Dickey: Tedford looking for a Rocky Top feeling

Jeff Tedford wants Cal football fans to be just as nasty toward visiting Tennessee in Saturday’s season opener as the Vols’ fans were to the Bears in Knoxville last season.

“I’m asking the fans to create a special environment for us,” Tedford said. “When they’re huddling on offense, be as noisy as you can. When we’re on offense, quiet down so we can hear the signals.”

To help the cause, the Cal marketing people are handing out megaphones to the first 50,000 fans.

Tedford admits he didn’t know quite what the Bears were getting into last season. College football in the South isn’t life or death. It’s more important than that. And Tennessee’s home stadium is as partisan as it gets, with 108,000 orange-clad fans screaming for their team.

Both Tedford and his team were overwhelmed, with the Bears trailing 35-0 at halftime before rallying to make the final score a more respectable 35-18.

“It was a real learning experience for me,” Tedford said. “I had never coached a team that was trailing

35-0 at halftime.”

He heard about it for the rest of the season.

“It seemed that game was all anybody talked about,” he said. “We won 10 games, but it was all ‘What happened in Tennessee?’ and ‘Oh, yeah, nice job in the bowl game.’”

Tedford never makes predictions, and he especially shies away from one for this game.

“You never quite know what to expect in the opening game,” he said. “The NFL has preseason games, but in college ball, you just start the season. We know Tennessee will be fast and physical, but there’s no way you can practice for that because you can’t practice at game speed without getting players hurt.”

Early in his Cal coaching career, Tedford welcomed the chance to play top teams — it was his idea to get the Bears into the Black Coaches Association game against seventh-ranked Kansas State in 2002 — but like all coaches, he’d prefer starting against a weaker opponent, as Cal did in 2004 and 2005. But he’s playing the hand he’s dealt.

There’s no reason to feel sorry for the Bears. Tedford has consistently said since spring practice that this is his fastest and strongest team yet. He stops short of saying that it’s his best, but that conclusion follows naturally.

The Bears should have an explosive offense, with quarterback Nate Longshore throwing to receivers DeSean Jackson, Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins, for whom Tedford had special praise in the spring. Longshore knows the system thoroughly and Tedford will be calling the plays again, aftter the one-year experiment with Mike Dunbar. Though Marshawn Lynch is gone, Justin Forsett is a strong replacement at tailback, and freshman Jahvid Best will be an eye-opener with his speed and moves.

The Bears lost some good defensive players, but they still have big playmakers. I especially like linebacker Anthony Felder and cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson.

Last year, there was much talk about the great traditions in Tennessee football, which Tedford thinks was a distraction. This year, the focus has been on what the Bears can — and will — do.

Since I’m not a coach, I can make a prediction: With their fans spurring them on with amplified voices, the Bears will beat the Vols, a great start for what will be their best season yet under Tedford.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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