Before the season started, I thought this would be the craziest week of the year. I pictured the weekly press luncheon as standing room only, with media members from all over the Bay Area as well as Southern California flocking to Memorial Stadium.
Instead, it was pretty ho-hum today. That’s what happens when the most anticipated game of the Pac-10 season doesn’t work out to what was expected. It should still be a good game Saturday when the Bears host USC, and the atmosphere of a sold-out stadium should still make it a lot of fun, but there’s no denying there’s now something missing from this showdown that was supposed to put together the two top teams in the Pac-10.
The Cal-USC game sold out before the season started. ABC picked it up in May. It was going to be a chance for the Bears to take that next step into the national spotlight, playing against a Trojans team that many felt may be their best yet.
As you all know, it hasn’t panned out as people planned. The Trojans aren’t as dominant as expected. They’ve already lost twice and are an afterthought in the national title race for the first time since 2001. Cal is tied for fifth place in the Pac-10 and is barely in the national rankings.
All that being said, it doesn’t seem as though Cal’s players care that the stakes aren’t as high as predicted in the preseason. This is still a big game to them because the Trojans have been the class of the conference for several years and no current Cal player has tasted victory against them yet. Plus, even though USC is a little down from the past couple years, they are still a ranked team with a chance to win the Pac-10, so a win for the Bears would help ease the pain of their recent three-game losing streak.
And there’s another factor here: Saturday marks the last home game for Cal’s seniors. Guys like tailback Justin Forsett, wide receiver Robert Jordan, tackle Mike Gibson, defensive lineman Matt Malele and free safety Thomas DeCoud will take the Memorial Stadium field for the last time. Forsett came to Tuesday’s luncheon and talked about how special Saturday will be for him, coming out of that tunnel for the last game and being honored with his parents.
Some notes from coach Jeff Tedford’s interview session:
–He said although Nate Longshore came out of Saturday’s game feeling pretty good, he expects Longshore to deal with his ankle injury all season. But he said as long as Longshore feels as good as he did heading into Saturday’s game, he will remain the undisputed starting quarterback.
–Defensive end Rulon Davis is definitely out again this week with his sprained MCL.
–Even though USC is tied for third place and has losses to Stanford and Oregon, Tedford called the Trojans the best team Cal has faced all year.
Linebacker Zack Follett, coming off his best game of the season, came by the luncheon on his way to class and told a good story (as he usually does). He said before Saturday he had been wearing a suit to all home games. At the last minute Saturday, he decided to wear his blue collar Cal shirt. He said that is going to be his approach now the rest of the season — a blue collar worker.
I asked Forsett to reflect on what it’s been like to be the workhorse in the backfield this season. A lot of the talk before the season was whether Forsett could handle being an every-down back. Forsett has had more nagging injuries than he ever has, but he said otherwise he hasn’t noticed much of a difference. Forsett is second in the Pac-10 in rushing (111.7 ypg).
–Chris Conte came to the luncheon and talked about his first career start on Saturday. Conte didn’t seem overwhelmed by it, but acknowledged he has a lot of room for improvement. Conte is pretty confident for a true freshman playing cornerback in a major conferene. He’s been that way ever since he showed up for training camp. He’s not cocky, just has a cool confidence about him that seems unusual for a true freshman. No word yet if Conte will start against against USC. But as a UCLA fan growing up, he’d relish it.