Cal out to silence its doubters

Three keys to Cal's season:

Finishing touch

1. Cal rose to as high as No. 6 in the polls last season, before plummeting back to earth and closing the season at 8-5. It seems to be an all-but-too familiar tale for the Bears.

A quick start has fans clamoring for an elusive trip to the Rose Bowl, only to see things fall apart down the stretch. Well, the good thing about this season is not too many people are expecting much out of Cal. The Bears were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10 Conference preseason poll and aren’t ranked in the national preseason Top 25, a rarity during the Jeff Tedford era.

Tedford should be able to use those two slights to motivate his team. But whether it sticks throughout the course of the season remains to be seen. The problem Cal had last season was its inability to show up against the Pac-10’s top teams.

Against USC and Oregon, Cal lost by a combined score of 72-6. With stars Jahvid Best and Tyson Alualu off to the NFL, new faces will need to step up. Expect Shane Vereen to carry on the tradition of star running backs in Berkeley. Vereen tallied 952 yards last season.

Learn to defend the pass

2. It was just a few seasons ago when Cal’s athletic and ball-hawking secondary was among the nation’s leaders in interceptions. But those players are long gone and the defense hasn’t been the same since.

The Bears were ranked No. 111 in the nation in pass defense last year, allowing opponents to throw for an average of 266.8 yards per game.

Longtime defensive coordinator Bob Gregory has moved on and in steps Clancy Pendergast, who has 19 seasons of NFL experience under his belt. Safeties Sean Cattouse, Josh Hill and Chris Conte will need to bring a physical presence in order to atone for last season’s defensive shortcomings.

More consistent QB play

3. Since the departure of Aaron Rodgers, Cal has lacked the type of quarterback that can carry a team on his own. Kevin Riley certainly isn’t a bad player, but his career completion rate is only 54 percent, much lower than that of the elite signal-callers.

He’s never thrown more than 18 touchdowns in a season and has made mistakes at crucial times that have cost Cal. Some of Riley’s inconsistencies can be attributed to shaky offensive line play. Last season, the Bears surrendered 31 sacks, the second-most in the Pac-10.

This is Riley’s last chance to show he has what it takes for Cal to compete for a Pac-10 championship. If he struggles with consistency once again, don’t be surprised to see coach Jeff Tedford make a change.

Impact player

MARVIN JONES
While his overall statistics from 2009 won’t blow you away (651 yards receiving, six touchdowns), the wide receiver displayed the type of game-changing potential that the Bears need. Jones’ knack for outjumping defenders and coming down with a pass is unique. The challenge for Jones this season is to become more consistent. He had six games of at least four catches last season, but also three games of just one catch. Jones is the deep threat the Bears need to open up running lanes for Shane Vereen and Co.

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