that we couldn't do more,'' he said. ''Sad.''
Next season will mark a year of change for the Bears, who will play their home games across San Francisco Bay in the World Series champion Giants' ballpark while Memorial Stadium receives an extensive, $321 million renovation.
Junior Brock Mansion started the final four games at quarterback for Cal, but Tedford declared there would be an open competition for the job come spring ball. There will be other spots up for grabs, too.
''We haven't had a season like this, so there are a lot of things that need to improve,'' Tedford said.
In those first two games this fall, Cal scored 52 points in back-to-back weeks to beat UC Davis and Colorado at home. Then came losses at Nevada and at Arizona.
The Bears' run of eight straight winning seasons tied an 85-year-old school record set from 1918-25 under coach Andy Smith.
''I'm ready to put it all on my shoulders,'' junior safety Sean Cattouse said. ''I know there are a lot of guys who feel the same way.''