Early-season college football is tough, because you don’t know what’s real and what’s not. The first couple weeks are always full of left-field outcomes that range from sort of fluky to truly insane and that must be taken at face value and nothing more. The Bears riding into Chapel Hill and making it look easy, UCLA’s historic comeback against Texas A&M, and Howard upsetting UNLV come to mind. We just don’t have enough information to make conclusive decisions on team directions and capabilities after a weekend that can often be chalked up as an overly celebrated warmup.
But after matching their road-win total from a year ago on just one trip, the Bears are doing what they can to ensure consistency.
“I wouldn’t say I feel different this week,” quarterback and sudden campus hero Ross Bowers said. “It’s definitely a great feeling to have that first one under our belt. Maybe we trust what everyone is doing more — it’s just easier when you’re winning. I think everybody’s approaching this week the same — nothing’s really changed and I don’t think anything really needs to change.”
The sophomore speaks with the same insight he showed on the field in his first start. 363 yards and four touchdowns is an impressive showing for anyone, especially someone who took a train to the head during the second quarter. He did have two interceptions on horrible decisions, though, and he’s going against a defense that’s known for their aggressiveness.
Weber State will come into Berkeley this weekend as the winners of a 76-0 whitewashing in their season opener. The Wildcats allowed just 124 yards through the air, grabbing four interceptions, and allowed 23 yards rushing on 21 carries. Yes, they beat up on Montana Western (formerly known as the “Montana State Normal School”) and yes, they are in the little-brother FCS division. But we’re taking things at face value, right?
The Wildcat defense plays a hard press, something Bowers hasn’t yet grappled with. If the young quarterback gets off his game early — or faces pressure similar to caused him serious trouble in North Carolina — the running game may not be able to bail him out.
“They’re physical,” Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin said. “They know who they are and their identity. They’ll be in your face with an aggressive style. It’s gonna be a tough challenge for us, no question.”
Relying on the Cal defense to win has been a death wish in recent years, and an alright outing from that unit against a mediocre team does not a revamp make. Weber State also racked up eight touchdowns on the ground last week, while Cal allowed three, along with 219 rushing yards for a nearly 5-yard-per-carry average. The play of Cal linebackers can only cover a leaky line for so long. No, no: This game will be won or lost by the offense.
It’ll be interesting to see how Bowers does. Of all Cal’s moving pieces and unknown assets, he’s by far the most important this season. If he’s the quarterback he showed he could be last week, this year could prove far more than the rebuild that was projected in the summer. Be that same guy this week, and the Bears should have an easy feast at home — perhaps their biggest blowout of the entire year.
Such a success wouldn’t mean much — Cal is currently favored by a huge margin — but it would give reinforcement not just for his selection as starting quarterback, but for Wilcox’s start as well. Continued success, no matter the opponent, would speak volumes to idea that things are indeed getting better. Play worse, lose to an inferior opponent after beating a superior one, and he’ll prove yet again what we already know — that we don’t know anything.