For anybody thinking this was strictly “cush” Saturday for Pac-12 football openers, guess again. In Berkeley and Denver, the league absorbed a couple of hard shots.
It’s silly to attach too much to an opener, but Cal’s 31-24 defeat to Nevada and Colorado’s 22-17 loss to neighboring Colorado State could have a dramatic effect on the aspirations of those two seasons.
Cal was a double-digit favorite against Nevada, and seemed to have all the edge in motivation. It was returning to the refurbished Memorial Stadium after a year away, and it had the psychological advantage of the three-touchdown pasting the Wolfpack administered to Cal in Reno a couple of years ago.
What Nevada had was quarterback Cody Fajardo (25 of 32 passing for 230 yards, plus 101 yards rushing) and running back Stefphon Jefferson (141 yards rushing).
Make no mistake, this is a thunderous loss for Jeff Tedford, the Cal coach. The athletic director, Sandy Barbour, was outspoken recently in her support of Tedford, but many Bear backers have been vocal in their displeasure over Cal’s tepid recent seasons, and this won’t be quieting them.
Oh, and on consecutive weekends later this month, Cal has to go to Ohio State and USC.
In Denver, Colorado State scratched back from a 14-3 second-quarter deficit, taking advantage of a game-turning muffed punt by Colorado late in the first half. Hard to bury Colorado (a touchdown favorite) for a loss against a nearby opponent that always is amped to play the game, but the Buffs had talked boldly about a bowl game this year, and that still takes six wins. Surely they figured this would be one of those.
The young Buffs looked completely unable to run, and while transfer quarterback Jordan Webb had his moments, Colorado was vulnerable to all sorts of CSU defensive pressures that kept Webb off-balance much of the second half.
First win as a head coach, then, for Jim McElwain of CSU. McElwain was Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at national champion Alabama, and the man whom ex-Washington aide Doug Nussmeier replaced at ‘Bama. McElwain was also mentioned as a possibility for the Washington State job last November but that never got off the ground with the quick hire of Mike Leach in Pullman.