They may not have beat the spread, they may have only scored a single offensive touchdown, they may not have given the seniors their obligatory playing time, they may have struggled against the worst team in the Pac 10 in the last 11 years*, but eventually Cal won the Big Game. And that's all that matters.
Once upon a time a good Cal season was determined almost entirely on the result of their final game with Stanford. Let's be honest, who wants to be a one game fan? Thankfully those days are over. Coach Jeff Tedford has raised the expectations of Cal fans to the point where the Big Game isn't really in doubt, the only question is how badly the Bears will chew on the Cardinal. Yesterday, not so much.
Despite having a team of possibly the most individually talented players in Cal football history, and despite Stanford having their worst team in 23 years, this was the closest Big Game in the Tedford era. Watching the game in person, the Bears didn't look that bad. There were no game-changing turnovers--Marshawn Lynch fumbled on the Bears' 14 yard line, but Stanford wasn't able to move the ball and then missed the field goal. And statistically the Cal offense was on an even keel. Lynch didn't get much playing time after his fumble, but Justin Forsett kept the running game alive. So why was this game so close?
Sadly, Cal's defense didn't quite match up with Stanford's rare precision until the final quarter of the game. While Daymeion Hughes has had a spectacular career at Cal, and is undoubtedly one of the best DB's to ever play in Berkeley, he is not a "lockdown corner". Many teams this year have been afraid to throw against Hughes, but Stanford showed no hesitation and it paid off handsomely. Hughes surrendered one touchdown to the Cardinal in sloppy coverage and even had his own junior teammates saying 'WTF?' Hughes has been burned by deep routes for most of the season, but to watch him relinquish the short game has undoubtedly damaged his draft prospects.
And what did this game say about Stanford? The way their offense was able to execute throughout much of the game suggests that the spectacularly bad season which they endured this year is over. Walt Harris lost almost his entire coaching staff since last season and then lost his star quarterback and receiving corps to injuries. It's almost inconceivable that Stanford could be this bad next year. T.C. Ostrander proved that he can be an effective quarterback sometimes. Cheer up Stanford fans, you have nowhere to go but up.
We loved the win, but the play on the field suggests that this may be the last victory for Tedford's team this year. Cal heads down to San Diego to face Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl on a bit of a 3 game skid. After a humiliating defeat at Tennessee to start the season, Cal turned around and knocked off a string of impressive wins. It's hard to pinpoint, but we think Cal started to deteriorate somewhere in the middle of that Washington State game and they haven't really been the same since. But still, after USC's fall to UCLA, Cal is now Pac-10 co-champions for the first time since 1975. Had they been able to score a single touchdown against Arizona in the second half the Bears would be Rose Bowl-bound.
And that's why this Big Game summarizes the entire season for Cal. Yeah, they won, but it coulda been, and shoulda been, so much better.
*Washington's 2004 team went 1-10 and was gawd-awful, and Cal's 2001 team got a single win out of Rutgers, but Oregon State's 1995 1-10 team... that's gotta be the worst Pac-10 team in our lifetime. However, Stanford's 11 losses this year is almost unprecedented.