July 24, 2008
Berkeley - The University of California football team was picked to finish fourth according to the 2008 Pacific-10 Conference preseason media poll released on Thursday.
Five-time defending conference champion USC was a near-unanimous choice to win the league title. The Trojans were listed in the top spot by 38 of the 39 voters participating in the poll. It marks the sixth consecutive year the Trojans have been the choice to win the title.
"I'm really excited this time of year to get started and get with the players," said head coach Jeff Tedford [at Pac-10 media day with Alex Mack]. "I'm very happy to have Alex with us. I always joke that he is our number one recruit because he chose to come back to school for his senior season. He is a great player and a great leader, we very fortunate to have him. The guys have been working very hard, the chemistry that we are able to build in the spring will help us. We had some talented guys who have departed, but we also have guys eager to fill in. I'm looking forward to camp on August 3 when players report."
One of the strengths for the Golden Bears, who received the other first-place media vote, this season, appears to be their veteran linebacking corps, led by hard-hitting senior Zack Follett, an All-American candidate who has led the team in sacks for two straight years. Fellow seniors Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder are joined by rangy sophomore Mike Mohammed and Berkeley High product, Eddie Young, to give the Bears extensive experience in the middle of the field.
Junior cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson and junior defensive lineman Tyson Alualu join the linebackers as potential stars on defense. Thompson has started every game in his first two years at Cal, while Alualu is developing into a potent force up front.
Cal's offensive line also will be a key in 2008. Center Alex Mack, a Playboy Preseason All- American, will be one of the top offensive linemen in the country, while mountainous Mike Tepper, at 6-7 and 330 pounds, slides to the crucial left tackle role.
The running game has always been strong for the Bears under Tedford, and this season Cal will have a trio of talented tailbacks to attack the opposition. Exciting speedster Jahvid Best from Vallejo sparkled as a true freshman in 2007 and is the lead candidate for the primary role in the backfield this year. However, sophomore Tracy Slocum and redshirt freshman Shane Vereen give the Bears multiple options. "Jahvid's health is very good," said Tedford. "We held him out of spring drills with a hip injury that he suffered in the USC game. He rehabbed through spring, but has been through the summer program and is 100% healthy."
Tedford also shed light on the quarterback situation heading into fall camp. "We feel like we are in a great situation with our quarterbacks. Nate [Longshore] has played in a lot of games and won a lot of games for us. Kevin Riley had a couple of opportunities last season and played well. It's going to be very competitive going into fall camp. We will pick a starter the first week of the season and it might take both of them. To clarify, they are both going to get game time."
Defending Pac-10 co-champion Arizona State was picked to finish second in the poll, with Oregon edging Cal for third place, followed by UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona, Washington, Stanford and Washington State.
The media poll has correctly selected the conference champion in 25 of 47 previous polls, including the last eight years in a row. Following are the results of the preseason media poll (points 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, total points in parentheses).
1. USC (389) 2. Arizona State (330) 3. Oregon (295) 4. California (274) 5. UCLA (204) 6. Oregon State (192) 7. Arizona (185) 8. Washington (139) 9. Stanford (76) 10. Washington State (61)
The 2008 Cal Football schedule opens on Saturday, Aug. 30, against Michigan State. Other games on the Cal home slate include the 111th edition of the Big Game vs. Stanford, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State, Washington and Colorado State. Season and single-game tickets for the 2008 Cal football schedule are currently available by visiting www.CalBears.com or by calling 1-800-GO-BEARS.