Happy Turkey Day Everyone!
Even a huge college football fan like myself knows it’s easy to put the games on the back burner on a huge holiday weekend. However, outside of turkey carving, tree trimming and jostling with masses of humanity for black Friday deals there are some legitimately great college football matchups that will shape this year’s college football playoff landscape. The Michigan- Ohio State rivalry game is one that comes to mind, along with the Apple Cup which will shape who will represent the north in the Pac-12 championship game. The game also has the bonus of being a de facto playoff elimination game for the Huskies. So get the halls decked and check off everyone on your list as quickly as possible because this should be a great weekend of college football.
Unfortunately for Cal fans, Saturday’s game against UCLA does not have any of those high post season implications. Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium showcases two underperforming, seven loss teams who are limping towards the offseason – even though there is still a slim probability that the winner on Saturday could be selected for a bowl if there are not enough 6 win teams at the seasons end. There is also an opportunity for Sonny Dykes to break his losing streak to the California Pac-12 schools with a win against UCLA, which would also likely translate into some positive momentum on the local recruiting trail. Tomorrow night’s game is also a demonstration of conference parity. Two schools in the same university system, with similar budgets and high academic standards are each on different trajectories. If Cal wins on Saturday, the season will end tied for Sonny Dykes second best record in his tenure at Cal. However, whether UCLA wins or loses this will be Jim Mora’s worst season at UCLA and the only one where he has ended with a losing record. Regardless of outcome, Dykes will still only have one winning season at Cal.
With that being said, this is still an extremely important game for Cal as they move forward into 2017. Dykes and his staff have to make concrete steps to close the gap and end Cal’s run as an irrelevant, albeit often fun to watch force in the Pac 12. A win on Saturday would be a baby step in the right direction. The psychological impact of a program ending the season with a win against a traditional foe and sending their seniors off the right way can’t be understated. Simply put, the Bears need a win to set the tone for a successful 2017.
As far as getting the job done, at this point we all know what it is going to take for the Bears to win. They have to stop someone on defense. Injuries are playing a factor in the defensive collapse, but all teams are banged up this time of year including the Bruins. Missing virtually all of your scholarship safeties is not ideal, but that isn’t an excuse for the front 7 getting blasted all game at the point of attack. If we see a full game of the tough, physical play that the defense showed the first half against Stanford, I have no doubts the Bears can take a win into the off season. If not, this is going to be another letdown.
There is no tomorrow, no next week – I hope to see an inspired defense take the field on Saturday and show us the grit they showed against Utah, the program desperately needs that positive momentum going forward.