The excitement surrounding Jeff Tedford's first five years as Cal's football coach is gone.
After Tedford did a remarkable job turning the program from an embarrassment to a player on the national scene in a very short time, the Bears have spent the past few seasons falling back into irrelevancy. The downward arc of that decline became steeper this season when Cal finished 5-7, the Bears' first losing season under Tedford.
Cal no longer is considered one of the elite programs in the Pac-10. Depending on what happens in games this weekend, the Bears will finish seventh or eighth in the Pac-10 standings. Cal finished sixth last year. The Bears almost assuredly will be picked to finish near the bottom next season.
In a way, Tedford now is faced with rebuilding Cal's program for the second time. The Bears are nowhere near the mess they were when he took over after they went 1-10 in 2001, but there are a ton of questions to deal with this offseason. It's not like 2007, when a lack of team chemistry resulted in a second-half collapse despite a slew of talent. And it's not like 2009, when the Bears registered some quality wins but were blown out in other games.
This year, Cal wasn't very good. The Bears lost to the top six teams in the current conference standings. For much of the season, the story line was that Cal was great at home and terrible on the road. But the Bears lost their final three games in Berkeley.
To become Pac-10 contenders again, the Bears have to find more playmakers on offense and improve their consistency on defense. They also have to examine why they've had so many lopsided losses in the past two years when they've proved they can be much more competitive at other times.
But no hole moving forward is bigger than the one at quarterback. Three-year starter Kevin Riley is gone, having seen his Cal career come to an end after suffering a knee injury Oct. 30 against Oregon State. Brock Mansion started the final four games and was ineffective.
When the Bears get together for spring practice, they will have five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. They will add a sixth when incoming freshman Kyle Boehm shows up in the fall. Tedford says the position is wide open.
It appeared the Bears didn't have confidence that Mansion could win them a game at the end of the season. Needing a victory to become bowl-eligible in its regular-season finale, Cal blatantly stuck with its running game, oftentimes on what appeared to be clearly passing downs.
Mansion will be in the mix to become Cal's 2011 starter, but every other quarterback on the roster is a candidate, as well. Sophomore Beau Sweeney actually has more experience than Mansion taking second-team reps in practice over the past two seasons, so that should make him qualified to compete. Redshirt freshman Allan Bridgford came to Cal very highly recruited, but a shoulder injury set him back. He is healthy now and will get a strong look. Even true freshman Austin Hinder, who would seem to be behind a few of the others, reportedly played well when the team scrimmaged during its bye week and will have a legitimate opportunity in the spring.
The wild card at the position could be Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard, the half-brother of freshman wide receiver Keenan Allen. Maynard was the Bulls' starter in 2009 and threw for 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns with 15 interceptions. He also rushed for 455 yards and a score.
Whoever the quarterback is, he will need some more effective playmakers on the receiving end of his throws. Allen showed great promise as a true freshman with 46 receptions for 490 yards and five touchdowns. But he battled injuries, as well. Marvin Jones was the Bears' leading receiver for the second year in a row (50 catches, 765 yards), but his production fell off at the end. He didn't catch more than three passes in any of Cal's final three games and dropped a few key passes during the second half of the season.
Of the returners for next season, the next-most productive receiver was Michael Calvin, who had 13 catches for 147 yards. Alex Lagemann caught just one pass all year.
That all means Tedford will take a long look at a group of receivers that redshirted this year -- Tevin Carter, Kaelin Clay and Terrance Montgomery. Carter was considered a top-100 receiver coming out of Santee High-Los Angeles. Clay and Montgomery weren't as highly recruited, but Tedford still expects big things from them.
There's not as much work to do on defense. The Bears are in position to lead the Pac-10 in total defense for only the third time ever and first since 1999. They are on top right now at 319.1 yards per game, and Oregon would have to allow 168 yards or less to Oregon State on Saturday to overtake them.
But as good as Cal was on defense this season, it suffered some dramatic lapses. The Bears gave up 52 points to Nevada, 48 each to USC and Stanford and 35 to Oregon State. And that defense will be losing its two best players by far -- linebacker Mike Mohamed and end Cameron Jordan.
Monte Poole: Despite the howls of some alumni, Jeff Tedford deserves to stay. Page 2