The Kupe d’etat: The season that could have been

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Maybe Jeff Tedford should grow a goatee.

Of all this season’s possibilities, his Cal football team seemed to end up in the darkest timeline.

The squad currently sits at 3-8, by far Cal’s worst season of the Tedford era. But one can do much more than only wonder what went wrong. One can also hypothesize — check that, write a completely fictional fabrication (that’s a disclaimer) — on what might have happened had the Bears’ season rolled a little luck. A slightly different start could have set the wheels of a very different ending in motion.

In the debut of their renovated stadium, the Bears roll over Nevada in a 21-point victory. In his second year as starter, Zach Maynard has the entire playbook open to him. On the first play from scrimmage, the senior quarterback rolls left and fires a rifle at Keenan Allen, who makes a diving catch. Two plays later, Maynard walks into the end zone untouched, the first of his four touchdowns. When the game is over, Maynard jumps into the student section and roars, We are back.

After a 38-point romp of Southern Utah, the Bears head to Ohio to prove their worth against the No. 12 Buckeyes. Ohio State wins in a nail-biter, but Cal shows it can compete with elite teams.

After vowing to never again let a game slip away, Cal looks to upset USC. Vincenzo D’Amato connects on all four of his field goals, and Brendan Bigelow rushes for 100 yards. At the Bears’ nine yard line, with the game on the line, Matt Barkley gets sacked on second down and throws three other incompletions. Turnover on downs. Cal wins and moves into the top 25.

As Cal fans rush the Coliseum field, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour approaches Tedford and offers the head coach a contract extension on the spot. He opens his postgame press conference by signing it. He credits the win with the squad’s mantra of taking things one day at a time. He say the memory will last forever.

Cal wins its next three heading into the Big Game. After a tight first half, in which the offensive line gives up two sacks, doubling its season total, Allen explodes for 200 yards to lead the Bears to a surprisingly easy win. Says Allen says after the game, It was like me and Zach were playing FIFA on the couch.

Against Washington two weeks later, Cal runs up the score against its two former coaches, playing its starters the entire game. Following their eighth touchdown, the Bears opt to go for two to hit 60 points.

After the game, Tosh Lupoi walks up to Tedford and asks him what his deal is.

The Bears are still undefeated in Pac-12 play when equally dominant Oregon arrives in Berkeley. With less than a minute remaining in the game, Cal lines up to attempt a game-tying field goal from the 25-yard line. Instead, it’s a fake, leaving the Ducks’ defense blindsided as Richard Rodgers trots into the end zone to clinch the Bears a spot in the Pac-12 title game. The nation is stunned.

This must have been how my dad felt 30 years ago, Rodgers says.

The next week, ESPN shows up in Berkeley to chronicle the team. Six cameras follow  Maynard to the barbershop, where he shaves off his mohawk and donates his hair to Locks of Love. At the end of the week, ESPN broadcasts a 30-minute primetime special in which Tedford sits in his office and looks at tape.

In the conference championship game, Cal has little trouble building a halftime lead against upstart UCLA. But in the second half, the Bruins mount a comeback. Two Cal fumbles and many more blown coverages later, the game is tied with two minutes remaining. Allen, sidelined with cramps, can only watch as Maynard throws a pick six to seal the game, ending his darkhorse Heisman hopes and proving that Cal cannot make a Rose Bowl even in a fictional retelling of a season.

The Bears accept a second-straight invitation to the Holiday Bowl, where they lose to Texas again. Next year is the year, say Cal fans, shaking their heads.

Contact Jonathan Kuperberg at [email protected]