Bears’ 3-9 campaign of historic proportions

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Jeff Tedford’s postgame remarks after the Cal football team’s first game could have summed up the 2012 season.

“I’m sorry we didn’t play better and let the fans down,” he said.

The season that followed was one for the record books.

The Bears failed to score a touchdown in the Big Game for the first time since 1998. They ended their season with five straight losses for the first time in 28 years. And they closed their season with the worst blowout of the Tedford era, a 48-point loss at Oregon State on Saturday that doomed the squad to a 3-9 record and a 10th-place finish in the Pac-12.

“It’s not something we are used to,” Tedford said after the 62-14 rout. “It’s obvious we have work to do.”

The season began and ended with second-string quarterback Allan Bridgford forced to start. Incumbent starter Zach Maynard’s knee injury, which kept him out of the last two games, was almost inevitable for the country’s fourth-most sacked team.

But Maynard’s first-quarter suspension in the season opener was a surprise — and perhaps a bad omen for what would result in the Bears’ second losing season in three years.

Before Cal’s return to the newly-renovated Memorial Stadium, Tedford said he had butterflies in his stomach walking onto the field. After the Bears’ head-scratching 31-24 loss to Nevada, Tedford probably felt sick to his stomach.

“We didn’t play very well,” he said. “We had too many mistakes, communication breakdowns, and we didn’t take care of the ball very well.”

That was the excuse for much of the season. The offense tallied 31 touchdowns compared to 23 field goal attempts. Maynard’s stat line — 12 touchdowns, 10 picks — suggested he regressed from his rocky junior year. And the offensive line allowed 40 sacks, thrusting an offense predicated on runs and short passes into third-and-longs.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Tedford said a day after Cal handed Utah its first Pac-12 win in a 49-27 defeat. “We invest so much time and energy and hard work … It’s new territory, and it’s not fun.”

Still, Cal was not bereft of talent. The club crushed Pac-12 South champion UCLA and nearly upset Ohio State.

C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele each bruised their way to 800-yard seasons, while third-string tailback Brendan Bigelow rushed for 160 yards on four carries in the Sept. 15 loss to the Buckeyes. Keenan Allen became Cal’s all-time receptions leader with 205 catches but an ankle injury sidelined him from the season’s final three games.

But the 2012 Bears did lack discipline. With 99 penalties, Cal ranks as the second-most flagged squad in the country. The Bears allowed two 100-yard kick returns for touchdowns at Utah, while mental lapses on the defensive side kept them from winning others.

“It’s nobody else’s fault but our fault,” said linebacker Chris McCain. “Our season could have gone differently, but our coaches got us in position. It’s just up to us to get everything done, and that’s what we failed at as players.”

If there is a silver lining, it is the injuries and lack of depth that contributed to losses also gave underclassmen valuable experience.

Chris Harper’s 41 receptions and 544 receiving yards both rank second all-time for a Cal freshman receiver. Bigelow, who averaged just 4.2 carries after the Ohio State game, will be the squad’s featured back.

“The state of the program is fine,” Tedford said after Cal’s Nov. 2 loss to Washington sentenced the Bears to a losing season. “We had a down year.”

After the worst season of Tedford’s reign, there is nowhere for Cal to go but up.

“We all we got, we all we need” was the team’s 2012 motto.

In 2013, the Bears will need a little more.

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