Cal kicks off 2010 against UC Davis
BERKELEY – California quarterback Kevin Riley has high expectations this year, even if the rest of the Pac-10 is counting the Golden Bears out.
Cal, which opens the season at home against UC Davis on Saturday, was picked to finish seventh in the conference in a preseason poll. Riley, one of 19 players who started at least five games for the Bears in 2009, thinks differently.
“This is going to be a great season, I know it is,” Riley said. “I’m very confident in this team. We’re having a lot of fun and I can’t wait to play. This is my last year, maybe, ever playing football in my life so I’m going to go out with a bang.”
The Bears finished 8-5 (5-4 Pac-10) a year ago and were beaten by Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl but lost several key starters, including running back Jahvid Best, a Heisman Trophy contender until he got injured late in the season.
They also have a new defensive coordinator and special teams coach this year. As a result, Cal enters the year unranked for only the third time since coach Jeff Tedford took over in 2002.
“From the outside looking in there aren’t very high expectations,” linebacker Mike Mohamed said. “For us on the inside, our expectation is to win the Pac-10 and go to the Rose Bowl. Some teams may be overlooking us … but we’re just going to go out there with a chip on our shoulder and try to win ballgames.”
That doesn’t mean the Bears’ cupboard is bare.
Leading rusher Shane Vereen, top wide receiver Marvin Jones and Mohamed – the Pac-10’s leading tackler a year ago – all return, as does Riley.
Riley has 23 starts in his career and enters 2010 as the conference’s active leader in wins (15) and touchdown passes (37). He passed for 2,850 yards with 18 TDs and eight interceptions as a junior last season.
“I just think playing-wise I’m a lot more comfortable,” Riley said. “(The offense) is going to be consistently a lot better and it should be. I think a lot of that comes with me being more mature running the offense and not trying to do too much.”
Tedford, who needs eight wins to become the winningest coach in school history, believes Riley’s experience will help the Bears overcome the low preseason expectations.
“His growth and development as a person, as a player, as a leader, is awesome,” Tedford said. “His experience is really going to pay dividends for us. He’s had the best camp I’ve ever seen him have and I think he’s going into the season very confident. I have a lot of trust in him.”
Cal is playing Davis, a Football Championship Subdivision school 65 miles north of Berkeley, for the first time since 1939. The Aggies won the Golden West Conference championship last season and are projected to repeat despite a late change at quarterback.
Two-year starter Greg Denham abruptly left the team in June after deciding to join the ministry. With few options, Davis coach Bob Biggs chose redshirt freshman Randy Wright as Denham’s replacement.
“A lot of people were concerned when Greg decided to go into the ministry,” Biggs said this week. “Randy Wright is very talented and has proven that in our scrimmages. I love the chemistry and leadership on our team. I’ve found over the years sometimes that’s much more important than pure talent.”
The Aggies were 6-5 in the GWC in 2009 and have been mulling options to move into another conference, including the Western Athletic Conference.
For now, though, Biggs and Co. are trying to prepare for Saturday’s opener against a team the Aggies haven’t defeated in eight previous meetings.
“We know we’re probably at a disadvantage from an athletic standpoint,” Biggs said. “It will be a great challenge for us but it’s one our kids have been looking forward to. It seems every person I know or talk to wants to be at this game. It’s exciting for our fans and our campus.”