Nov. 12, 2000
A young California football team hopes to end the 2000 campaign on a positive note and provide a springboard for a promising season in 2001 when the Golden Bears host Stanford in the 103rd edition of the Big Game. Cal will try to reverse a trend that has seen Stanford win five consecutive and 9 of the last 11 Big Games. Stanford holds a 52-39-11 overall advantage in a series that dates back to 1892. It rates as the 10th most played rivalry in college football. In games played in Memorial Stadium, Stanford has an 18-15-5 advantage and has won two straight. Last season, Stanford clinched a Rose Bowl berth by scoring the last 17 points in a 31-13 victory in Palo Alto, despite a brilliant finale by Cal's Deltha O'Neal, who had a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD, a 58-yard punt return for a TD and an interception in the Cal end zone. However, behind walk-on quarterback Wes Dalton, the Bears generated only eight first downs and 130 yards of total offense. In the last game in Berkeley, Cal had only 198 yards of total offense, including minus-36 rushing yards, while Stanford had just 10 rushing yards, in a 10-3 Cardinal victory.
The 2000 Season: A Year of Missed Opportunities
In this year of relative parity in the Pac-10, there are many teams that can point to a few plays that could have made a major difference in the win-loss column. However, Cal would certainly lead the parade of those who will be saying "What if?" during the off-season. Cal came within a failed two-point conversion of tying Illinois in the final 90 seconds. The Bears gift-wrapped 18 Washington State's 21 points in a 21-17 defeat, via punt game mistakes. Cal had an 11-point fourth quarter lead at No. 9 Washington and was within two points of No. 14 Oregon State in the fourth quarter two weeks ago, until a missed sack gave the Beavers new life. Last week, Cal had a lead early in the fourth quarter at No. 6 Oregon. After the Ducks took an 18-17 lead, Cal looked like it had recovered a fumble at the Oregon 32-yard-line and in position to take the lead again with less than 10 minutes left in the game. However, after a long huddle, the officials awarded the ball back to the Ducks and Oregon eventually won an eight-point decision. Next year, Cal hopes to use its experience and maturity to turn those agonizing defeats into victory celebrations.
Bears Bid Farewell to 16 Seniors in Their Final Game in Cal's Memorial Stadium
Saturday's game will mark the final appearance for 16 California seniors, including six starters (2 on offense, 3 on defense, 1 punter). The starters are punter Nick Harris, offensive tackle/center Reed Diehl, tight end Brian Surgener, defensive end Andre Carter, defensive tackle Jacob Waasdorp and cornerback Chidi Iwuoma. The other seniors are offensive tackle Chris Chick, fullback Roy Jackson, safety Juan Jimenez, tight end Keala Keanaaina, defensive end Shaun Paga, cornerback Harold Pearson, receiver Phillip Pipersburg, linebacker Jason Smith, offensive lineman Robert Truhitte and safety David Watts.
Bears Look to 2001 With More Favorable Schedule and Lots of Experience
Cal began the 2000 season facing a schedule that one magazine (Inside Players) rated the third toughest in the nation, while Sports Illustrated ranked it as the sixth most difficult in college football. It has been all of that, and more, as the Bears have faced teams ranked No. 19 (Illinois), No. 9 (Washington) and No. 6 (Oregon), along with a USC team that was previously ranked No. 8, all on the road. The cumulative home record of those four teams this year is 18-6 (including a perfect 12-0 for Washington and Oregon). In addition, the Bears took on then-No. 13 ranked UCLA and then-No. 14 ranked Oregon State at home. Playing that level of competition, and having five of the first eight games on the road, is a recipe for growing pains for a young football team with only five senior starters. The good news is that Cal has a much more accommodating schedule next year, when the Bears' 18 returning starters (9 offense, 8 defense, 1 kicker) are expected by many to lead the team into the upper echelon of the conference. The Bears will host an Illinois team that currently has a 5-5 record and a BYU team that is currently 4-6 (and in the market for a new coach). The only non-conference game on the road is at a struggling Rutgers program that is currently 3-6 and will also be replacing its coach. Cal gets both current Top 10 teams Washington and Oregon at home, where the Bears will have a more hospitable environment to hopefully protect the fourth quarter leads that they saw go awry this season. In all, Cal has six home games, plus a short bus ride for the Stanford game. While the 2002 schedule isn't completely finalized, there's a good chance that Cal could have as many as eight home games that season.
Youthful Nucleus Bodes Well for Cal in 2001 and 2002 Seasons
Cal's encouraging play over the last half of the 2000 season has given a boost of optimism that the Golden Bears will not only show significantly better in the win-loss column, but could even contend for one of the top spots in the Pac-10 Conference. The Bears were obviously a very young team this fall, but that inexperience turned into maturity as the season wore on. The Bears competed on even terms with the top teams in the Pac-10 posted a 2-3 record down a stretch run that included match-ups against teams ranked No. 13, No. 9, No. 14 and No. 6 in four of the past five weeks. The three loses to teams that are all currently in the national Top 10 were in doubt until the final minutes. The most encouraging aspect of the strong finish is that Cal has done it with a very young line-up. Out of Cal's 22 starting positions, 14 are manned by either freshmen or sophomores. On offense Cal starts four freshmen (Chase Lyman, Geoff McArthur, Mark Wilson, Marvin Philip), four sophomores (Kyle Boller, Joe Igber, Scott Tercero, Ryan Stanger), one junior (Brandon Ludwig) and two seniors (Reed Diehl, Brian Surgener). On defense, Cal starts one freshman (Josh Beckham), six sophomores (Jemeel Powell, Nnamdi Asomugha, Tully Banta-Cain, Matt Nixon, John Klotsche, Bert Watts), one junior (Scott Fujita) and three seniors (Andre Carter, Jacob Waasdorp, Chidi Iwuoma). Overall, on Cal's two-deep depth chart, which goes 44 deep, there are 24 freshmen and sophomores.
Bears Show Quick Strike Ability, but Losing Time of Possession Battle
While Cal's offense has definitely improved in the second half of the season, demonstrating a quick strike ability that has been effective in producing points, but not in running a lot of time off the block. Last week, Oregon had a dominant time of possession edge of over eight minutes (34:23 to 25:37). That has been somewhat of a trend in the last month as UCLA had the ball five more minutes than the Bears, Washington more than 10 minutes and USC almost seven minutes more than the Bears. In averaging 29.0 points per game over the past five games, the Bears have scored 16 touchdowns. Three have come in non-offensive areas (interception return, punt return and fumble recovery return). The other TDs have been drives of some significant length, but they haven't been long drives in terms of time of possession. The 13 drives have averaged 58.0 yards, including eight drives of 65 yards or longer. However, those TD drives have averaged only 1:48 in time of possession. Last week, Cal had an 87-yard drive, but it took only three plays and just 0:46 off the clock. During that five-game span, Cal opponents have averaged 77 plays compared to Cal's 66 plays.
Nick Harris Finishes Brilliant Career as One of 10 Ray Guy Award Finalists
Nick Harris broke the NCAA career record for punting yardage two weeks ago as he became the first punter in NCAA history to kick for over 13,000 yards in a career. The senior All-America candidate has passed the former national record held Cameron Young of TCU, who punted for 12,947 yards from 1976-79 on 320 punts. Harris also should break Young's 320-punt record this week, as he needs just three punts to claim that mark, as well. Harris only ranks 35th nationally in punting this season with a 41.58 average, but that stat is misleading. He has been asked to punt for placement rather than distance most of the season as 22 of his 69 punts (31.9 percent) have come with a line of scrimmage inside opponent territory. He's has 34 punts downed inside the opponent 20-yard-line (50.7%). Included in that total are 10 punts inside opponent's 5-yard-line. Harris was named this past Friday as one of 10 finalist for the Ray Guy Award for the nation's top punter.
Reed Diehl Ends Cal Career as Symbol of Versatility
In a true testament to his unselfishness and putting the team first over his personal NFL ambitions, Reed Diehl has started at three different offensive line positions during the 2000 season. The 6-4, 305-pound senior is regarded as a solid pro prospect at center, but he's only played there in six games. Early in the season, Diehl moved to the left guard slot to fill in for the injured Brandon Ludwig. After returning to center in the mid-season, Diehl was asked last week to move to left tackle to shore up that position. Moving around to different positions is nothing new for Diehl as he began his playing career at Cal at the tight end position, where he served as a force in the running game in 1997. He actually can point out that he caught a 2-yard pass at Washington State that season. In 1998, he played right guard and in '99, he split time between left and right tackle. This year, Diehl has not only played three different positions, but he also has played through injuries that may have stopped others from seeing the playing field. He sprained his knee in the pre-season and then suffered a nerve problem in his leg in the opening game. He sat out the Illinois game with that injury, but has been back in the starting line-up for the rest of the way.
Andre Carter Completes Collegiate Career, Looks Like Sure High Draft Pick
When Cal recruited Andre Carter in the spring of 1997, the Bears knew they were getting a good one. However, his productivity has exceeded all expectations in his four years in the Cal program. With two more sacks last week, Carter now owns not only Cal's single-season, but also Cal's career sack records. Despite constant double-teaming, Carter has managed to wreak enormous havoc on opposing offenses this season. He also has shown tremendous durability. Of Cal's 746 defensive plays this year, Carter has been on the field for 743 of those plays (missing only two plays at Arizona State and one play vs. USC). Many are projecting he'll be one of the first 10 players taken in next spring's NFL draft. He was rated one of the Top 10 Defensive players in college football in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated.
Joe Igber Challenging Cal Top 10 Career and Season Rushing Lists
Sophomore Joe Igber needs a big game this week against Stanford to challenge the 1000-yard barrier, but he certainly could break into the Cal Top 10 season rushing list Saturday. With 812 yards, he needs just 56 yards to tie Reynard Rutherford's 1995 total of 868 yards. Igber would need a career-best 188 rushing yards vs. Stanford to hit 1000 yards.