September 04, 2006

Cal Collapses Under Weighty Expectations

If there were anything I learned during my time at UC Berkeley, a.k.a "Cal", it's to not get overly excited about the sports teams every year, for no matter their start, no matter the pre-season hype, they will always, always let you down. Whether it's a fourth-quarter fumble or interception, a missed field goal, or a significant injury to a key part of the team's offense, Cal fans have seen it all. Even in my ten-plus years of being a Cal junkie, I can surely give examples for each. As the 2006 college football season started off this past Saturday, Cal was ranked higher than I can ever recall previous to the season getting under way. Many publications had ranked the Golden Bears in the top ten in the country, and the team was favored in their quest to vanquish the also-Top 25 Tennessee Volunteers.

I could have told you how this was going to end before it started. (And I'm somewhat disappointed I didn't do it already)

As nearly everyone knows now, Cal stumbled to a 35-0 deficit after three quarters of football, and managed to put up some points against the Volunteers' second string, only to lose 35-18 when it was all said and done. In the big, bad world of college football, every game is critical, as teams threaten to go 11-0 or 12-0 every year, and the difference between being 10-1 and 9-2 can mean millions for the school in bowl appearances. But to set what are really an untested group of 20-22 year old kids with expectations that they are a top ten team in the land before they've even strapped on their cleats in competition is just plain silly. Sour grapes aside, it simply doesn't make sense to rank teams before the season is underway, especially as the rankings play such a huge part in the game itself.

Especially disappointing as a result of Cal's malaise is that this once again cements the beliefs of those that say the style of football played on the West coast, in the Pacific 10 conference, is somehow easier and less aggressive than that played on the "superior" East coast. ESPN, typically leading the way in its thick-headedness, claimed as much after the game's cheers faded.

From ESPN the Magazine's Bruce Feldman:

After seeing a Tennessee offense, which ranked 101st in the nation in scoring last season, post 35 points in a little more than two quarters, I doubt anyone will take Cal very seriously again for a very long time. Overreaction? Maybe. But I think if the Bears could knock off USC, they probably still would not get back into the top 15. And of course, this blowout has big-picture meaning. Whenever folks talk about the Pac-10 being soft, this Cal-Tennessee game will always come up first. It will live in infamy out here on the West Coast.

Had Cal somehow pulled off the improbable, and won, I might be singing a different tune, but the whole idea that teams are assigned rankings before a single game is played is as silly as declaring a presidential nominee the victor before a single ballot is cast. This even extends to the post-season award process, as for the first time in my memory, a Cal player is being promoted as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. Marshawn Lynch, a fantastic running back, even has a site dedicated to his Heisman legitimacy. It's like campaigning for MVP in Spring Training. Silly.

Saturday's game isn't going to make us give up our Cal season tickets. When they take on Minnesota next Saturday, we will be at Memorial Stadium, ready to yell "Go Bears!", if we can somehow shoe-horn it around our Saturday A's game. Life is rough when you're devoted to East Bay sports. If only they were as devoted to us, and could promise victory.

Listening to ''Live @ 2005-11-11'', by DJ Irish (Play Count: 2)

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