Colorado gets early start on new conference by visiting Cal
BERKELEY – When Colorado and California set up a home-and-home series a few years ago it seemed like a typical early season matchup between teams from power conferences.
With Colorado’s decision earlier this year to bolt the Big 12 in order to join Cal in the Pac-10, the first of those meetings has turned into a preview of what the Buffaloes will face in their new conference.
“You definitely want to show them what they’re going to come to in the Pac-10, show them what type of conference we are and how we play football,” Golden Bears quarterback Kevin Riley said.
“I feel like the Pac-10 gets a pretty bad rap every single year. We just have to show them what Cal football is all about and what the Pac-10 is about. That’s all you can do.”
The game against Cal (1-0) Saturday in Berkeley will be the first for Colorado (1-0) against a Pac-10 team since announcing the conference move back in June.
With it still uncertain whether the Buffaloes will join their new conference beginning in 2011 or 2012, the two schools don’t know whether next year’s scheduled game in Boulder will be a nonconference or conference tilt.
While Riley talked about how the impending conference shift brings added importance to this nonconference game, other players and coaches are downplaying that angle.
“We’re preparing for Cal, regardless if they were Pac-10, Big 12 or SEC,” Colorado cornerback Jalil Brown said. “The whole Pac-10 situation is kind of in the back of our minds. Obviously, it would be great to get a win against a Pac-10 school but as far as using that as an incentive to work harder, that’s not the case.”
The decision to join the Pac-10 made sense for Colorado, which recruits many of its players from California and has more alumni living there than in the Big 12’s dominant state of Texas.
Quarterback Tyler Hansen, who grew up in Riverside County in Southern California, is excited about playing against a team he grew up watching with a few thousand of his own supporters on hand. He hopes that helps the Buffaloes reverse their road woes from a year ago when they lost all six trips outside of Boulder.
“That’s the great thing about us eventually moving to the Pac-10 is we have so many alumni and followers in the California, Western states that when we eventually move to the Pac-10 we’ll have a lot more fans there,” Hansen said. “I guess we’re supposed to have at least 7-8,000 fans there. That’s a good amount of fans. I think especially with our struggles on the road I think if we have a lot of our fans there it will feel more like a home game a little bit. And I think we’ll be a lot more comfortable.”
Colorado has already won one game away from home this season, beating Colorado State 24-3 in the opener in a neutral site game in Denver. But facing Cal in Berkeley figures to be a much tougher test.
Cal is also taking a serious step up in competition after beating Football Championship Subdivision opponent UC Davis 52-3 in an opener that might not have been as close as the lopsided score.
“Davis is a good FCS team,” Riley said. “But in all honesty they can’t compete with us on the football field. Our team is very aware of that. It was good for everybody to go out there and play a game and get some kinks out, have some drives moving the ball. We know Colorado is a much better team and a much better team than their record showed last year. They’re a Big 12 team and played a lot of teams tough last year.”
The key for Colorado will be slowing down Cal’s offense, which looks like it has the potential to be better than last season despite losing star running back Jahvid Best to the NFL.
Riley has many more options to go to on the outside, with improved play from returning receivers Marvin Jones and Jeremy Ross and the addition of heralded freshman Keenan Allen.
Allen had a scintillating debut for the Bears. He caught four passes for 120 yards and a touchdown and added 38 yards and another touchdown on three carries. The performance came as no surprise to the Cal players who have been around him all summer but surely caught the attention of upcoming opponents.
“I was kind of surprised. Usually when you see a freshman out there they are kind of trying to feel their way and get on the field and make plays and in the end their confidence comes from the first play,” Brown said. “He was confident that he was going to make some plays and even with the ball in his hands, most receivers they’re catching the ball and going down. He wasn’t afraid.”
Colorado also showed it has some talented newcomers on offense, most notably receiver Travon Patterson. The Buffaloes added Patterson over the summer when he decided to transfer from USC following the probation that hit the Trojans. He caught an 18-yard touchdown pass in the opener from Hansen and also had a 25-yard punt return.