The True Test Starts Saturday

Ian M. Fein is a former Daily Cal sports editor. Talk football with him at [email protected].





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When LaShaun Ward caught a touchdown pass in the northeast corner of the endzone less than five minutes into the game Saturday, it became official.

Week one was not a total fluke.

Okay, leading the nation in scoring was an aberration, but we now know for certain that Cal can win more than one game in a season.

In fact, only two weeks into the season, the Bears have already doubled their win total from 2001.

After Saturday's game, Kyle Boller was asked whether he could describe how he felt as compared to this time last year, when Cal had been outscored 88-33.

"No," he answered, "but I can smile."

The true worth of the 2002 team still remans untested.

It will take at least four more wins, and those will be much harder to come by, before Cal's pending appeal of the NCAA bowl game ban will actually even matter.

However, the victory over New Mexico State did legitimize last week's win and prove to whomever cares that this is a distinctly different Bears team than last year's flag-football version.

By the way, who does care that Cal is now 2-0 for the first time in five years?

While the student and alumni sections have been largely full and in full voice, they made up nearly all of the 24,692 in attendance Saturday, and the rest of Memorial was a vast expanse of empty bleachers.

There were 2,500 fewer fans at the New Mexico State game than the week before.

I guess they didn't like watching the spiffy new Bears in their Oregon-esque uniforms score 10 touchdowns on their way to a blow-out victory.

Fewer people showed up for Saturday's win than for any of Cal's eight consecutive home losses dating back to October of 2000.

Bear fans either prefer to watch their team lose or else simply did not trust week one's results.

Those who did come to Strawberry Canyon Saturday saw a good, competitive football game. Maybe not a great one, but hey, you take what you can get.

New Mexico State may not compare to Nebraska or Notre Dame-but it's still better than the jayvee high school team that came to Berkeley in Baylor uniforms last week.

And, if you didn't notice, Baylor actually won its week two contest by a notable margin of 50-12, albeit against a Division I-AA team.

At least we now have reason to believe that Cal can defeat a lower division collegiate program, though De La Salle High School may still be out of its league.

Yet, as Saturday's dropped passes and late fumble attest, there is still room for improvement.

After the game, Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said it was great to have won two games without having played their best football. But, he admitted, "We have a long way to go."

The Bears will have a long way to go this week, when they travel to East Lansing, Mich., for their first road game and true litmus test against a Michigan State program ranked No. 15 in the nation.

Whereas Memorial Stadium can barely fill one-third of its capacity, the 72,000-seat Spartan Stadium has hosted 20 consecutive sellouts.

Cal has not won a football game on a Big Ten campus in more than a decade.

One thing can be expected of this week's game-the Bears will come out aggressive right from the start.

After setting a school record for most points in a quarter with 35 in the opening stanza against Baylor, the Bears took an early 17-3 lead against New Mexico State.

Tedford has made some aggressive play-calling in the first quarters.

"It's always nice to start off with a bang," Boller explained.

The question remains whether Cal will be able to maintain its fast start through the next 10 games.

Though these first two wins already show improvement from last year's record, the extent will not be evident until the weeks to come.

"You can tell it's the beginning of something," Cal athletics director Steve Gladstone said at the game, then carefully added, "But you can't build Rome in a day."

Memorial Stadium may not look like the Coliseum just yet, but extensive renovations are planned for the near future.

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