Cal started last season 5-0 and was on the verge of claiming the No. 1 spot before a slipup against Oregon State -- due in part to a colossal mental error by Kevin Riley -- sent the Golden Bears into a tailspin. Losing six of its final seven regular season games, Cal ended up being one of the nation's biggest frauds.
Just as the Bears were beginning to regain the trust of a tortured fan base, they laid an egg today in a 35-27 loss at Maryland.
And I don't want to hear anything about the noon kickoff (9 a.m. Berkeley time). Out of 365 days in the year, these young men are asked to turn it on for a dozen Saturdays. This isn't major league baseball with its 162-game schedule; there are no dog days in college football. I just refuse to chalk this loss up to jet lag. The Golden Bears were simply outplayed by a Maryland team that is one week removed from a 10-point loss to Middle Tennessee.
Jeff Tedford's explosive offense didn't arrive in College Park until the game was out of hand. (Maryland held a 22-point advantage halfway through the fourth quarter.) Cal piled up 104 points and 972 yards of total offense during its first two wins over Michigan State and Washington State, but the Bears didn't reach the endzone until 6:55 left in the fourth quarter today. The Terps kept Jahvid Best in check, holding the electric RB to 24 rushing yards on 10 attempts. And Maryland's D-line dominated the trenches, continually getting to Riley with three- and four-man rushes.
On the defensive side of the ball, Cal yielded 35 points to a Terps offense that had managed just 28 points combined against Delaware and Middle Tennessee. And had Maryland RB Da'Rel Scott (86 yards rushing, 2 TDs) not been sidelined by a shoulder injury for most of the second half, it would have been worse.
For the Terps, maybe this is the type of win that gets their season back on track. The ACC is wide open at this point, and while it's hard to believe this Maryland bunch will suddenly harness consistency, the Terps should not be completely discounted. This is also the second big nonconference win for the ACC in three days (following North Carolina's 44-12 throttling of Rutgers Thursday night).
The most telling play of today's contest came in the second quarter. Maryland CB Kevin Barnes sniffed out an attempted bubble screen, flew up the field and decleated Best in a violent collision. Best remained on the turf in a dazed state for a few minutes. And right when the ESPN production truck opted for a close-up on Best's face, Cal's star player spewed up a mouth full of breakfast, seemingly on cue.
The Golden Bears were completely blind-sided by a 14-point underdog today. How will Cal respond? After their first knockdown in 2007, Tedford's bunch stayed down for the count. Will this season's squad be able to get back up off the canvas?