Nov. 18, 2004
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - J.J. Arrington and his California teammates are on the verge of so many remarkable accomplishments that it might be impossible not to think ahead to New Year's Day or beyond.
If Saturday's opponent was anyone but Stanford, that is.
"We know this is our most important game," said Arrington, who's 46 yards shy of breaking Chuck Muncie's school record for yards rushing in a season. "We're preparing for it like it's our only game left. When you're at Cal, beating Stanford is always going to be a goal."
All season, the fourth-ranked Golden Bears (8-1, 6-1 Pac-10) have publicly maintained the tunnel vision of coach Jeff Tedford, who practically refuses to acknowledge the existence of the Bowl Championship Series, let alone Cal's potential place in the sport's biggest games.
But with just two games remaining in the Bears' season, Tedford knows such talk will be nearly impossible to avoid. He's still hoping to keep his players focused on one game at a time for at least one more week - and since that next game is against Stanford, it shouldn't be hard.
"We've tried to maintain a level focus all year long," Tedford said. "The BCS has nothing to do with this game. We're going to have to play our best to be able to compete with Stanford. While (the Bears) probably see things about the BCS on TV or whatever, I'm confident that our players know what's important."
With a victory in the 107th Big Game, Cal would finish its Pac-10 schedule with its most victories in conference play since 1949, when coach Pappy Waldorf's team went 7-0 in the Pacific Coast Conference.
The Bears also could finish their home schedule unbeaten for the first time since 1950 while maintaining their highest national ranking since 1952. If they beat Stanford, win in their hurricane-postponed trip to Southern Mississippi on Dec. 4 and No. 1 Southern California wins its final two games, the Bears will probably earn their first Rose Bowl bid in 45 years.
But the most successful Cal team in decades would be forever tarnished in the minds of many Old Blues if it can't knock off Stanford in the only game that really matters. The players have heard all about it from fellow students and boosters in the week leading up to the game at Memorial Stadium.
"You don't really need any extra motivation in your last home game as a senior, but playing Stanford is even more incentive," safety Ryan Gutierrez said. "We don't want to betray anything we've achieved so far this year. Our goals are all still within our grasp, and they've kind of lost touch with theirs, but that could make them very dangerous."
While Cal has a five-game winning streak and multiple sources of motivation, Stanford (4-6, 2-5) will finish its disappointing season Saturday. In the Cardinal's last visit to Berkeley two years ago, Cal's fans celebrated the Bears' victory by tearing down the goalposts and carrying quarterback Kyle Boller on their shoulders.
That loss snapped the Cardinal's seven-game winning streak in the rivalry. Tedford has beaten Buddy Teevens in both of their matchups since the coaches took over their respective schools in 2002. Teevens' task of building a consistent winner under challenging circumstances has been made even tougher by Tedford's success - but a frustrating season would be nearly perfect with one last win.
"You don't have to state openly how big the Big Game is," Teevens said. "It's all over campus. These guys are as good as anybody we have our schedule, and I think our play will have to reflect that."