Cal in Position to Finish Second in Conference Thanks to Positive Mentality

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With one game left on its regular-season schedule, the Cal football team can still finish this season with 10 wins, in a multi-way tie for second place in the Pac-10 and ranked in the national top 20.

Who saw that coming on Oct. 4?

That was the Sunday after the Bears lost 30-3 at home to USC. Eight days before, they had lost 42-3 to Oregon on the road. They went into their bye week, having tumbled from No. 6 in the country, surrounded by negativity and questioned repeatedly about the possibility of this being a repeat of the 2007 meltdown.

It hasn't played out that way. Since the bye, Cal has quietly won five of its last six games and is 5-3 in the Pac-10, with only a trip to Washington remaining. The Bears' one loss in that span came against Oregon State on Nov. 7, when tailback Jahvid Best suffered a serious concussion leaping into the end zone in the second quarter and was carted off the field.

"I said it earlier in the season," senior safety Brett Johnson said. "People asked me if we were going to go through the same slump we went through, and I told them we've got a whole new group of people with different mentalities. I knew we were going to come back, knew we were going to bounce back. We just had to come back and focus the next week and we did."

If Cal beats the slumping Huskies and Oregon defeats Oregon State in the Civil War -- the winner of which will go to the Rose Bowl -- the Bears will come out of conference play with a 6-3 record and finish no lower than in a second-place tie. That scenario seemed like quite a reach after Cal started 0-2 in the Pac-10, particularly considering how lopsided those two losses were.

"At that time, I never gave up hope," senior defensive end Tyson Alualu said. "I knew we had great players on this team, great chemistry, and coming off those two losses I just knew that we had to turn things around, not get ahead of ourselves and, at the same time, take it one game at a time. I think as we did take it in that perspective, people came out with a better mindset."

One game at a time, the Bears have gained back the respect that they lost after another instance of early hiccups derailing a season of high expectations. After seeing its first seven games decided by 14 points or more, Cal showed that it can hang tough in close games, beating Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz., on a last-minute field goal and coming up with a pair of late defensive stands in a 24-16 win over Arizona.

The Bears have also proved that they can win without Best, as sophomore Shane Vereen has done all has been asked of him and then some, carrying the ball 72 times in the last two games.

Cal's upset of then-No. 14 Stanford last Saturday was a culmination of the turnaround -- a scrappy upset win on the road against arguably the nation's hottest team that came down to the final series. Vereen had 42 carries and the Bears' defense erased the Cardinal's Rose Bowl aspirations with an interception near their own goal line to end the game.

"It shows what kind of team we are, whether we can deal with adversity when we're at rock bottom and the world's against us," Alualu said. "It took a lot of leadership from everyone on the team, not losing hope, keeping on fighting and it's been a team effort. I'm just happy where we are now and looking forward to getting another victory and finishing it off right."

Quick Hits

-- Tedford said that the discussion of Best returning to football still has not happened.

"We're not even going to talk about it until he's ready to talk about it," Tedford said.

-- Senior cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, who suffered an ankle sprain towards the end of Cal's win over Stanford, did not practice on Tuesday and will not practice today, Tedford said. The Bears are practicing Wednesday afternoon, then breaking for Thanksgiving until Sunday. Tedford said that Thompson will "hopefully" be back on Sunday.

-- Vince D'Amato handling field goal duties against the Cardinal was a game-time decision based on D'Amato kicking better in pre-game warm-ups.

-- Freshman tailback Dasarte Yarnway was back practicing in full capacity on Tuesday, carrying the ball in no-contact team drills. Yarnway underwent foot surgery during fall camp.

-- Cornerback Josh Hill has a shoulder sprain, Tedford said.

-- Wednesday's session will be a short period of preparation for Washington, then a scrimmage featuring the scout team players.


Contact Matt Kawahara at [email protected]

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