Football: Cal hopes to carry offensive rhythm into bowl game

Cal coach Sonny Dykes put on his travel-agent hat after the Bears’ 48-46 victory over Arizona State in their regular-season finale at Memorial Stadium.

Asked if the Bears deserved a bid in the Jan. 2 Cactus Bowl at Tempe, Arizona over the home-town Sun Devils, the giddy coach offered, “I mean, we beat ‘em. They probably want to sell hotels. I don’t know how many they’re going to sell to Arizona State.”

Cal won’t know its postseason destination won’t be official until Sunday, but Dykes and the Bears probably wish they could play this week after their second-half performance Saturday night on front of 45,385 fans.

Down by 21 points midway through the second quarter and trailing 27-10 at halftime, Cal punted after its first possession of the third quarter.

Then quarterback Jared Goff led a parade of five straight touchdown drives before placekicker Matt Anderson delivered a game-winning, 22-yard field goal as time expired.

Cal hadn’t scored more than 28 points against any Pac-12 opponent – except last-place Oregon State – since Oct. 3. But the Bears posted 38 in the second half alone against an ASU defense whose mighty pass rush was completely defused.

“We just couldn’t stop them,” ASU coach Todd Graham said.

For Goff, who has thrown 90 touchdown passes in three seasons, this was a signature game. He broke his own school record with 542 passing yards and threw four of his five TDs after halftime.

“He will us to that win at the end,” Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin said.

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Football: Cal officially cleared for bowl game

Cal is officially cleared to play in a bowl game.

The Bears got word Wednesday that their season-opening 73-14 victory over Grambling State will count toward the six wins they need to be eligible to play in a bowl game.

Grambling, a Football Championship Subdivision school, confirmed to Cal that it meets the minimum requirements on scholarship totals so that the victory does count, per NCAA rules.

Spokesman Wes Mallette said Cal then confirmed with the NCAA that it is officially cleared to participate in the postseason.

Cal (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) closes its regular-season schedule Saturday night at home against Arizona State.

The Bears became bowl eligible two weeks ago with a 54-24 win over Oregon State.


Football: Does Cal need an NCAA waiver to assure Grambling win counts toward bowl eligibility?

Does Cal actually have the six victories it needs to become bowl eligible this season?

The USA Today is reporting that the school has requested a waiver from the NCAA Football Oversight Committee that will allow its season-opening win over Grambling State to count toward the six wins necessary to play in a bowl game.

At issue, according to the story, is whether Grambling awarded enough athletic financial aid as a Football Championship Subdivision opponent to qualify it as an opponent that counts toward the six-win minimum without an NCAA waiver.

 Cal issued the following statement on Tuesday afternoon:

“At this time, we have received assurances from Grambling and are fully confident that the program meets the NCAA requirements. We believe our game against Grambling will count toward bowl eligibility. We filed a waiver with the NCAA as a precaution in the very unlikely event that Grambling’s calculations do not meet the NCAA requirements.”

According to NCAA rules, Football Bowl Subdivision teams can schedule one game against an FCS opponent, but for the game to count toward bowl qualification without a waiver, the FCS program must award, based on a two-year rolling average, at least 90 percent of the 63 scholarships allowed.

Cal spokesman Wes Mallette told USA Today the university requested the waiver “as a fallback option in the unlikely event that Grambling’s calculation does not meet the NCAA requirements. But Grambling has told us and we believe strongly that the requirement has been met and this will not be an issue.”

The USA Today story said Cal has been working with Grambling officials to determine whether the Tigers meet the standard. Cal was not aware of the potential problem until last week, the story said.

Cal is expecting to play in its first bowl game since 2011 when it lost 21-10 to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.

The Bears, who are 6-5 overall and 3-5 in Pac-12 play, secured their sixth victory two weeks ago with a 54-24 verdict over Oregon State.

Cal faces Arizona State on Saturday night in its regular-season finale. Kickoff is 7 p.m. on FoxSports1.

Check back for updates on this story.


Football: No panic for Cal, but a sense of urgency

There is no panic, no desperation as the Cal football team embarks on its eighth try over two seasons to gain bowl eligibility, says receiver Bryce Treggs.

“But there’s kind of a sense of urgency within our team,” said Treggs of Saturday night’s game against Oregon State at Memorial Stadium.

The Bears (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) have lost four straight since opening 5-0 to reach the cusp of qualifying for their first bowl game since 2011. One more victory will do the trick.

Cal had chances to get a sixth win in its final three games a year ago, and lost all of them.

“Every week after a loss, you kind of feel pressure to win the next week. This week we’ve kind of put that behind us,” said Treggs, acknowledging that is easier said than done. “We just have to come together, be mature and overcome this adversity we’re going through.”

Win or lose this week, the Bears have two more chances: A week from Saturday at seventh-ranked Stanford in the Big Game, and Nov. 28 at home against Arizona State.

Clearly, this is their best opportunity.

The Bears were an underdog in six of those previous seven “eligibility” games. They opened as 17½-point favorites over the Beavers (2-7, 0-6), who have scored just 25 points in their past three games and are playing without their injured starting quarterback. The betting climbed to 21½ by Thursday.

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Football: Cal’s potential bowl destination — Vegas, Phoenix, El Paso, San Antonio? Who knows?

Yes, Cal still needs one more victory to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2011.

But that’s going to happen — possibly as soon as Thursday night when the 20th-ranked Bears take on UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

So where will Cal be sent bowling?

It’s a little early to know, as these expert projections indicate. We checked around and there was absolutely no consensus. Four sources, four different bowls for the Bears.

Just for fun, here’s what they had to say:

— CBS envisions Cal playing in the Royal Purple Bowl in Las Vegas on Dec. 19 against BYU.

— SB Nation predicts a spot in the Sun Bowl at El Paso on Dec. 26 against North Carolina State.

— Sports Illustrated projects the Bears in the Cactus Bowl at Phoenix on Jan. 2 against Texas Tech, where Sonny Dykes has his coaching roots.

— And ESPN says the destination is the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on Jan. 2, but does not take a guess at which Big 12 opponent completes the equation.

Cal fans will take note that no one expects the Bears to run the table to reach the Rose Bowl. Nor is Cal projected to play in the Holiday Bowl at San Diego.

There’s plenty of time still for every scenario to unfold.

What’s your best guess?


Football: Cal-BYU game thread

UPDATE: Here’s my game story:

It never rained, as predicted, at Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

But Cal succumbed to the same aerial downpour it’s been pelted by all season, and failed to earn bowl eligibility after a 42-35 loss to BYU.

The Bears (5-7) needed a victory to earn their first postseason bid since 2011, but could not stop BYU quarterback Christian Stewart, a former walk-on, whose fifth touchdown pass of the game, a 38-yarder to Jordan Leslie, broke a tie with 2:39 left.

It was the third straight week Cal could secure bowl eligibility with a sixth victory, and it fell short each time.

“Getting over the hump in college football is a hard thing to do,” said second-year coach Sonny Dykes, whose team progressed from a 1-11 record in 2013. “We had opportunities to do it this year and just didn’t get it done.”

Sophomore Jared Goff threw four touchdown passes, three of them to Kenny Lawler, and had four shots at Lawler in the end zone in the final 30 seconds but could not deliver the game-tying play.

“I was trying to find a hole in there, trying to find Kenny, hoping he could make a play,” Goff said.

As usual, offense wasn’t the issue. Cal scored 459 points this season – the most since 1920 and the second-most in school history. Goff set school records with 3,973 yards and 35 touchdowns passing.

But even an offense more prolific than the ones directed by Aaron Rodgers in 2003 and 2004 could not overcome a defense that gave up more passing yards (4,406) and TD passes (42) than any FBS team in history.

“We take full responsibility for it. We know what we have to do to get better,” junior safety Stefan McClure said. “It’s all stuff we did. It’s heartbreaking, especially the way it came down to the last drive.”

BYU’s decisive drive began with 4:27 left after Dykes opted to punt on a fourth-and-1 play from the Cal 34-yard line.

Asked how close he came to going for it, Dykes said, “Looking back, obviously I wish I had. It’s one of those things if you don’t get it you probably lose the ballgame.”

So he asked his defense to get the ball back. It didn’t happen.

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Football: Cal’s possible bowl destination — Tempe?

Courtesy of Jon Wilner, my BANG colleague, click here for his projections on where Pac-12 football teams will go bowling.

He envisions Cal potentially going to the Cactus Bowl, Jan. 2 in Tempe:

Record: 5-6/3-6
Schedule: vs. Brigham Young
Projected bowl: Cactus
Comment: A victory over BYU makes the Bears eligible. They’re a relatively hot commodity after a season that exceeded expectations. Because of the one-game difference in league record with Stanford, the Bears can leapfrog the Cardinal into the Cactus.

Of course, all of it hinges on the Bears winning Saturday.


Football: Will Cal play chicken in bowl season?

The San Francisco Bowl, formerly known as the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, has a new title sponsor and name: The Foster Farms Bowl.

In its 13th season overall, the Foster Farms Bowl is of potential interest to Cal fans because it will pair teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at Levi’s Stadium.

Cal needs one more victory to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2011.

Gary Cavalli, co-founder and executive director of the Foster Farms Bowl, said the game’s mission remains the same.

“Even though the game will no longer be called the ‘Fight Hunger Bowl’ we will continue our initiatives to fight hunger in the Bay Area,” Cavalli said. “Every ticket sold to the game is a ‘meal ticket’ for a hungry family in the Bay Area, generating donations to our partner organizations – Glide, St. Anthony’s, SF-Marin Food Bank, Alameda County Community Food Bank, and Second Harvest Food Bank.”

The previous 12 games in the bowl series all were played at AT&T Park.


Football: Cal defense will try to be better, not different

Cal will mix its defenses tonight against Washington State, throw in some blitzes, and hope to get a lift off the bench from cornerbacks Darius White and Joel Willis, apparently healthy at last and ready to contribute.

“You’ve got to fire all your bullets,” coach Sonny Dykes said of how the Bears will approach coach Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense.

But don’t expect an entirely new look from the Bears. There will be no surprise defensive renovation, no new tricks to throw off the Cougars.

They won’t work, Dykes said, because he has seen teams try.

During his tenure working under Leach at Texas Tech, Dykes said more than one opponent showed up on game night with a dramatic, new defensive twist.

“Anytime we saw that we always knew it was going to play into our hands,” Dykes recalled. “In some ways that’s what they want you do to, make a bunch of drastic changes and use a bunch of new coverages.

“They just do their thing. You always have to resist temptation of using a bunch of new schemes because they’re going to be really good at what they do so you better be good at what you do.”

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Football: Pac-12 falls to 1-4 in bowls

Here’s how you want to celebrate New Year’s Eve: Bring together two horrible teams whose coaches already have been fired and let them go at it in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park:

   — Illinois 20, UCLA 14: The Illini (7-6) snapped a six-game losing streak spanning 12 weeks of real time by beating the Bruins (6-8) who got an exemption allowing them to play in a bowl game with a losing record. UCLA dropped its third straight game, the pprevious two by a 99-31 margin. Here’s more, if you want it.