Evolution is in the air in Berkeley, where there hasn‚Äôt been so much excitement about football since Cal‚Äôs Kevin Moen mowed down Stanford trombonist Gary Tyrell in the end zone to win the Big Game 22 years ago. Season-ticket sales are expected to reach 32,000, the most in school history, and ESPN will televise two of the Golden Bears‚Äô first three games. There‚Äôs even buzz on campus about the possibility of a Rose Bowl appearance, Cal‚Äôs first since the 1958 season.
Much of the optimism is centered around junior quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the latest in a line of crack passers developed over the last decade by Jeff Tedford, first as the QBs‚Äô coach at Fresno State, then as offensive coordinator at Oregon and now as coach of the Bears. Seven of his protégés--including Joey Harrington, David Carr and Kyle Boller--reached the NFL, and Rodgers, who transferred from Butte Junior College after the 2002 season, will likely be the eighth. Last year he threw for 2,903 yards and 19 touchdowns, and this season his receiving unit, already boasting Geoff McArthur (85 receptions) and Burl Toler (48), will be strengthened by the return of Jonathan Makonnen, who missed last year with a fractured foot but led the Bears with 54 receptions in ‚Äô02.
The highlight of Cal‚Äôs season was a triple overtime win against USC--the only loss suffered by the Trojans and the Bears‚Äô first defeat of a team ranked in the top three in 52 years. ‚ÄúPeople see USC won a split national championship and wonder, Who did they lose to?‚Äù says Rodgers, who guided Cal to five wins in its last six games. ‚ÄúI think teams will realize last season wasn‚Äôt a fluke.‚Äù The Bears‚Äô defense will have a lot to say about that. Eight starters are back, most notably All‚ÄìPac-10 strong safety Donnie McCleskey, who had 102 tackles and 51‚ÅÑ2 sacks.
Football may never surpass activism as the favorite pastime in Berkeley, but it‚Äôs clear that, as Stephen Stills once sang, There‚Äôs something happenin‚Äô here. ‚ÄúThe Cal fans are kind of coming out of the woodwork,‚Äù Rodgers says. ‚ÄúI think they realize they better jump on the bandwagon now, because it‚Äôs going to be an exciting ride.‚Äù
2003 RECORD 8‚Äì6 (5‚Äì3, T3 in Pac-10)
FINAL AP RANK NR
RETURNING STARTERS 15
QB Aaron Rodgers (Jr.)
Led Bears to seven wins in nine starts
WR Geoff McArthur (Sr.)
115.7 receiving-yard avg., second in nation
S Donnie McCleskey (Jr.)
Best Pac-10 DB in tackles (102), sacks (51‚ÅÑ2)
LB Wendell Hunter (Sr.)
Seven sacks ranked eighth in Pac-10
S Ryan Gutierrez (Sr.)
72% of his tackles were solos (67 of 93)
Rushing yards per game by the Bears last season--the first time since 1958 that Cal had the Pac-10‚Äôs top-ranked ground attack.
In a conference full of oversized receivers, a team can‚Äôt have too many big cornerbacks. The Bears have a pair of young ones who are Pac-10 stars in the making: 6'2" sophomore Daymeion Hughes, who had two interceptions in six starts, and 6'3" redshirt freshman Thomas DeCoud, who wowed the coaches in spring practice.
Sept. 4 at Air Force
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†11 NEW MEXICO STATE
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†16 at Southern Miss
Oct. 2 at Oregon State
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†9 at USC
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†23 at Arizona
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†30 ARIZONA STATE
Nov. 6 OREGON
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†13 at Washington
NEXT IN LINE
Rodgers is the latest on a long list of quarterbacks who have blossomed under Tedford‚Äôs tutelage.