Bears Face Low Risk But No Reward





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Saturday at 2:30 p.m., thousands of TVs across the West Coast will tune into the No. 10 Cal football team's meeting with Eastern Washington.

At 5 p.m., they'll probably switch over to that other game on ESPN.

We know how Bears fans feel about their fourth quarters, but Cal should be so dominant in the first through the third this weekend that it'll render the final 15 minutes much less meaningful in the grand scheme of the game.

That isn't meant to disrespect the Eagles-ranked No. 18 in the Football Championship Subdivision-but the players of an FCS program just aren't supposed to be able to hang with those of an FBS team, much less the 10th-ranked team in the country. It'll be shocking if they do. More on that later.

But USC-Ohio State, now that'll turn some heads. And channels. Just feel the intrigue. These teams are the class of their respective conferences. Both are ranked in the top 10, both know that a loss will cripple their chances of reaching the BCS title game-already.

There's a lot riding on this game, and that's why it's such a high risk to play this kind of matchup so early in the season. While Florida is getting ready for the SEC by hosting Troy and Texas is paying a visit to Wyoming, the Trojans and Buckeyes are putting their potential perfect seasons on the line, in front of a national audience, before they even get into their conference schedules.

But at the same time, with the high risk comes high reward, high ratings, a lot of national respect for the winner and, potentially, the same for the loser-provided Ohio State doesn't lay a 32-point egg like it did last year.

So while Jahvid Best is breaking his first pair of Eastern Washington ankles at about the same time Matt Barkley is readying himself to be indoctrinated into real college football by 105,000 screaming Ohioans, the question will be:

How is hosting the Eagles helping the Bears? Or does it actually hurt them?

From a team point of view, of course it's going to help. Opponent aside, Saturday is a game, and there's no substitute for game experience this early in the season. If Cal gains some separation early, its reserves will get a taste of that experience as well, creating more depth in the ranks.

"There's going to be something that comes up in this game, whether it be execution, alignment, assignment, creating turnovers," coach Jeff Tedford said on Tuesday. "Every game, every play there's a learning experience."

But from a national perspective-and eventually that will matter-the answer is no, it doesn't help the Bears at all.

Saturday is one of those games that's like an escalator on the top floor: no upside. Cal is expected to win, and win big. If it does, the game will quickly be forgotten. Even if the Bears win but don't dominate, their image could take a short-lived hit.

The only way that Saturday would make a splash would be if Cal somehow came out flat, fell behind and couldn't rally.

Everybody remembers Appalachian State stunning Michigan in 2007. It was huge. No AP Top 25 team had ever lost to an FCS program. It's still one of the biggest upsets ever and probably would be No. 1 if it wasn't for that pesky Stanford team in the Coliseum.

Who remembers that, on the same weekend as the upset in the Big House, Alabama defeated Western Carolina, 52-6, and Oklahoma beat North Texas by a comfortable 69-point margin?

Nobody does. They wouldn't be expected to. Those blowouts were just quality teams taking care of business in games that they were supposed to win. And Bears quarterback Kevin Riley has made it clear that Saturday "is a game we should win."

Clearly, Riley understands that Cal is going into this weekend facing an unforgiving standard. A win impresses almost nobody. A loss makes headlines for all the wrong reasons.

So if the folks watching on TV get itchy remote fingers around primetime and feel comfortable jumping into the Shoe, the Bears have done their job.

It's to their advantage to make the game not matter.

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Keep up with the 'SC game with Matt at [email protected]



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