Bears appear bowl-bound, but not blue-ribbon

Get ready for a December road trip, ladies and gentlemen — Cal is going bowling again.

This is not a shocking projection, as the Bears are not going to a high-level bowl. No, this team is shaping up to be a sliver above average, which is enough for the players to still get free electronics and other assorted swag.

A month ago, someone could have easily glanced down the Bears’ schedule and predicted a three-game losing streak. Sure, it was the first time a Jeff Tedford-coached team had started off conference play 0-3, but that wasn’t a damning indictment of this team.

Cal’s Pac-12 slate kicked off with Washington (a team that is about to have its best season in over a decade), Oregon (a team that is better than all but four or five others in the country) and USC (a team that has had Cal’s number for nearly a decade).

The Bears will not have to go above and beyond to ensure a bowling trip. (The overwhelming number of bowl games means that not many teams in the country do, but that’s another matter entirely.) They will be favored to win their next three games — they need only two for eligibility.

Let’s look at the rest of the schedule.

Oct. 29, at UCLA: Brawl suspensions mean that the Bruins will be missing four receivers from a barely existent pass attack. Cal just stuffed the Pac-12’s third-best tailback to two yards through three quarters. ESPN Gameday is going to Los Angeles, not Pasadena — local TV has yet to pick up this 4 p.m. thriller.

Nov. 5, vs. Washington State: If the Bears lose again before the Big Game, this could be the game. The Cougs have two good-not-great quarterbacks and were just run over by what was a one-win Oregon State team, but they simply feel like a team that will sneak up on someone at some point. Dim playoff hopes mean Paul Wulff’s squad could get up for this one after letting Cal escape Pullman last year.

Nov. 12, vs. Oregon State: For a while, the Beavers looked like the worst team in FBS football. They’re better than that, but unless Mike Riley really does have some special magic against Cal — he’s 6-2 against Tedford — the Bears could have a tough time blowing this one at home.

Nov. 19, at Stanford: In the Cardinal’s 65-21 decimation of Washington, Andrew Luck passed for fewer yards than Zach Maynard. This is scary for the fact that, A) the world now makes slightly less sense, and B) Stanford can blow out ranked teams without relying on its best player.

The Cardinal just broke a school record with 446 rushing yards against the Huskies, and a defense that no longer has its best player stifled one of the higher flying offenses in the Pac-12. Cal will probably keep the score closer than Big Game 2010, so there’s that.

Nov. 25, at Arizona State: Vontaze Burfict is a scary, scary man for a multitude of reasons. (YouTube his name with the terms “Idaho State” or “Katz” for reference.) The Sun Devils’ star linebacker is a 230-pound tornado that can toss your backfield apart at any time. If he doesn’t break Maynard, that’s a small victory for Cal.

That ASU also has a decent quarterback/giant in the 6-foot-8 Brock Osweiler makes it the Pac-12’s third-best team.

Dec. 2, Pac-12 Championship Game: Nope.

Dec. 22, MAACO Las Vegas Bowl: This bowl gets the fifth pick out of the Pac-12 and the first pick out of the Mountain West. Cal probably matches up with a rebuilding TCU. The Bears haven’t won a bowl game since 2008, while TCU hasn’t missed a BCS bowl since 2008. But hey — what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right?