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The Secret is Out

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Last season, the Maryland Terrapins came out of nowhere under a first-year coach and shocked the college football world, winning the ACC title and earning a spot in a BCS Bowl game. Ralph Friedgen promised a new brand of football, but few expected that new brand to pay immediate dividends. That however, is exactly what happened, as Maryland went 10-1 in the regular season and became the first team other than Florida State since 1992 to capture the ACC crown outright. Although he was a handed a loaded team, down the road in the Sunshine State, another first-year coach completed an unprecedented season, as Larry Coker took his Hurricanes to the pinnacle of the college football world, capturing a national title.

Two perfect examples of what can be achieved in a short period of time. Now that the blueprint has been laid out on achieving unlimited success in the initial season of a coach's tenure, who, if anyone, will follow that plan to college football Nirvana in 2002?

My money is on the Jeff Tedford and the California Golden Bears.

The team from Berkeley has long been a forgotten player in the Pac-10 and for good reason. The Golden Bears haven't posted a winning season since 1993 and haven't won the Pac-10 title in an eon. Following one .500 season under now San Francisco head coach Steve Mariucci (6-6), it was supposed to be Tom Holmoe that carried the torch and furthered the team's progress into the new millennium. However, Holmoe's tenure lasted just five seasons, as he posted a 16-39 record from 1997-2001 (.291 winning percentage). A brutal 1-10 campaign a year ago was the last nail in the coffin and Holmoe was sent packing.

Enter Jeff Tedford.

Jeff Tedford
Jeff Tedford's Golden Bears are averaging 50.0 points per game thus far, while allowing just 19.0.
The former Oregon offensive coordinator certainly built a reputation as a a builder of top-notch talent at the quarterback position. A former Fresno State star at the quarterback position, Tedford has turned Fresno State (1992-97), Oregon (1998-2001) and even the Calgary Stampeders (1989-91) into offensive juggernauts, during his coaching career. Some of the top QB talent that he has helped mold includes Joey Harrington, Trent Dilfer, David Carr and Akili Smith (all high NFL Draft picks). Tedford certainly played a big role in Oregon's continual rise to national prominence over the last few years. From 1997-2001, the Ducks posted a Pac-10 best 38-10, including an 11-1 record a year ago. With not much more to prove as an assistant, the perfect job opened up in Berkeley. A team that should be competitive in the conference, as well as on the national scene, simply wasn't.

When asked coming into the season about the new look Bears in 2002, Tedford was specific about what he wanted to accomplish on both sides of the football.

"We are installing a multiple, diverse offense that will utilize many formations. We want to stay balanced in the run and the pass and we want to be an attacking offense that will dictate to the defense."

On the new 4-3 defense, Tedford said, "We will stress to our players that they need to understand their assignments and swarm to the football. We also will need to limit big plays and create turnovers."

After three games this year, it is obvious that the players have bought into Tedford's philosophies.

Last season, the Golden Bears struggled to an 0-10 start, before registering their first win in the season-finale against lowly Rutgers. The team averaged just 17.6 points per game, while allowing 46.3. This season, the pendulum has shifted and California is the team dishing out the punishment on both sides of the football.

Tedford's team is averaging 50.0 points per game thus far, while allowing just 19.0. The Bears are getting it done on the ground (120.0 ypg) and through the air (260.3 ypg). The same big plays that cost the team in almost every game last season, are the ones the Bears are now executing to perfection. The team has turned the ball over only twice in the first three games, while forcing 12 turnovers in their favor.

There is no flashy All-American type on the offensive side of the football, but rather a unit that executes to near perfection each and every snap. Quarterback Kyle Boller isn't a show-stopper like Joey Harrington or David Carr, but the 6-4, 225-pound senior knows his job and gets the most out of himself and his teammates. Boller has completed over 60 percent of his passes this year (61.5) for 625 yards and seven TDs, with just one interceptions in 91 pass attempts. The receiving corps reflects the team's leadership. Hard workers that run proper routes and take what the defense gives them. Geoff McArthur leads the team with 18 receptions, for 178 yards and one TD, followed by Jonathan Makonnen (10 catches, for 109 yards). LaShaun Ward is the player that extends defenses when Boller goes up top. Ward has nine receptions, for 166 yards (18.4 ypc) and a team-high three TDs. Balancing out the passing game is tailback Joe Igber on the ground. The smallish veteran (5-9, 180) makes the most of his opportunities and leads the team in rushing (260 yards), averaging 5.0 ypc and 86.7 ypg. Igber is also a valuable option coming out of the backfield with nine catches and two TD receptions thus far. The offensive line does not feature a single starter over 300 pounds, but bigger is not always better. This offensive front has done a solid job keeping pressure off of Boller (three sacks allowed) thus far.

Tedford stressed making plays on the defensive side of the football and there has certainly not been a shortage of those this season. The Bears have forced 12 turnovers in the first three games, with six interceptions and six fumble recoveries. The team's +10 turnover ratio is a harsh contrast to last season's Pac-10 worst -17. The unit has been fierce in passing situation, with 10 sacks thus far, led by senior defensive end Tully Banta-Cain. The 6-4, 260-pound senior is beginning to look a lot like former Cal All-American Andre Carter. The opposition has had fits with Banta-Cain this season, as the rush specialist has recorded an unbelievable six sacks thus far. Nine of his 11 tackles on the season have come in the opposition's backfield. Currently tied for seventh on the school's all-time sacks list (19.5), Banta-Cain need just 11.5 more to tie Carter for the all-time career record. An aggressive secondary makes Banta-Cain's job a lot easier, led by safeties Nnamdi Asomugha (team-high 16 tackles) and Bert Watts (14 tackles) and cornerbacks James Bethea (12 tackles, team-high three interceptions) and Jemeel Powell (12 tackles, two interceptions). The four all play the run well, filling the gaps and forcing teams to have to throw the football. Thus far, California is holding opponents to just 111.7 yards per game on the ground (2.8 ypc) and the secondary's willingness to make tackles is a big part of that success.

Although the team destroyed both Baylor (70-22) and New Mexico State (34-13) to start the season, few pundits gave the Bears any respect. The old saying that "respect is earned" is something Jeff Tedford takes to heart. He got his team fired up for its showdown with nationally-ranked Michigan State this past week. In East Lansing, Tedford's team definitely earned its respect, with a rout of the Spartans (46-22). The victory sent MSU tumbling out of the top-25, while propelling the Bears into the national rankings for the first time since 1996.

With the huge win over the Spartans, the Golden Bears have gone from an enigma to a bona fide contender. California will sneak up on absolutely no one from this point on.

Last season, Washington State made Pac-10 stalwarts Oregon, Washington, USC and UCLA make room at the top of the standings. This season, Jeff Tedford and the Golden Bears are trying to do the same.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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