For my money, the most perplexing football team in the Pac-12 isn’t Arizona or Oregon State. It’s Cal, which Thursday night does what it always seems to do against USC, losing 30-9.
I was in the house in 2004 at the LA Coliseum, when Cal, with Aaron Rodgers completing pass after pass, came within a red-zone score in the last two minutes of upsetting the vaunted Trojans, peaking then under Pete Carroll. The Bears lost, and they’ve been losing to USC ever since. This marks eight straight times.
It’s not just the eight in a row. It’s the fact the Bears have now scored a mere 82 points in those games, or a tick over 10 per outing. Amazingly, they haven’t topped 17 in that stretch. And this is a Trojans defense that gave up 40-plus back-to-back to the Arizona schools.
This will teach ESPN. It has had the Bears on two weeks in a row for Thursday night games, and Cal has lost to Oregon and USC by a combined 49 points. The Bears led at half against Oregon and got outscored 29-0 in the second half. Then they got outpointed 20-0 in the first half by USC, making it 49-0 over two halves.
Quarterback Zach Maynard, who showed a good deal of moxie against Washington Sept. 24, has been eminently mortal in the last two games. He committed four turnovers against the Trojans and simply didn’t make good decisions with any consistency.
Quarterback play has dogged the Bears almost since the departure of Rodgers after the 2004 season. Here’s one yardstick: In 2006, Nate Longshore had a pass-efficiency rating of 141.64, and in 2010, before getting hurt, Kevin Riley’s PE rating was 140.68. Of Cal’s primary quarterbacks since Rodgers departed, those are the two highest numbers. (For a measuring tool, a rating of 141 in last year’s national rankings got you about No. 31.)
Aside from those two, none of the primary quarterbacks in the other five years have managed to hit the 129 mark in pass efficiency. Last year, 129 would have ranked you 55th nationally.
None of it is good news for Cal coach Jeff Tedford, whose record in league games since the 2006 season is now 17-22. The Bears, 3-3, finish on the road against league contenders Stanford and Arizona State. Which means they’d better make hay against Utah, UCLA, Washington State and Oregon State.