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Timing is everything

It seems like the stars are aligning for Cal. First, there was the convergence of events Saturday: The Bears’ win over Oregon combined with the upset losses by Oklahoma and Florida. Throw in West Virginia’s loss on Friday, and the Bears suddenly leapt to the forefront of college football (or even more than they already were).

And now this: a bye week. Consider the Bears have gotten to this point despite being less than healthy. Granted, most teams can claim key injuries, but the bottom line is when Cal plays its next game on Oct. 13 against Oregon State, it should see the return of linebacker Zack Follett, defensive end Rulon Davis, fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou and kicker Tom Schneider. Simply put, the bye week comes at a perfect time for the Bears.

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Leftovers

Here are some leftover notes from the Oregon game:

–Much has been made about Cal’s quick-strike offense this season. Well, the scoring drive that ended up as a field goal in the second quarter took 5:34, the longest drive of the season.
–Wide receiver Robert Jordan is closing in on the school record for catches in consecutive games. It’s now up to 35, one short of the all-time mark.
–Wide receiver DeSean Jackson moved into the top 10 on Cal’s all-time list for career receptions with 125 and quarterback Nate Longshore broke into the top 10 on the Bears’ career touchdown passes list with 31…
–Running back Justin Forsett has scored a touchdown in six straight games, dating back to last season’s Holiday Bowl.

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Rankings perspective

It’s only three spots in the rankings, but No. 3 seems to have much more of an impact than No. 6. I guess it’s because the Bears now are on the doorstep of No. 1, and the implications that go along with that. National coverage of the team will only get stronger now, especially if Cal keeps winning as it leads up to its showdown with USC.

This is looking WAY ahead, but can you imagine the hoopla if USC and Cal are No. 1 and No. 2 for that game? It will certainly be the biggest game ever played at Memorial Stadium. And it’s not totally out of the question. No. 1 LSU has to play Florida next week, although the Gators aren’t looking quite as formidable as some thought before the season. They squeaked by Mississippi State – although I think Mississippi St. is much more competitive this season – and, of course, lost to Auburn at home Saturday. Still, an LSU loss could open the door for the regular season showdown for Cal and USC. But again, that’s getting way ahead of ourselves. The Bears still have tough road games at UCLA and Arizona State before then.

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Best of both worlds

Shortly after Saturday’s game, it hit me that the person who has to be the happiest about the win over Oregon is linebacker Zack Follett.

You know it was killing him not to be out there. But Follett had a tough decision to make. The symptoms from the neck stinger he suffered two weeks ago were gone, but it’s the type of injury you want to make sure you’re completely recovered from before you return. And the more time you give it to strengthen, the less chance there is of re-injury.

Still, Follett probably could have played. But he has to think about his future and the team’s future. As he put it, he’d hate to come back for one game and then be lost for the rest of the season. And with the bye week coming up, it just made sense to take advantage of the extra recovery time.

As it turned out, Follett got the best of both worlds. He didn’t risk re-injury, and the team still won. Now he can return to the field in two weeks with the Bears still undefeated and firmly in the middle of the Bowl Championship Series race.

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Halftime

The three points is the lowest Cal has scored in the first half since last year’s Washington game. The Bears have just 31 yards rushing. Oregon entered the game ranked eighth in the Pac-10 rushing defense, allowing 164.8 yards per game.

Cal has had a couple of sustained drives, something coach Jeff Tedford had hoped for to try to give the defense some rest. It’s certainly helped. Cal’s defense is playing well, although the Ducks started running the ball with more success in the second quarter. Oregon has 123 yards rushing at halftime, led by 82 from the league’s leading rusher, Jonathan Stewart.

The Bears are going to have to find a way to get their running game going in the second half. Most of their success on offense this season has been predicated on the running of Justin Forsett, who has just 19 yards on seven carries at halftime.

Defensive tackle Matt Malele appears to be OK. He played quite a bit in the first half after missing last week’s game with a foot injury.

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ESPN

We’re just minutes away from kickoff. One quick note: I talked to an ESPN representative in the press box who said there were about 6,500 fans at the Gameday location today. I asked him if that was considered a good crowd, and he said it was considering the show started at 7 a.m. local time.

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They’re ready

The gate for the students just opened at Autzen Stadium, and there is a stampede going on as they rush across the concourse in search of the best seat possible. It’s quite a scene, actually. Oregon opens one outside gate first and lets the students line up inside the stadium but outside a second gate to the bleachers. Then they open the second gate and they pour in.

The students haven’t wasted any time, either. They’re already engaging in “Let’s go, Ducks” chants. This place is going to be electric.

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Welcome to Autzen Stadium

Greetings, everyone. I just got settled in at the press box at Autzen Stadium. It’s funny to look around right now because the place is absolutely empty. In a couple of hours, this place is going to be rocking. I’ve only covered one game here before, about six years ago, and I remember walking away just amazed by the atmosphere. Cal will have to be very disciplined and mentally tough to win.

The anticipation of this game in Eugene is palpable. Three hours before the game, the parking lots are filling up and tailgating is in full throttle. This definitely is one of the most anticipated games at Oregon in a while.