Don’t tell the Cal football team it did not make the postseason.
“This is our bowl game, really,” said linebacker Chris McCain of Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. bout with No. 15 Oregon State. “Oregon was our first bowl game, this is our next bowl game. We got a bowl game, we just got to win it.”
Despite being officially shut out of the postseason by Washington on Nov. 2 and routed by the Ducks a week later, the Bears (3-8, 2-6 in the Pac-12) still have plenty of motivation in Corvallis, Ore.
It is the last game for the 19 seniors on Cal’s roster, and the squad wants to send its leaders off with a win, especially after a deficient season.
The seniors, meanwhile, have one more game to don the blue and gold.
“We get to put this uniform on one (more) time,” said senior running back C.J. Anderson. “We’re gonna play our asses off.”
Then there is next year. A victory at Reser Stadium could give the youthful Bears motivation going into the offseason.
While the difference between a 3-9 season and a 4-8 season may seem trivial, McCain said it is all about setting an example. The tenacious sophomore said he will play this final game as if it were the first.
Others hope for a clean slate come September 2013.
“I feel like we’re gonna start fresh next season,” said wide receiver Chris Harper. “I don’t think (a loss) would have a great effect on our season.”
Saturday’s result could substantially impact head coach Jeff Tedford, who is on the hot seat after missing a bowl for the second time in three seasons.
Perhaps in a nod to fonder times, Tedford wore a Holiday Bowl sweatshirt in his weekly press conference Tuesday. He plans to meet with Athletic Director Sandy Barbour on Sunday to discuss his future at Cal, a once perennial top-25 program that is just 15-21 since 2010.
“We really have to put it all under a microscope — how can I be better as a head coach?” Tedford said. “What can I do to help our staff, what can I do to help our players? So the first place I will look is the mirror … We’ll do a deep dive and figure out where we can improve.”
But before the 11-year head coach takes time to self-reflect, there is a game to be played — between two teams both expected to start their second-string quarterback.
Sean Mannion will take over for Cody Vaz, who injured his ankle late in the Beavers’ 27-23 loss to Stanford last Saturday. Mannion began the season as the starter but was regulated to backup after a four-interception game following a knee surgery.
Junior Allan Bridgford is set to lead Cal’s offense, which could run into trouble against an Oregon State defense that allows fewer than 20 points and 100 rushing yards per game.
Bridgford’s self-proclaimed “average” performance in last week’s start — 9-for-21, 113 yards — did nothing to dissuade his teammates’ support or morale.
“We all we got at the end of the day,” McCain said. “The season didn’t go as planned, but we really can’t take back time. We can’t replay any games.”
While the Beavers (7-2, 5-2) can make the Pac-12 title game if they win out, Saturday’s contest could be Tedford’s last with the Bears.
Harper — whose 38-reception, 518-receiving-yard campaign ranks among the best all-time at Cal for a freshman receiver — does not want to see his coach leave. Still, the team mostly tries to avoid the Tedford rumors swirling around Berkeley.
“Right now we got Tedford, and we riding with Tedford,” McCain said. “Hopefully Tedford will be back next season, and we can pick up and start off again next season.
“At the end of the day, we don’t make no decisions.”
Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at email@example.com