This is it for Cal. Beginning with a beat-down of Maryland on Saturday night, this is the year of the Bears.
This is the year they topple USC, the year they win the Pacific-10 Conference, the year they reach the Rose Bowl for the first time since Jan. 1, 1959.
This is the year Joe Kapp drinks his Tequila.
It all sets up perfectly for the Bears, who were picked second in the Pac-10 preseason media poll behind USC, the seven-time defending league champion.
They have a veteran quarterback (junior Kevin Riley) who can make plays with his arm and his legs.
They have a dazzling tailback (Jahvid Best) who can score from anywhere at any time.
They have first-rate offensive tackles (Mitchell Schwartz and Mike Tepper) to repel the pass rushers who prowl the Pac-10.
They have playmakers on the defensive line and in the secondary, a game-changing punter (Bryan Anger) and a favorable schedule:
The Trojans visit Berkeley in early October, when they're prone to stumbles, as opposed to November, when they never lose.
Not since the early years of Pete Carroll's tenure has USC been this vulnerable, what with a revamped defense, a slew of injuries and academic casualties and a freshman quarterback.
Matt Barkley will be making the fifth start of his career when the Trojans arrive Oct. 3 (assuming he has played well enough to keep the job). The last time Cal beat USC, in triple overtime six years ago, it was late September, and Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart was making the fourth start of his career.
It all sets up perfectly for the Bears.
They have 15 returning starters (compared to 12 for USC) and strong leadership across all units. Coach Jeff Tedford has solved the trust issues that derailed the '07 season. New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, a Tedford pal, is the right fit for that crucial role. And there is no quarterback controversy — it's Riley's job.
Not since the 2004 season, when they came within a last-second touchdown (at USC) of winning the conference, have the Bears possessed this combination of talent, experience and chemistry.
"This is the best overall group," said offensive tackle Mike Tepper, a sixth-year senior and the only current player who was on the '04 roster.
"We've had groups with a lot of talent. But the '04 team also had great cohesion. In between, the cohesion has been OK. This year, it's really good."
It all sets up perfectly.
The Bears have just one road game against a preseason top-25 team, Oregon.
The conference rivals that give them the most trouble (USC, Oregon State and Arizona) must all visit Berkeley, where Cal is 27-4 the past five years.
And the Bears have a perfectly placed bye between the USC colossus and the tough trip to UCLA, where Tedford has never won.
They'll lose at some point, sure. They aren't good enough to run the table. But a head-to-head victory over USC combined with a second league loss for the Trojans will give Cal the cushion it needs to reach the Rose Bowl.
This is the year — it has to be.
When will Cal have a back like Best, a defense like this and a freshman under center at USC? When will everything be set up so perfectly?
"I've hoped every year since I've been here that 'This is the year,'"" Tepper said. "I felt confident going into the '07 season, too. But you can't bank on it."
This year, you can.