Can California Bears return to Pac-12 contention, along with renovated stadium?
California coach Jeff Tedford's success has tailed off in recent years, but he's optimistic as his Bears move back into remodeled Memorial Stadium.
Seattle Times staff reporter
California at a glanceLast year: 7-6 (fourth in Pac-12 North).
Coach: Jeff Tedford (79-48, 11th year at Cal).
Leading lights: WR Keenan Allen, RB Isi Sofele, OT Matt Summers-Gavin, DT Aaron Tipoti, QB Zach Maynard, CB Marc Anthony.
Key stat: The Bears were one of just four Pac-12 teams to outgain their opponents in conference games last year. The other three were Oregon, Stanford and USC. The Bears gained 47.9 yards per game more than their conference foes.
The schedule: The Bears have a tough back-to-back in September, going to Ohio State and USC. But otherwise it's favorable with seven home games, including four of the first six.
About this seriesThis is the seventh in a 10-part series previewing Pac-12 football teams.
Up next: Stanford.
The cover to California's 2012 media guide says simply "Welcome Home," a nod to on-campus Memorial Stadium being open for business again following a yearlong remodeling.
The motto Bears football coach Jeff Tedford hopes attaches to his team, meanwhile, is "Welcome Back."
Tedford was once one of college coaching flavors-of-the-month when he led Cal to a surprisingly quick rebirth upon taking over in 2002. But since a 10-3 season in 2006, the Bears have mostly spun their wheels, often regarded as a team expected to do a lot in the preseason then rarely delivering.
The Bears are 20-18 the past three seasons, 12-15 in conference games.
That has some speculating whether Tedford, who at 79-48 has more wins than any coach in school history, is on the hot seat. Especially with a lot of seats to fill to pay for the $321 million Memorial Stadium remodel.
As he met the media last month on a sun-splashed day in Los Angeles, though, Tedford seemed anything but stressed and said he thinks the glory days are close to returning.
He pointed to the way the Bears ended last season — winning three of the last four Pac-12 games, with the lone loss a 31-28 defeat at Stanford — and the return of much of his offense as reasons for hope.
"We were definitely on an upward trend," Tedford said. "The bowl game (a 21-10 loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl) probably put a downer on that to make it feel like it wasn't. But it was."
The loss to the Longhorns, in which Cal gained just 195 yards, left the Bears 7-6 overall.
Tedford, though, says that quarterback Zach Maynard progressed greatly and is ready for a big senior year. Finding a consistent quarterback has been one of Tedford's biggest issues the past few years, somewhat confounding considering he was the assistant who groomed Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith and Joey Harrington, with Aaron Rodgers coming early in his Cal career.
Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo, was predictably erratic in his first Pac-12 season. Washington fans might remember his off-target pass on the final play of the Huskies' 31-23 win over the Bears last September.
"Those are the ways you get better," Tedford said of the end of the UW game. "Those experiences you can grow from and learn from, and I'm sure he will."
Maynard can throw to one of the top receivers in the country, Keenan Allen, who is also his half-brother, or hand the ball to standout running back Isi Sofele (1,322 yards last season).
Cal has turned into one of the better defensive teams in the conference the past few years. The Bears allowed 358 yards per Pac-12 game in 2012, second to Stanford.
Just five starters return off that unit, but a couple are potential all-conference players — defensive tackle Aaron Tipoti and cornerback Marc Anthony.
Tedford also has high hopes for junior end Deandre Coleman of Seattle's Garfield High School, who will be asked to step in at end for the graduated Trevor Guyton, a former Redmond star.
"He had a great spring," Tedford said of Coleman. "I can't wait to see him play this year. I really think he's ready to come into his own. He's always been big and physical and a specimen that way, but now he's just cutting it loose. He's got a great understanding and really playing fast. I think you are going to see big things from him this year."
Coleman, like the rest of the Bears, figures to be primed for UW's return to Berkeley on Nov. 2, a rare Friday night game. By then, the Bears will be well acquainted with their new stadium.
The UW-Cal rivalry has been stoked by three Husky wins the past three seasons, as well as Washington's offseason raiding of the Bears' coaching staff. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian hired Eric Kiesau as offensive coordinator and master recruiter Tosh Lupoi as defensive-line coach.
Tedford said he isn't holding grudges.
"Not at all," he said. "That game will be about our team against their team. We (coaches) don't play the game, so this is going to be about two teams and what will probably be a pivotal game in the season for both teams. It's got nothing to do with (coaching moves), but the two teams between the lines."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @bcondotta