Cal's bowl hopes could hinge on Washington game

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

For Cal and coach Jeff Tedford, the Golden Bears' game against Washington is about public perception as much as it is about wins and losses.
The fact that Cal (3-6) has to win this game to keep alive hopes of earning a bowl berth and a winning season is significant, but not as important as the fact that the game will be played in front of a home crowd and a national television audience on ESPN2.
The game will be the focus of the college football world for those few hours, and if the Bears lay an egg and the crowd starts booing, it would further erode Tedford's job security significantly.
In addition, the television broadcast will no doubt focus on Washington offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi, both of whom were Cal assistants last season and whose departure created an uproar at Cal, particularly in terms of recruiting. Being reminded of that departure in the event of a Washington victory will not make Cal fans feel any better.
Plus, if Cal loses the game, it would be its third straight loss with games remaining against Oregon (at home) and Oregon State (on the road). In other words, a loss to the Huskies could lead to a five-game losing streak to finish the season. And that certainly would not put a happy face on the Bears' 2012 season or Tedford's prospects of holding on to his job.
A Cal win, on the other hand, can rekindle the belief that Tedford is still the answer at Cal. The talk of Tedford's job security was interrupted when Cal beat UCLA and Washington State in consecutive impressive performances, and a good showing against Washington would at least reduce the outcry.
In some ways, how the Bears play is more important than whether they win or lose. If they look like a team that has thrown in the towel, things could get ugly.
The Bears are certainly capable of beating the Huskies in Berkeley. Washington has two impressive wins over ranked teams this season -- beating Stanford and Oregon State when both were ranked in the top 10. But both those games were played at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, which is the Huskies' home field this year while Husky Stadium is being renovated.
The Huskies have been less successful -- especially on the defensive side -- away from home. Although they are 4-1 at home, the Huskies are 0-3 on the road.
The key for Cal is to play effective pass defense against Washington and quarterback Keith Price, who has played OK this year but has not had the breakout season many expected. In fact, he has thrown more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (eight) this season, which is quite a surprise.
The problem for Cal may be one of momentum. The Bears can't be feeling very good about themselves after two poor offensive performances in losses to Stanford and Utah, the latter a 49-27 defeat on Oct. 27 to a team that had lost four straight.
Meanwhile, Washington has renewed vigor after its 20-17 victory over previously unbeaten Oregon State, a win that greatly improved the Huskies' chances of getting to a bowl.
Washington (4-4) plays winnable games against Utah, Colorado and Washington State after facing Cal, so the Huskies could finish the regular season 8-4 if they beat Cal.

Washington assistants Eric Kiesau and Tosh Lupoi left Cal's staff after last season, and the departure of Lupoi just two weeks before letter-of-intent signing day was a major issue. Lupoi had been the BearsO most successful recruiter, and a few players -- namely Shaq Thompson, who is a Washington starter at cornerback as a freshman -- changed their commitment from Cal to Washington when Lupoi changed jobs.
Cal coach Jeff Tedford has no hard feelings and does not think the departures will be an issue in the Nov. 2 game.
"I hope we're motivated because we want to win rather than any personal thing," he said.
--Washington's defense has been far better at home, yielding an average of just 15.8 points in its five home games and 48.3 points in its three road games. Those numbers are somewhat deceptive because the three road games have come against offensive powerhouses Oregon and Arizona, as well as LSU. Nonetheless, the Huskies have been a lot better defensively at home, as they demonstrated against Oregon State and Stanford.
--Cal's health will be a significant factor in its defensive effort against the Huskies. OLBs Chris McCain (ankle) and Brennan Scarlett (hand) and ILB Jalen Jefferson (concussion) missed the game against Utah and are questionable against Washington. Plus CB Marc Anthony (head) is also questionable. If Anthony cannot play, the Bears have an adequate replacement in Kameron Jackson, but being without all or any of those three starting linebackers could be an issue, especially in terms of depth. The linebacking corps could wear down late in the game. McCain is probably the Bears' best player among their front seven and is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 6.5.
--Cal needs to win its last three regular-season games plus a bowl game to avoid its second losing season in three years. If the Bears lose to Washington and then to Oregon and Oregon State to finish 3-9, it would be the worst season in Jeff Tedford's 11 seasons at Cal. Even if Cal wins one of those three games, it would be Tedford's worst season. The 5-7 mark in 2010 is the worst so far.
--A major issue will be how Cal uses Brendan Bigelow. He did not get his first carry against Utah until the final play of the third quarter, when he ran 57 yards for the Bears' first touchdown. He has three touchdown runs of more than 50 yards this season, and his four touchdowns are good third on the team behind C.J. Anderson's five and Keenan Allen's eight.
SERIES HISTORY: Washington leads 49-38-4 (last meeting 2011, Washington 31-23).

What to Read Next