|No. 12 Cal carries Pac-10 banner in 45-31 victory over No. 15 Tennessee|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 01 September 2007 18:20|
No. 12 California answered Louisiana State coach Les Miles' barbs with a resounding 45-31 victory over 15th-ranked Tennessee on Saturday night.
The Golden Bears earned the victory, but every school in the oft-maligned Pac-10 got a lift from this one. You hope Miles had a chance to catch it, too, after drubbing Southeastern Conference powerhouse Mississippi State 45-0 on Thursday night.
Miles had stirred up passions on the typically laid-back West Coast when he said Southern California would have a ``much easier road to travel'' to the BCS title game because it plays in the soft-serve Pac-10. Miles didn't use the term ``soft-serve,'' but he might as well have.
``They're going to play real knock-down, drag-outs with UCLA and Washington, Cal-Berkeley, Stanford - some real juggernauts,'' Miles said of the Trojans.
Ask Tennessee about that Cal-Berkeley juggernaut, which left tire tracks all over the Vols' white road uniforms.
Tennessee was by far the tougher team in a 35-18 romp over Cal in Knoxville last season. The Golden Bears had promised to match them blow-for-blow in the rematch, and linebacker Zack Follett set the tone when he nailed Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge in the back in the first quarter, forcing a fumble that Worrell Williams picked up and returned 44 yards for the game's first touchdown.
The Bears also flexed their muscles in a third-quarter goalline stand, when defensive back Bernard Hicks stopped Vols receiver Lucas Taylor on an option play at the California 1.
But football is about more than hitting the other guy in the mouth. It helps to be able to run too.
As Tennessee found out on DeSean Jackson's 77-yard punt return for a touchdown, there is speed, and then there is Pac-10 speed.
It was telling that some of Tennessee's biggest plays came from Ainge and tailback Arian Foster, both of whom went to high school in Pac-10 territory. Ainge, a cool senior from Hillsboro, Ore., completed his first 10 passes.
Either way this one went, it was the sort of intersectional showdown college football needs, especially on the season's first weekend, when there's no NFL and the colleges have the spotlight to themselves.
Some hoped the Bowl Championship Series, by emphasizing schedule strength, would create more of these high-stakes matchups. But it hasn't worked out that way.
Many of the big dogs would rather buy victories in September as hedges against spending the holidays at home. So the season opened with a glut of Rutgers-Buffalo, Louisville-Murray State and Penn State-Florida International.
Appalachian State's stunning victory over fifth-ranked Michigan broke the mold, but the big upset in the Big House on Saturday was the exception that proves the rule in these early season routs.
That's why Tennessee-Cal was such a big deal. It was the only game pitting Top 25 teams on Saturday.
``Tennessee playing Cal is good for college football,'' Florida coach Urban Meyer said on last week's SEC coaches teleconference call. ``You owe it to college football to play at least one Top 10-caliber team outside your conference, and most teams don't do that.''
It's hard to say what the powerhouses are afraid of, other than losing. And a loss before Labor Day isn't likely to end anyone's national title hopes, except possibly Michigan's. Florida rebounded from a midseason defeat to win it all last year.
One thing is certain: fans love these games. Strawberry Canyon was buzzing an hour before the Bears and Vols kicked off on a dazzling, 80-degree afternoon.
Tennessee sold its allotment of 7,500 tickets, but there were at least 10,000 orange-clad Vols fans in the Memorial Stadium sellout crowd of 72,516, some of them bobbing like lonely buoys in a blue-and-gold sea.
Tennessee seemed to bring everyone but Smokey, its bluetick coonhound mascot. Why did they leave the dawg in Knoxville?
``Too far,'' one Tennessee official said.
Smokey didn't miss much as Tennessee fell to 2-7-1 all-time in California.
Cal fans also got fired up for this one. Behind the Cal bench, students with letters painted on their stomachs lined up to form ``GOLDEN BEARS.'' Midway through the first quarter, a woman adorned with a ``B'' dropped out, and for a few moments the formation read ``GOLDEN EARS.''
Soon a male student with a ``B'' on his chest appeared and took her place. As any coach will tell you, depth is important.