Tearing down the ivory tower

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During Friday’s postgame press conference, inside the plush auditorium in the stadium he helped get rebuilt, Jeff Tedford had delusions of grandeur.

“The state of the program is fine,” Tedford said, following Cal’s 21-13 loss that dropped the Bears to 3-7 and ensured their second losing season in three years. “We had a down year.”

The numbers just don’t back up Tedford’s assertion.

Last year’s 7-6 season was a down year. So was 2010’s 5-7 campaign.

After Tedford rebuilt the program and took Cal to within an inch of the Rose Bowl in 2004, a down year for the Bears should consist of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, not damage control.

Cal was 48-20 under Tedford before Kevin Riley ran out the clock on the squad’s No. 1 ranking on Oct. 13, 2007 against Oregon State. Since then, the Bears are 34-35. Losing — or at least mediocrity — has become the norm.

After Cal’s 21-3 loss to Stanford two weeks ago, the Bears’ first touchdown-less Big Game since 1998, Tedford said there was still a lot for the team to play for. At that point, Cal needed to win three of its last four games to reach the postseason, but in talking about pride, Tedford was hinting at a different ending.

That has become the reality. The players, to their credit, have accepted it.

“We gotta fight for our pride,” said linebacker Chris McCain after the Washington game.

Nick Forbes, who had two fumble recoveries and an interception in Friday’s sloppy game, said not making a bowl game had not hit him yet.

“You have to look at each opportunity to play (as) it’s a blessing to play the game at this level” Forbes said. “That’s what you have to take away from it, because a bowl game isn’t the only reason you play this game.”

It is not about records either. Keenan Allen, whose five catches last week against Utah made him Cal’s all-time receptions leader, said afterward that he would have rather beaten the Utes.

With Allen scratched from Friday’s game — and maybe the season — due to a knee injury, the Bears’ chances at a momentous win seemed slim. It turned out that the absence of Allen, as well as fellow starting receiver Bryce Treggs, was the least of Cal’s problems against the Huskies.

The squad’s young receiving corps more than proved its worth. Freshmen Darius Powe and Maurice Harris received invaluable playing time, and their five combined receptions more than doubled their previous season output.

Meanwhile, Chris Harper filled the roles of Allen and Treggs all on his own. The 6-foot, 170-pound freshman, who caught seven passes for a career-high 101 yards, made a jaw-dropping one-handed catch early in the game. Toward the end of the first half, Harper took a reverse 14 yards and dove over the pylon for the Bears’ only touchdown.

“Harper wants to step up every week. He is a very talented guy,” Tedford said. “The future is bright with those receivers.”

The problem is, that’s said near the end of every season. The present is what should be bright. Next year shouldn’t be the year — the year should be this year.

Cal returned its starting senior quarterback, two starting senior running backs and arguably the best wide receiver in program history. With all that talent and experience, the Bears should be averaging more than 25 points a game. They should not have as much trouble putting the ball in the end zone, as the offense has totaled 27 touchdowns to go with its 21 field goal attempts.

Tedford is considered a quarterback guru, but Maynard’s touchdown-to-interception ratio has gone from an unremarkable 17-to-12 last season to a lamentable 12-to-10 currently.

“I am very committed to getting the program back to where it needs to be,” Tedford said, and nobody doubts his intentions.

But is Athletic Director Sandy Barbour committed to Jeff Tedford being the one to do that?

Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at [email protected]