The Toilet Bowl. Battle in the basement. The Pac-12 pillow fight.
All of these ignominious designations have been thrown around over the past week to describe Cal football’s upcoming contest against Colorado. Like the Bears, the Buffaloes are winless in the conference.
“They’re a team that’s struggled, just like we have,” said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes.
Really, nothing tangible is on the line Saturday. There’s no chance of either side securing a bowl bid. No player needs a signature game to contend for the Heisman. Dykes and Colorado coach Mike McIntyre aren’t competing for any coaching distinctions. If this game fell in a forest, no one would even think to listen for it.
But there is that word sportswriters love to throw around: pride. And for a Cal defense so ravaged by injuries that there aren’t strong enough words to describe it, the upcoming contest may be a great place for the Bears to pick up some of their own.
“We started the year with a lot of guys, and we’ve been decimated,” Dykes said. “We’ve obviously had some injuries. It’s part of football; it’s not an excuse. Coaching is working with the guys you have.”
Those guys — the fourth-string middle-linebackers, the step-too-slow corners, the out-of-shape defensive linemen — have a chance to look competent for the first time against a truly awful offense.
The Buffaloes rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 in every imaginable offensive category, including dead last in total offense. MacIntyre ditched starting quarterback Connor Wood midseason and tossed freshman Sefo Liufau the keys to the sinking ship. The shift did little to keep it afloat; the Buffs’ only win since the switch came against a hapless FCS squad.
Here’s a refrain that might sound familiar to Cal fans: Somehow, Colorado’s defense is worse than its offense. In last week’s 59-7 beatdown at the hands of Washington, the Buffs let the Huskies pile up 52 points in three quarters. Bishop Sankey ran wild, and Keith Price repeatedly found his targets wide open downfield.
“Oh, my goodness. We had enough missed tackles Saturday to last a lifetime,” said Colorado defensive coordinator Kent Baer. “I don’t put that on anybody but me.”
Such problems are far from foreign for the Bears. Like the Buffaloes, Cal boasts a defense that ranks among the nation’s worst defenses. Like the Buffaloes, Cal trots out a freshman quarterback that vacillates between brilliant and boneheaded. Like the Buffaloes, Cal has hardly challenged a Pac-12 opponent this year.
The teams even share similar strengths. Wide receivers Chris Harper and Paul Richardson are Cal and Colorado’s best player, respectively. Harper ranks 29th in the country in receiving yards. Richardson is just two touchdowns away from tying his school’s record. If he can match his previous effort against the Bears, reaching it ought to be no problem: Richardson burned Cal for 284 receiving yards in 2011.
Of course, nobody can say for sure how Cal’s inept secondary will match up against Colorado’s woeful passing attack. The outcome carries more uncertainty than any Bears game since Northwestern.
There’s an age-old paradox that questions what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Cal-Colorado figures to propose a solution to the inverse of that question on Saturday.