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Pac-12 football: Bears hoping to smell the roses this season

Cal picked to finish 4th, hopes to end 53-year Rose Bowl drought

Published: Saturday, July 28 2012 11:11 p.m. MDT

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 06: Isi Sofele #20 of the California Golden Bears runs against Hroniss Grasu #55 of the Oregon Ducks on October 6, 2011 at the Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images

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Editor's note: Third in a series previewing the Pac-12 football season.

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — It's a drought that dates back to Jan. 1, 1959. That's how long its been since California played in "The Granddaddy of Them All," the Rose Bowl.

A reporter was kind enough to remind Cal coach Jeff Tedford of that fact at Pac-12 Media Day, noting that two beautiful bouquets of roses greeted visitors to the meetings at Universal Studios. He also pointed out that there were only 48 stars on the U.S. flag the last time the Bears went bowling in Pasadena.

Tedford offered an understanding response. He knows all about the importance of playing in the big game.

"I think if you asked our fans whether they want to be in a national championship or the Rose Bowl, it's the Rose Bowl. It's the measuring stick on where you want to be," Tedford said. "Every year we set out to do that. We've been close a couple of times, but haven't knocked that door down."

Another season presents another opportunity for the Bears to do so and that's exactly what they're striving to accomplish.

"It's been a long, long time and it would feel great if this was the group that was able to do it, obviously," Tedford said.

Despite being picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 North in the preseason media poll, Tedford continued to express optimism about Cal's chances for success in the upcoming campaign. He noted that the Bears have a 2,990-yard passer (senior Zach Maynard), a 1,343-yard receiver (junior Keenan Allen) and a 1,322-yard rusher (senior Isi Sofele of Cottonwood High) back on offense.

The defense, Tedford noted, also has several key returnees including senior safety Josh Hill, senior cornerback Marc Anthony, junior cornerback Steve Williams, senior nose tackles Kendrick Payne and Aaron Tipoti, as well as junior defensive end Deandre Coleman.

"We feel good about the progress of the team, the chemistry of the team, and the preparation," Tedford said as the Bears seek to improve on last year's 7-6 (4-5 in Pac-12 play) record and make a run for those elusive roses.

OFFENSE: Maynard, Allen and Sofele give the Bears significant firepower at the skill positions. Senior offensive linemen Dominic Galas, Brian Schwenke and Matt Summers-Gavin are the other returning starters on an offensive unit that averaged 401.5 yards per game last season. Cal, though, struggled to score at times. The Bears were held to 15 points or less in four setbacks.

DEFENSE: Is their life after Mychal Kendricks? The linebacker has moved on to the NFL after concluding his collegiate career with Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He made 107 tackles last season, including 17 stops behind the line of scrimmage. His four sacks, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions will also be hard to replace. The Bears have six returning starters on defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Graduation losses took a toll here as Cal seeks replacements for punter Bryan Anger and kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, who are now in the NFL. The Bears are also enlisting a new long snapper as a youth movement takes hold with the specialists.

PLAYMAKERS: There are few stars in the conference as bright as Allen. The All-America candidate is on pace to break most of Cal's career receiving records. He's also a talented return specialist. Sofele and Maynard are among other playmakers for the Bears.

TOUGH STRETCH: Back-to-back games at Ohio State and USC in September could be quite taxing on the Bears. So, too, could a late-season stretch that includes home games against Stanford, Washington and Oregon, as well as a road trip to Utah.

EXTRA POINTS: Cal moves back to Memorial Stadium this season after the facility underwent a $321 million renovation that took 21 months to complete ... Junior defensive end Keni Kaufusi, a former Cottonwood High star, enters fall camp as a backup on the depth chart.

California at a glance

2012 media poll: 4th, North

2011 record: 7-6, 4-5

Head coach: Jeff Tedford (79-48, 10th season)

2012 schedule

Sept. 1 — NEVADA

Sept. 8 — SOUTHERN UTAH

Sept. 15 — at Ohio State

Sept. 22 — at USC

Sept. 29 — ARIZONA STATE

Oct. 6 — UCLA

Oct. 13 — at Washington State

Oct. 20 — STANFORD

Oct. 27 — at Utah

Nov. 2 — WASHINGTON

Nov. 10 — OREGON

Nov. 17 — at Oregon State

Email: dirk@desnews.com, Twitter: @DirkFacer

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