BERKELEY, Calif. — Walking through the tunnel to play the first game ever in renovated Memorial Stadium ensures that California's football season will open with a memorable moment.
Ending a recent run of mediocrity that has seen the Golden Bears slip behind rival Stanford and others in the Pac-12 power structure would make for a memorable season.
"This is unbelievable that we're actually getting so close to getting in that stadium," senior safety Josh Hill said. "We're going to be the first team in history to be in the new stadium. There's going to be so much anxiety, so much just going on, so much adrenaline. We just can't wait. We can't even wait to practice in there."
The Bears spent last season as nomads as their on-campus stadium was completely overhauled. They practiced on a nearby rugby field, worked out and had offices in temporary trailers and played their games across San Francisco Bay at AT&T Park, the home of baseball's Giants.
Now they have a $150 million on-campus High Performance Center attached to the stadium that got a $321 million facelift and will be ready shortly for practice and for the season's first game on Sept. 1 against Nevada.
"A lot of times, as far as the noise, we really couldn't get the fan base we really wanted," Hill said. "Coming back home now that's all going to change and it's going to be really good for us."
The Bears need something positive to focus on this fall because their recent play on the field hasn't delivered it. After a strong start to the Jeff Tedford era that had Cal challenging Southern California at the top of the conference standings, the Bears have struggled in recent years.
They have a 12-13 mark the past two seasons, missing a bowl in 2010 and then being overmatched by Texas in a 21-10 loss in the Holiday Bowl last year.
"I think the team is motivated to reach the standard of where we believe we should be and that's right there in the conference hunt," Tedford said.
The key for that to happen will be to get improved play from quarterback Zach Maynard, who had an up-and-down first season at the helm for the Bears.
Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, completed 57 percent of his passes last year for 2,990 yards, 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while leading the Bears to a 7-6 record.
Maynard showed improvement in his first season as starter, especially after a midseason drought that included four losses in five games and seven interceptions in a pair of losses to Southern California and UCLA.
"I felt like a young pup last year," Maynard said. "Now I feel like an older guy."
Maynard completed 68 percent of his passes over the final four regular-season games, with five touchdowns and only one interception as the Bears won three of four to make it back to a bowl game following a one-year absence from the postseason.
Maynard struggled in the loss to Texas, throwing for only 180 yards and an interception, but Tedford hopes to see more improvement this season.
"I felt like we ended up very strong," Tedford said. "I think his knowledge of the offense and the experience in the offense and in our conference is going to create more growth and development for him and we expect big things out of him this year."
Helping Maynard out will be his brother, Keenan Allen, who is one of the top returning receivers in the country. Allen had 98 catches for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns last season.
With returning running backs Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson and a talented group of freshman receivers led by Bryce Treggs and Darius Powe, the Bears have the weapons to compete on offense if Maynard can provide more consistent play.Comment on this story
Defensively, Cal needs to replace Pac-12 defensive player of the year Mychal Kendricks, fellow starting linebacker D.J. Holt, and defensive linemen Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu.
Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt will help bolster the linebackers
"Defensivewise, even with the guys we lost, we still feel we're going to be the best defensive unit that we've had in a long time," Hill said. "We have a lot of key guys, a lot of young guys, with experience. So we're just ready to get that rolling."
AP Sports Writer Antonio Gonzalez contributed to this report.