On a rainy afternoon in Memorial Stadium Cal proved what most of the 56,622 in attendance already knew: the Bears have not closed the gap on Stanford. Talent, coaching, you name it the Cardinal have the edge and have had it for a while.
Cal's only area of superiority is the band, which always looks and sounds better than its Stanford counterparts. This year the musical victory was by default. The Stanford band was grounded for its members finally going too far in their shenanigans. If only Christian McCaffrey had stayed in Palo Alto with them.
But, no, the junior running back was on the field, picking up 284 rushing yards, 90 of them on a play the Bears seemed to have stopped cold. And that was the Cal season in a microcosm. The players were in a position to do something right and just couldn't do it. Granted McCaffrey is as skilled a runner as there is in the college game. But he was surrounded by three Bears at the line of scrimmage, none of whom laid a hand on him.
That sort of play, different only in length and degree, happened often during the Bears season. Head coach Sonny Dykes in his post game press conference said, as he has before, that his team has tackling issues that "we've got to clean up."
He acknowledged that because of injuries the Cal defense was not as talented as had been hoped. But, he might have exaggerated the losses. For example he said the team suited up none of its top eight safeties. The preseason depth chart listed nine safeties, and three of those Jaylinn Hawkins, Khari Vanderbilt and Jacob Anderson suited up. I can't find nine names who would have been ahead of them.
He also said Cal has 17 defensive backs who are on scholarship, and that only three or four dressed Saturday. Well two of those safeties mentioned above are on scholarship, as are corners Marloshawn Franklin, Jr., Malik Psalms and Josh Drayden, who all played Saturday. I don't know if Dykes is counting his "nickel backs" in that group, but I will. So there are definitely more than four.
The picture was indeed bleak, most notably with the continued absence of cornerback Darrius Allensworth, but not as dire as Dykes portrayed it. By the 11th game everybody has injuries, that is where your depth gets tested. Granted, a rash at one position can wreak havoc, but good teams can overcome it.
The point is Dykes hasn't come close to beating Stanford, and talent difference, if not growing appreciably, certainly isn't shrinking. The Cardinal's Big Game win streak is seven and counting.
Dykes, whose team is 7-12 since the 5-0 start last year, has one more chance to salvage something out of the year when the Bears take on UCLA at 4 p.m. Saturday. This game has lost considerable luster since UCLA, picked as the favorite by many in the Pac-12 South, is also 4-7 and playing without quarterback Josh Rosen. Now that is an injury that really hurt.
Dykes, who has never beaten USC, Stanford or UCLA, could boost his resume with a victory on Saturday. The grumbling among the alums was very audible around Memorial Stadium last week, especially in the post game tailgates. He is under contract through 2019 according to the terms of the extension he signed last winter. But if there is enough incentive on both sides, deals can be broken. Rumors (and they were just rumors) surfaced last week that Baylor might be interested in Dykes. That would mean a return to his native state and a chance to recruit without Cal's demanding academic requirements.
One further note. The winner Saturday goes to 5-7. Technically that is not bowl eligible. But with the glut of bowls, sometimes not enough teams qualify to fill all the slots. A couple of 5-7 teams went to bowls last year.
Cal, with its talented quarterback, powerful offense (and pathetic defense) will always produce an entertaining, high-scoring games and is attractive to bowl executives. Some local columnists and Cal followers oppose going to a bowl with a losing record. They believe it shows a lack of pride and diminishes the experience.
But Dykes would certainly be in favor of it. Certainly his players would enjoy the experience and ignore their record. And, most important to the coaches, a bowl game means two weeks of extra practices. Any coach will tell you how much they covet those.
Honor for Webb: Quarterback Davis Webb is a semifinalist for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award, which goes to the outstanding Division I offensive player with ties to the state of Texas. Webb played high school football in Texas and spent three years at Texas Tech.
Other of the 16 semifinalists include Patrick Mahomes, Webb's successor at Texas Tech, and Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Webb is under consideration for many other honors, including the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
Bruins Late Visit: Scheduling the Cal-UCLA game as the season finale is another example of Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott and his dweebs not appreciating what makes college football special. While nowhere near as egregious as late night starts, midweek games or six days advance notice for kickoff times, this is still an unnecessary affront to tradition.
The rivalries between Cal and Stanford and the Southern California schools are not far behind the Big Game in the minds of the Bay Area institutions. The Cal-UCLA games in particular carry historic significance. UC President Robert Gordon Sproul initially forbade the schools from playing one another, fearing that the intra-university competition would be too intense. Decades later the matchup was a highlight of "All-U" weekend and was held in the MIDDLE OF THE SEASON.
The same should be true of the annual games against USC. These are significant, important matchups, not the same as Cal vs. Oregon State or Stanford v. WSU. But Scott thought so little of this history he even separated Cal and Stanford from the L.A. schools when he created North and South divisions. This was a sop to Utah and Colorado and an insult to long-standing custom. The sin was partially corrected by allowing the California rivalries to continue annually, albeit in different divisions.
That is awkward enough, but to put one of those contests after the Big Game is a really bad idea. What was once a marquee matchup is now anticlimactic. An opportunity to generate interest and excitement is wasted. I understand why the Big Game can no longer be the climax of the season . The NCAA wants everyone to start the season on Labor Day Weekend, play 12 games, have a bye, with the league championship the week after Thanksgiving. That means the season will end on Turkey Day weekend. Playing the Big Game, with all its pregame pomp, on Thanksgiving is impossible. Better to have a game after it, but don't make it UCLA.