PASADENA, Calif.-Success or failure. In the world of college football, as little as one win can mean the difference between exultation and disappointment. The past few seasons, the Cal football team, for lack of a better term, has seemed to have reached a plateau.
Since the 2004-05 season that saw the Bears go 10-2 and come within seven yards of felling vaunted USC, the team has posted records of 8-4, 10-3, 7-6, 9-4 and 8-5. Just one or two more wins each year, and we're talking multiple conference championships and Rose Bowl appearances.
So, for Cal's head coach, Jeff Tedford, what would define this coming 2010 season as a success or as a failure?
"That's a pretty broad spectrum there," Tedford said at Thursday's Pac-10 Media Day on the turf of the Rose Bowl. "A success would be to go to the Rose Bowl. That's what we're here for: to win the conference championship. I'm not going to say that not doing that is going to be a failure, because we're going to work our hardest to reach our full potential. I have a lot of confidence in our kids that they're going to do that.
"It used to be that, eight wins, people were satisfied with that. Eight or nine wins-we're the second-winningest program in the Pac-10 over the last eight years. But, that's not good enough anymore. We have got to get over that hump. We have a burning desire to get to the Rose Bowl. Our fans do, our players do, our coaches do. That's what would be 'successful.'"
But as soon as Tedford delivered that message, he backed off just a tad.
"But, I wouldn't go as far as saying if we lose a game or two here and we don't make it there, that we're complete failures," he said. "I'm not going to put that on our guys. We're going to go out and work our hardest to reach our goal and have fun doing it."
The Bears would seem to have quite a long path to reach that success that Tedford first trumpeted, as they were picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10 race by members of the media before Thursday's gathering.
"I definitely think we have a really good chance," said linebacker Mike Mohamed. "I'm sure a lot of people would say differently, just based off of the preseason standings and all that, but at the same time, we know that preseason standings don't really mean anything."
With defending champ-and No. 1 voted team in Thursday's poll-Oregon having lost several key players to legal troubles and USC suffering from NCAA sanctions, star linebacker Mohamed believes that the conference title-and the New Year's Day bowl berth that goes with it-are wide open.
Especially this year, I think the Pac-10 is wide open," he said. "I don't think there's a clear-cut favorite. As long as we play good Cal football, I think anything is possible."
Tedford cited the fact that, last year, five teams finished with the exact same record, and that kind of parity just doesn't go away overnight.
"I think there's a lot of parity right now in this conference, there's no doubt about it," Tedford said. "Not just because of what's happening at 'SC or anything going on in Oregon. Last year, we had five teams with the same record, and so it's very difficult to go through this conference unscathed. It's very competitive, there's a lot of great coaches, a lot of firepower on offense and a lot of great defense is played in this conference."
The headliner of the Bears' defense is all-everything linebacker Mohamed, who has seen preseason accolades pile almost as high as his 6-foot-3 frame.
"I'm aware of all that, all the preseason accolades and all that, but at the same time, my main focus is the team," Mohamad said. "I want to win the Pac-10. I want to go to the Rose Bowl. So, while I'm aware of it, it doesn't really affect me. I know that I need to go out and just play like I did last year, put together a good season and help my team win the best I can."
Last season's Pac-10 leader in tackles headlines a defense that, according to Tedford, needed a big change after last season. That change was brought about by the departure of embattled defensive coordinator Bob Gregory and the introduction of NFL-coaching veteran Clancy Pendergast.
"About a couple years ago, was a minute away from winning a Super Bowl with the Cardinals. He's done a great job through spring football, creating some excitement, a lot of energy, putting pressure-we're going to be a lot more aggressive defensively-this year. We need to be better at pass defense, and that all starts with being able to get after the quarterbacks, so that's a goal for us moving into this fall, into this camp."
Tedford was brutally honest about the team's shortcomings in the past, and seemed to have a bit of extra fire in his belly with regards to the upcoming season.
"We weren't very good in pass defense last year, and so we need to improve that," Tedford said. "Clancy has brought those concepts in with him. I think our players, I think it's the most fun I've seen our players have in a long, long time on defense in spring practice."
That extra fire from Pendergast and Tedford has filtered down to team leaders like Mohamed. While in the past, bat-out-of-hell-turned-Detroit-Lions-starter Zach Follett taped a photo of former Tennessee QB Eric Ainge to his locker for an entire year as motivation for their season-opening encounter in 2007 (see: Windshield vs. Bug), Mohamed has his own taste for signal-callers, and it's far less discriminating than even The Zyger's.
"Let's see," Mohamed said, with a mischievous glint in his eye. "I want to hit pretty much everybody. I don't think there's a clear No. 1. I just want to get out there and get my chance at everybody."
Tune back soon as BearTerritory continues to bring you all the in-depth info from Media Day, including a blow-by-blow review of the depth chart with Tedford, an in-depth feature on Mohamed and some words from Pac-10 commish Larry Scott.