Cal Collapse & Other Lessons
For the first time since 2001 (and the first time ever in Jeff Tedford's reign as Cal's football coach), The Stanfurd Axe is returning to Palo Alto. And Cal's utter implosion since being on the brink of #1 in the nation two months ago came to a bitter end with today's 20-13 loss in The Big Game. All that's needed to put Cal out of its misery (and dissipate any hope of a Bowl bid) is for Arizona to overcome a 10-point deficit against #13 Arizona State in the final two minutes of that game. [Update at 23:44 EST: Arizona narrowed the gap to 3-points with 0:40 left, but ASU recovered the onside kick to secure the win. Looks like Cal will get an Armed Forces Bowl berth....]
In the spirit of Stewart Mandel at SI.com, I offer "Five Things We Learned This Weekend":
1. Cal lacks the discipline to be a great college football team. Way too many penalties (nine for 103 yards against Stanfurd), folding in "substandard" postseason games (e.g., the lackluster performance in the 2004 Holiday Bowl when they felt they deserved a Rose Bowl berth), and Jeff Tedford's "loyalty to a fault" (keeping underperforming Nate Longshore in the game too many times). Coach Tedford has brought a sense of pride to Cal football unseen since the storied Rose Bowl teams of the 1950s, but he has not yet figured how to motivate his team when their own unrealistic expectations are dashed.
2. Being ranked #2 stinks. The #2 ranked team has been upset seven (yes, 7!) times this season, including Pitt winning the 100th Backyard Brawl at West Virginia earlier today. Good teams should pray for a #3 ranking....
3. Official-initiated "instant replay reviews" are worthless wastes of time. It seldom changes the call on the field, even with apparent evidence to the contrary, due to the standard of "unambiguous" proof. To wit, Cal's final drive in today's Big Game showed an apparent incompletion (ruled an interception, and not overturned) -- followed by a Stanfurd sideline pass with the tip of the receiver's foot clearly on the sideline. Ditch the rule as written now, give it some credibility, then give the coaches more than their one challenge per game.
4. BCS is a mess. Why can't Hawai'i (the lone undefeated team in Division I football) play in the National Championship Game? Oh, yeah: "strength of schedule". Which, if applied to the NFL, means that nobody from the anemic AFC West would be allowed to play in the Super Bowl.
5. Parity is here to stay. Bottom line: there is a LOT of talent in college football today -- even without the megasalaries guys like Nick Saben can command. Add in better training methods and more complex play-calling, and you have a lot of depth in the college ranks.