There are two paths awaiting Jeff Tedford as Cal football head coach in the next year (not this year) or two.
1) The end.
2) The end of the beginning.
It's clear that watching the Golden Bears is become more of a chore than a joy for Cal fans everywhere. Their defense has at times looked sparkling and at other times inconsistent. Their special teams (outside of some great placekicking) is wildly inconsistent. And their offense, the Tedford specialty, has not made any real improvements from last season to this season. Cal is in the midst of growing pains, and they are painful to see.
It would be easier for Cal to deal with if there was hope at the quarterback position. But transfer Zach Maynard is currently proving to be as maddening as Nate Longshore was during the second half of his Cal career and Kevin Riley throughout the entirety of his own (I can state with certainty that Maynard is better than Brock Mansion, which is a small step in the right direction). Maynard has combined Riley's inaccuracy with Longshore's penchant for killer interceptions. Sometimes he does one, sometimes he does the other, sometimes he does both! It's the Venn diagram of "Things you would least like to see from your QB on gameday."
The recent on-field results have proven to be just as painful to recount. Consider:
- Tedford has lost eight straight games to USC. Great Golden Bears squads have fallen to greater Trojans teams; so have good Golden Bears teams fallen to good USC teams, and now mediocre Cal squads have gotten plastered by average USC teams. No matter what team Cal puts out on the field, USC seems to always take advantage of them.
- Tedford has lost four straight games (and six of eight) to Mike Riley and the Oregon St. Beavers (although the last two saw their starting quarterback and tailback go down in horrific fashion). Tedford is also 0-3 against current Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly (including two routs), 0-3 against current Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian (including two last-second defeats), and has been handled pretty easily by the problem child known as Lane Kiffin in two consecutive matchups.
- Tedford's Bears have now lost nine straight games dating back to last season against winning opponents, a streak that looks almost as bad as Mike Stoops's losing streak of eleven against FBS opponents (Stoops had to play six top ten opponents during that stretch, while Tedford only had to deal with three). Cal will probably snap it if they can beat Utah or UCLA in the upcoming weeks, but that streak is looking more and more alarming with each accumulated loss.
- Tedford has yet to take Cal to a BCS bowl, getting screwed out of one opportunity and screwing up another. Meanwhile the Stanford Cardinal have risen to become a national championship contender, and are on the verge of their second straight berth. Nothing can be more galling to the Golden Bear faithful than seeing their Bay Area rivals take the glory they've long coveted for themselves.
There are certainly positive signs. Cal recruiting still trudges on in a positive direction. Lots of talented individuals lined out last year's freshman class, and another appears to be on its way. There are more talented quarterbacks in the coffers, and you'd have to figure one of Allan Bridgford, Austin Hinder, Kyle Boehm and current verbal Zach Kline will be ready to duke it out in the upcoming years. None of them panning out means a new head coach, for better or for worse.
Not much shelf life is left for Tedford. He will be back next season, and even a losing season in 2012 doesn't guarantee his ouster--Tedford's buyout is too huge to consider taking him out this soon. But it's clear that he's wearing out what remains of his goodwill, and the decline of Cal football back to the doormat will come swiftly if he can't reverse the course now.
The saga for Tedford and Cal isn't terribly interesting this season in terms of the overall Pac-12 picture, but the record he sets could pave the path toward one of the particular directions above. He needs to start winning to restore the roar in Bear Territory, or that walk toward oblivion will be coming soon enough.