Presbyterian is making a cross-country trip to play Cal at AT&T Park on Saturday, a matchup that had many fans rolling their eyes the moment the game was announced in February. Located in Clinton, S.C., Presbyterian is a Football Championship Subdivision program that is only five years removed from playing on the Division II level, with the unusual nickname of Blue Hose and little familiarity with Bears fans or players.
"That's their nickname?" Cal safety Sean Cattouse said. "I had never heard of them. I'm not putting them down. I just didn't know who they were until I saw them on our schedule."
Presbyterian landing onto Cal's schedule was the product of several variables for the Bears heading into this season. First, the university had to find an alternate site to play its 2011 home games while Memorial Stadium is being renovated. Once it was determined to be AT&T Park, Cal had to wait for the Giants to release their 2011 schedule to determine which home dates would be available. Then the school had to wait for the Pac-12 to release its conference schedule.
According to athletic director Sandy Barbour, by the time those uncertainties became known, the program was left with few options as an opponent.
Presbyterian athletic director Brian Reese had sent a mass email to Football Bowl Subdivision programs inquiring about playing a game, and the Bears responded.
"Because of not knowing where our games were going to land, what weekends we had, in combination with what dates we had open at AT&T, scheduling was just really difficult, and we had very few choices," she said.
That led to a matchup with the small college with an enrollment of only 1,200 students.
It's nickname is the product of a uniform combination the team began wearing in 1915. The school's athletic director at the time, Walter Johnson, insisted his players wear long blue stockings to match their blue jerseys. That prompted a local sports writer to tab them "Blue Stockings." It later morphed into "Blue Hose," a nickname that caught on with the student body and has remained ever since.
Presbyterian started making the transition to Division I in 2007 and is entering its third year in the Big South Conference. The Blue Hose started adding FBS opponents to their schedule last season as guarantee games, where the home team assures the school it will take home a set sum of money regardless of the attendance. Presbyterian lost at Wake Forest and Clemson in its first two games last year. The school has been guaranteed $400,000 for Saturday's game.
This is by far the farthest Presbyterian has ever traveled in the 99-year history of its football program. The school's previous longest trip was to Kansas for an NAIA playoff game at Pittsburgh State in 1987.
"We appreciate Cal taking a chance on us and making it work." Reese said. "We're really excited about it. To be honest, there are some people who think we are crazy to schedule a game like this. It will be a great experience, no question."
The Bears have made a habit of playing FCS opponents in recent years, but they have been West Coast teams such as UC Davis and Eastern Washington. Presbyterian clearly is much more of an unknown. The Blue Hose also are going through growing pains in their early years on the FCS level, having gone just 6-28 over the past three seasons.
"I don't think this game is going to be a whole lot different from some of those other opponents over the last five to seven years," Barbour said. "But it's not somebody that people have heard of."
The Bears have a few things going for them that might help them avoid a letdown against the Blue Hose. For starters, their defense is coming off a woeful performance during last week's 36-33 overtime win at Colorado in which it allowed 582 yards of offense. A victory would also make coach Jeff Tedford the school's all-time win leader with 75.
The coaching staff launched a pre-emptive strike, putting the players through an especially grueling practice Tuesday to get their attention.
"The coaches came out even harder," senior linebacker D.J. Holt said. "They forced it on us that we should prep like we're playing for the national championship. It felt like we were coming off a loss. They were getting on us. It makes everyone work harder."