LOS ANGELES -- After a second consecutive road loss against a Top 25 opponent, Cal's bowl prospects are on the rocks less than a month into the season.
The Golden Bears were overpowered 27-9 by No. 13 USC in their Pac-12 Conference opener in front of 83,421 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday. Cal has started 1-3 for only the second time in 11 seasons under coach Jeff Tedford.
"I understand we're 1-3, but there's a lot of football left to be played," Tedford said. "I have a lot of confidence in the chemistry of our team."
Only once have the Bears rallied from a 1-3 start to play in a bowl game. It's a faint silver lining that Cal overcame those odds in 2003 -- Tedford's second season at Berkeley -- and went on to play in the Insight Bowl.
The Bears must win five of their final eight games to become bowl eligible.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen said the Bears' performance was discouraging but that the team isn't close to cashing in.
"It's in our hands," he said of the rest of the season.
The Bears return home Saturday to face Arizona State, and quarterback Zach Maynard said, "We're going to come out with our hair on fire. We've got to get a win and make a statement."
But if the 35-28 loss to Ohio State a week ago provided encouragement, Cal had familiar troubles against USC:
USC (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) dominated with a running attack that produced two 100-yard rushers in a game for the first time since 2008. Penn State transfer Silas Redd ran for 158 yards, and Curtis McNeal had 115.
"I was surprised," Cal cornerback Steve Williams said. "They didn't have a running attack the previous game. But they came out and just pounded the ball."
It started with a dominant offensive line.
"I thought up front they were better than us today," Tedford conceded.
That made life easier for quarterback Matt Barkley, who shook off two first-half interceptions and threw touchdown passes of 11 and 3 yards to Marqise Lee. The Bears hoped to apply the same type of pressure on Barkley that Stanford did a week earlier in its 21-14 victory, but the USC senior never was sacked.
Cal, which totaled 512 yards at Ohio State, had just 250 and did not get into the end zone.
"Against teams like this, you can't win the game with field goals," Allen said. "We've got to get the ball in the end zone."
Cal had five chances inside USC's 20-yard line but managed only field goals of 24, 26 and 35 yards by Vincenzo D'Amato.
Maynard, coming off a sharp performance at Columbus, was sacked seven times and finished 18 of 33 for 173 yards with two interceptions. Both he and Allen said the USC pressure was such that Maynard often had to throw early, even before he could really see his target.
Tailback Brendan Bigelow, who exploded for 160 yards and two long touchdowns at Ohio State, was expected to play a bigger role. But he carried just four times for 31 yards -- all in the second half.
Bigelow said only that he planned to be ready when called.
Tedford offered no explanation for why Bigelow got just one snap in the first half, except to say, "Early in the game there wasn't really any room to run. I don't put that on the backs."
A week after rushing for 224 yards at Ohio State, the Bears netted just 77.
"That's an explosive offense," USC coach Lane Kiffin said, "and at the end of the day we won it up front."
Tedford continues to believe he has a good team, and maybe it will show in the weeks ahead.
"We've got to make enough plays to get over the hump," he said. "Two weeks in a row on the road, we didn't do that."