Walcoff: Cal has talent to make Rose Bowl

Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour was as giddy as a schoolgirl giving a national newspaper columnist a tour of Memorial Stadium and the new Athletic Performance Center under construction Tuesday afternoon.

Before he took part in his growing list of radio and TV interviews, Cal coach Jeff Tedford was corralled outside the football office by a Los Angeles sportswriter eager to get the inside word on Jahvid Best.

Cal hasn’t quite reached the heights of the Berkeley tree-sitters, but the No. 6-ranked Bears (3-0) are in rarefied air heading into Saturday’s Pac-10 opener at Oregon.

Cal is second nationally in scoring, averaging almost 49 points a game. The Bears’ defense has 13 sacks, fifth most in the country and their 25 tackles for loss is ranked 12th in the NCAA. Best leads all of college football with nine touchdowns this season, scoring at an unheard of rate of once every six times he touches the ball.

After spending his first seven seasons in the shadows of Pete Carroll and mighty USC, Tedford finally has a team that can dethrone the Trojans. Of course, USC visits Cal on Oct. 3.

If Best stays healthy and junior quarterback Kevin Riley continues to shine in the clutch (Riley has thrown five touchdown passes and no interceptions this season, compared with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions in nine starts in 2008), the Bears should be Pac-10 champs for the first time in more than 50 years. I don’t know who would be happier, Barbour, Tedford and his team or former Cal star Joe Kapp, who swore off tequila until the Bears returned to the Rose Bowl.

– Shaun Hill hasn’t waited quite that long, but the 49ers quarterback returns to Minnesota on Sunday where he spent four seasons without ever throwing a pass for the Vikings. Despite outplaying former Super Bowl quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Matt Hasselbeck in the first two weeks of the season, Hill continues to get very little respect around the league. Meanwhile, Brett Favre, who leads the NFL with a 77 percent completion rate after feasting on the lowly Lions and Browns, may be in for a rough home opener. The hard-charging 49ers defense will be even faster on the Metrodome Field turf, while the soon to be 40-year-old Favre has traditionally struggled playing indoors.

– If this is the real JaMarcus Russell, the Raiders are in real trouble. Russell is last in the league, completing only 35 percent of his passes. Even worse, he has connected on only 7 of 33 throws to his wide outs. Curiously, JaMarcus finished last week’s game in Kansas City with a flourish, hitting on four of his last six passes to set up the game-winning touchdown.

The Raider Nation must be suffering emotional whiplash trying to figure out what to expect from the Big Enigma.

The once porous Broncos defense comes to Oakland on Sunday having given up only one touchdown this season. Denver’s defensive coordinator is a guy named Mike Nolan, who obviously works better without a jacket and tie and that lofty title: head coach.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news and is also the co-host of “Raiders Gameday” and “Recap” talk shows on KSFO (560 AM). He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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