Pac 10 Football

We’ve expended exactly zero words in this space on this year’s football season, college or pro. There is a local team worthy of regular comment–or ridicule–and that’s the Oakland Raiders. But enough about them. The two teams most avidly followed under this Berkeley roof are California, of the NCAA’s Pacific 10 conference, and Chicago, a founding club of the National Football League. Both perform their gridiron labors under the sobriquet “Bears.”

We don’t lose a lot of sleep over either Bears squad. They’re just not good enough to cause that or to merit it. But emotional attachments are hard to sunder and occasionally the teams are entertaining. Cal is a more immediate experience, seeing they play a couple miles from our house, close enough that when the stadium cannon is fired to celebrate a touchdown it’s clearly audible here.

The conceit for any fan of a decent college football program is that the team they follow is on the threshold or at least capable of greatness (some people root for teams that actually are great–such as the quasi-pro squads at schools like Florida, Texas, and the University of Southern California. I don’t know have any idea what it would be like to root for such a team, though a certain infuriating smugness seems to come with that rarefied territory).

California, at any rate, is a school with a consistently decent football program, a program good enough and rich enough that its coach is a millionaire and fans enjoy a week or two every season thinking that, “Gee, this year these guys are for real.” But Cal, millionaire coach and all, is also a consistently inconsistent team, capable of spectacular performances, weird lapses and blind stupidity–sometimes on the same play. The team won its first three games this year, badly abusing a collection of overmatched squads. Then it began its conference schedule with a game against Oregon in Eugene. Cal looked helpless and scored a single field goal while the Ducks ran riot. Cal made an identical impression against USC in Berkeley: a lone field goal while the Trojans cruised up and down the field at will. Since then, freed of expectations, the Bears have had an OK season. They lost to a good Oregon State team. They beat UCLA, Washington State, Arizona State and Arizona. Today they played Stanford.

Step back a moment from the Cal particulars. The rest of the conference has been pretty interesting.

Oregon demolished Cal, then went on to smash USC, the perennial conference power. It was Oregon’s year, until they played Stanford a couple weeks ago. Stanford whipped them.

USC lost an early game to Washington–continuing a string of seasons during which it has lost a close game to a weaker conference opponent (other upsets in recent years came by way of Oregon State and Stanford). Then the Trojans seemed to get back on track by dominating California. But USC didn’t really flatten anyone else. In fact, they got steamrolled themselves by Oregon in Eugene. And last week, Stanford not only beat them but racked up more points against them than any team in history. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of guys (by which I really mean: a more entitled-seeming group of fans).

So Cal vs. Stanford. The Cardinal took down Oregon immediately after the Ducks’ big win against USC, and then it simply overpowered USC. Both Oregon and USC stomped Cal. What chance could the Bears possibly have? Naturally, the Bears beat them. Not just beat them, dominated them — the 34-28 score hid the fact Cal held the ball for nearly 40 minutes out of 60 and got 31 first downs to Stanford’s 16.

Elsewhere, Oregon came from behind to beat Arizona and keep the inside track for the conference championship and Rose Bowl berth. But to get there, they need to beat Oregon State on December 3. It’s a home game for the U of O. I’ll give the edge to the Ducks over the Beavers.

But this is the Pac 10, so don’t bet on anything.