Monday, January 12, 2009

Bears sneak into the Polls

The Bears have snuck into the Polls this morning, garnering a 22 in the AP and a 23 in the coaches poll. They were about 27 in the AP last week, and about 39 in the coaches ranking based on other's receiving votes. Good thing the coaches just try and copy the AP each week.

Before this week, they were the highest rated team in the RPI not to be ranked (RPI rank 10). They are now one of five teams with 15 victories. According to the RP!, they have played the 37th toughest schedule, and have some impressive road wins.

Of course, a lot has already been written about the incredible win on Saturday night at Washington. This was a game for the ages. There have been some incredible games in the past - some say the five overtime games against Oregon in 1977 was the best one ever. However, I think that this game could be elevated over time as a turning point for the Bears, and I mean the whole program.

In 1986, we had a new coach (Lou C), a great player (Kevin Johnson), and a vow from the coach that we would beat UCLA. He had not known that we had not beaten them in something like 52 straight tries, spanning 27 years.

For those of you who were students then, you remember bursting into the game (the ticket takers didn't even try to punch your AP card) and screaming your lungs out as the Bears dropped a fairly mediocre UCLA team. It was that burden that was lifted from the program, that got the Bears moving forward in the late 80's and 90's - under Campinelli, Bozeman and finally Braun - where we finally plateaued after 7 or 8 years. But we were rarely the joke we were in the 60's and 70's and early 80's again. We had started the rise - we built a great court, we played in the tournament on occasion, most of the time we were competing for a tournament slot. In 1990 we were in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 30 years, and were back nine times in the next 18 years.

But this game, I think, will be the turning point, where the Bears are viewed as a true contender. This is a game where, if you can win on the road in a triple overtime while playing poorly against a very good Washington team, and come out with a win, then you start to believe that you can win it all. When you out-rebound a team that leads the nation in rebound ratio, you start to believe that you can win it all. When you can't shoot your three point shot, as the leading three point shooting team in the country, and you still win, you start to believe.

Mike Montgomery came to Cal, and so far has proven that he can coach, and the Bears have proven that they can win. And it seems we are finally at the next level.

So what does that mean for the future? Who knows. But it clearly does mean that there is no point where you can count these Bears out. There is some magic in this team.

Jerry Palm's College RPI site does a projected RPI, and he has us going 28-3 with a final RPI of 14 - which works out to a 4 seed. While the Pac 10 conference RPI this year is a little low (Oregon State is dragging us down) we are 4th overall, ahead of the SEC, Mountain West and Big 12, but behind the Big 10, Big East and ACC.

If the Bears can go to maples this weekend and deal with Stanfurd, look out. This is going to be a tough game - the Cardinal are backed up, with three losses already in the Pac 10 - two this weekend by one point each (although the first, by Arizona State was by 30 points!)

This is the Montgomery homecoming game. I imagine he wants to do well. I also imagine the Trent Johnson's replacement wants to do well. Remember, Stanfurd has a new head coach (or as they call it, the Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men's Basketball - nice when you can sell EVERYTHING). He is Johnny Dawkins, the assistant from Duke. They started out well, but have lost three of the last four. You can already hear the calls for the Ax swishing away - if Monty can clobber them. T Johnson is doing OK at LSU - 13-3, but lost his last two to Utah (Cal beat) and Alabama.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rankings, Rankings, Rankings

Final Football Rankings are in - the Bears are 26 in the AP pool, and 25 in the final Coaches poll. That is up about four slots in each. Frankly, less than what I expected, but I am a homer.

Here is what my final football ranking would look like:

1. USC
2. Florida
3. Utah
4. Texas
5. Penn State
6. Oklahoma
7. Oregon
8. Oregon State
9. Texas Tech
10. Mississippi
11. Ohio State
12. TCU
13. Alabama
14. California
15. Virginia Tech
16. Georgia Tech
17. Georgia
18. Florida State
19. Boise State
20. Arizona
21. Michigan State
22. Cincinnati
23. West Virginia
24. Oklahoma State
25. Missouri

This was my vote in the vote. Am I a Pac 10 homer? Perhaps. But here is my thinking:

First, the top five. I think USC looked better in the Rose Bowl than any other team. They played a very good Penn State team, and had thier way with them. Penn State, I think, could have beaten Texas or Oklahoma.

In the bowls, I think once again the Big 12 was exposed. They played no one all season, and then they play competition with defense and they get crushed. Texas won, so they got the highest ranking, But if they had played Florida, they may have lost as well. As far as it goes for Utah, I really think they are a top 10 team, but not a top five team. But they won all their games, and beat an overrated Alabama team in the Sugar Bowl. So they deserve a number 2 ranking. I do think that they are really in the class of Oregon, Oregon State, and Cal. Not in the class of Florida or USC.

At the end of the year, I think Oregon was playing superbly. Oregon State I gave a high ranking because they lost the Roger's boys, and they still thumped Oklahoma State.

I think the difference between number 9 Texas Tech and number 19 Boise State is nothing. Any of those could be interchanged. However, I did what I did based on the won loss record and the total number of top 25 wins. And then I adjusted based on my opinion. So there.

As far as it goes, I think my poll does diverge from the AP and others based on the fact that I actually watch west coast games, as well as east coast games. So I did include west coast teams in my poll.


I do want to say about the AP poll: there are nine 4 loss teams ahead of Cal, and 5 three loss teams ahead of Cal. Of those teams, 5 had the same wins against top 25 oposition (one of which was Oregon, who we beat). There were three who had one win against top 25 opposition, and 6 who had NO wins against top 25 opposition. But the Bears were ranked behind all of them. It is a joke.


At least the Men's hoop team is getting some love finally. We are not ranked yet, but will be after this weekend. Right now, the Bears are ranked number 10 in the RPI, and will improve with a road victory today against Washington. There are only 7 teams with as many victories as the Bears, and only one team with more - 15-0 Clemson. The Bears are tied with 6 other teams with 14 wins. Before the season, I predicted 18 wins would get us into the tournament. I think at this point, even though we are still early in the season, we are playing for seeding. The Bears could come back from next weeks road trip 5-0 in the Pac 10, after bearing Washington and Stanfurd on the Road. I could easily see us beating the Oregon Schools at home the week after, and go to LA 7-0 in the Pac 10. Granted, if we lost the last 11 games of our season, we may not make it. But there is a very real chance of finishing the first half of the season 7-2 or 8-1 in Pac 10 play. And that is the tough half of the conference season. This year, we get more teams at home in the second half.

I was nervous going into the Washington State game. I was concerned because that is a tough place to play, and they have a good team. But the Bears handled themselves well. It seems like they have a good head on, and are committed to playing to their potential. That has not been the case in a long time.

It used to be that we would wins many games because we were simply better, and some games that we should not because we got hot. But inevitably we would lose some games because we just had a brain cramp. These Bears seem to have a mental toughness that has been lacking in these parts for as long as I can remember.

It's nice to see.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bears Winning Week

While I have not posted as much as I would have liked to over the past weeks, it seems clear to me that the Cal Bears athletic programs are at a point not seen in 50 years.

The Bears hoops team is on the rise, and if we can get though this weekend undefeated in conference play against beatable but tough Washington teams, the Bears will be in the top 25 in both polls, and probably the top 10 in the RPI (currently 14th).

The Football team will also finish in the top 25, I predict, after the final polls are taken, having gone 9-4 in a rebuilding year, with a bowl victory over a big name, Miami (even though Miami is down).

Football recruiting is cruising along, plugging in what seems like all of the gaps to make the Bears a strong contender for the conference title next season, with what I think is a pretty good schedule to make it. Maryland at home, USC at home, Oregon State at home, and Arizona at home. The only issue is Oregon away, and I think we can take those guys (particularly since the entire Oregon football staff seems to be falling apart).

The Women's basketball team is fighting to maintain perennial top 10 status, becoming a national fixture in recruiting.

Water polo, Women's Volley Ball, Crew, Rugby, Softball, are at the top of the nation in each sport year after year. Baseball, Men's and women's soccer and Gymnastics are almost there. Same with Field hockey, Tennis, and Golf.

So, in almost all major sporting endeavors, the Bears are at the top of the nation, or in the top 25. In fact, Track and Field is the only sport where there is much room for improvement is track and field, where the addition of Jahvid best and Shane Vareen would improve the team considerably.

The Student Athlete High Performance Center is going up,which will not be just a gym, but a fully integrated physical, nutritional and emotional / psychological training facility - the first of it's kind in the US for college athletics. It will bring state of the art training and conditioning to a whole range of athletes at Cal.

The funding for the University Athletic programs are in place, which essentially means that Football is stabilized. Jeff Tedford just signed a long term contract extension - he is here until 2015. He also has put in place at Cal a deferred compensation plan which means to me that he does really want to stay until retirement, because that is not the kind of plan you use to defer comp when there is no expectation that you are going to be staying. He has said that Berkeley is his home, and he has turned down other colleges, as well as the NFL. In fact, I could see him here for another 20 years, bring Cal multiple BCS games and perhaps a few national championships. Recruiting is actually picking up, I think, for the Bears. There are few institutions that offer what Cal can - world leading education, as well as top level athletics, in a top living destination. I would count on one hand the number of Universities that can offer that - maybe Texas. UCLA if it had a decent football team and not a scumbag coach. USC if it actually offered academics. Michigan and Ohio State if they were in a nice part of the world. Stanford if they had a football team.

Football drives the funding, and the new sales process for the seat plan will definitely put the cash in the Athletic Department's pocket. And we have confidence that we can build it all because we have a good team, which will be a great team, and will continue to drive the success of the other programs at Cal.

I see a time in the not too distant future where Cal wins the Sears cup year after year - even though we do not count crap like fencing. The Bears will win multiple National Championships, and will be a strong contender in every sport. It all comes down to the money that football raises, and the investment in the right talent in coaching. And because of the investment in Jeff Tedford, the Cal football cash cow will soon drive all of the athletic programs to the top of the charts.

What does that mean to the University? Frankly, it means that when all of the sports are endowed with a quarter billion dollars, the athletic department will be on solid ground. That athletics will start to support educational missions, rather than the University funds supporting athletics. That more and more donors will be putting funds in both the school and athletics, since success breeds familiarity, and in fundraising, that breeds cash.

What Sandy Barour has done to set the table for the Bears over the next decades has been tremendous. She deserves every bit of praise that she gets. These past few years have been years of great growth and success and it will only grow from here.