Good things have been happening to the Cal football team lately, and coach Jeff Tedford would love to put a capper on that with a win over Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
While the total rebuild of Memorial Stadium is on target to be completed for the 2012 season and Tedford has finally gotten the state-of-the-art training facility he has sought since he’s been coach, the Bears played their best football of the season down the stretch.
"We stubbed our toe once, against UCLA, but otherwise, we played very well," Tedford said. "Even in the Big Game, we just ran out of time."
The key to the team improvement was the individual improvement of quarterback Zach Maynard. In midseason, it seemed he might lose his starting job because he was playing erratically, making occasional brilliant plays, but throwing too many interceptions.
But Tedford never gave serious thought to replacing Maynard.
"We knew from watching him on the practice field what he could do," Tedford said. "He’s a special talent because he can get away from pressure with his running ability and sometimes even run for positive yardage.
"Look at the teams we were playing. We had USC and Oregon back-to-back. [Oregon won the North Division of the Pac-12 and USC would have won the South if it hadn’t been on NCAA probation]. He was pressing, trying to do too much. Plus, he was playing for the first time at this level, after playing one year [at Buffalo, before he transferred to Cal] at a lower level. He just had to slow down and make the plays."
Since that bad stretch, Maynard has played very well. He’s making all the throws, zipping the ball to a receiver who’s just open momentarily, lofting it to a receiver in the open, running for yardage when everybody is covered. In his second-half play, he’s been as good or better than any quarterback Tedford has had since Aaron Rodgers in 2004.
Ah, yes, 2004. That was the year the Bears should have finally made it back to the Rose Bowl. They didn’t because Texas coach Mack Brown lobbied his fellow coaches heavily, and Texas moved ahead of Cal in the coaches poll, which gave them the impetus to get to the Rose Bowl instead of Cal.
Cal alums, including me, remember that vividly and still hate Brown, but Tedford says he doesn’t share that feeling. He and Brown have talked several times in the interim and even visited.
There is no revenge motive for Tedford in this game and, truthfully, it would make no sense. There are obviously no players on the current roster who were at Cal in 2004, and there has been an almost total turnover of assistant coaches as well. They all see this as an important game, but not a chance for revenge.
Tedford knows it will be a tough matchup with the Longhorns, who finished the year ranked No. 24 in the BCS standings. "It’s a typical Texas team, very tough, very aggressive, very talented," he said.
And if the Bears can beat the ’Horns, it will provide a great impetus into the 2012 season in their modernized stadium.