Cal’s pattern a tough pill to swallow

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There is an epidemic infecting Cal sports — none more so than the football team.

And it doesn’t look like there will be a cure any time soon.

The scientific name: mediocrity. The Bears’ schedule is too littered with close losses, with falling short. They’ve grown weary of the struggle and wary of their own potential.

It’s hard to say from whence this plague emerged, but there are symptoms that experts can trace. There has been a pattern in recent years: A nail-biting and confidence-boosting loss to a national juggernaut is nearly always followed by a humiliating blowout to a Pac-12 opponent.

Two years ago, the pattern emerged in back-to-back home tilts with Oregon and Stanford. The Ducks were the No. 1 team in the nation, yet Cal managed to hold the opponent to a 15-13 loss — Oregon’s closest margin on the season.

But the Bears followed that game up with a shaming showcase against Stanford in the 113th Big Game. The 48-14 final score was Cal’s largest Big Game blowout in 80 years.

Stanford was a good team, though. The Cardinal wasn’t a conference bottom dweller. Cal still had a meager, threadbare excuse. The Bears lost, but then again the game was always going to be a challenge.

But in 2011, the Bears suffered an embarrassing 31-14 whipping to UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Six Bruins’ players had been suspended, but that didn’t stop Cal from taking a sure win and throwing it away.

That’s the point Tedford has championed in the last few years: A challenging loss is basically a nonloss. Going down fighting is not on the same level as a defeat.

Except it is, by definition.

Tedford and his program can’t approach a major game with the hope of just barely squeaking by. They can’t take the entire season one week and one game at a time. They can’t wait until they look at the tape to see what they’re doing wrong.

I’m sick of the coach-speak. I’m sick of the close calls. I’m sick of watching from the press box as Murphy’s Law becomes a living, breathing entity down on the field.

It’s exasperating to watch any team screw up. It’s brutal when that same team can’t offer any answers.

Looking at the tape might afford the team some 20/20 hindsight. But the clarity needs to come before that — it needs to happen before the game clock runs out.

The team needs to examine the season and approach each contest with the full knowledge of what the consequences entail.

The Bears need to know that a loss is a loss and a win is a win. And a struggle is none of the above.
Struggling should still count for something. Challenging Oregon or Ohio State should definitely prove that the Bears, if nothing else, are a team of tremendous fight.

But there’s too much of a glaring juxtaposition between those tooth-and-nail battles and the losses that the team basically hands off on a silver platter.

When people pour over stats a year from now, they’re not going to vividly remember how the team looked in the midst of that struggle; the black-and-white score will tell the final story.

This epidemic breeds frustration — in fans and coaches alike. Tedford says he’s miserable. That’s not very far off from the barometer in the stands. But if he’s miserable, he can’t wait until the next day or the next week to voice such concern.

If he’s frustrated heading into halftime, he still has 30 minutes to change that.

That’s the cure, right there.

Contact Annie Gerlach at [email protected]