BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -California came out of the Tennessee game with a much better feeling this year.
Last year, a season-opening thumping by Tennessee lingered throughout the Golden Bears' 10-win season.
No. 12 Cal emerged with a different feeling after a convincing 45-31 victory over the 15th-ranked Volunteers on Saturday night in Memorial Stadium.
``It was a big one, no question about it,'' coach Jeff Tedford said. ``We've been carrying this with us for a year.''
With 11 games remaining, beginning with a trip to Colorado State this week, the Golden Bears can't afford to look too far ahead. But a convincing victory in the opening weekend's only matchup of ranked teams has stamped Cal as a legitimate national title contender.
Likewise, DeSean Jackson's electrifying 77-yard punt return for a touchdown will likely raise his profile in the Heisman Trophy race. The junior from Los Angeles also caught four passes for 45 yards and ran once for 21 yards.
On the punt return, Jackson appeared to be hemmed in before reversing field and picking up a convoy of blockers.
``Our guys know, with DeSean, you always need to keep playing because you never know where he's going to go,'' Tedford said.
The bigger question: Where is Cal going?
The Bears have as much control over their destiny as any other contender because they play top-ranked Southern California on Nov. 10. That game is in Memorial Stadium, where the Bears have won two of the last four meetings.
But before the Bears could think about moving forward this year, they had to clear the hurdle that tripped them up in 2006. And in Tedford's view, the only way to do that was to be tougher than Tennessee.
On the night before the game, Tedford showed his players a video of a three-round mixed-martial arts fight. His point was to urge the Golden Bears not to flinch the first time the Vols hit them.
``I thought it was really important to show our guys, to show how you respond to getting hit in the mouth,'' Tedford said. ``Because we knew it was going to be a physical game. We knew they would get their shots and we'd get our shots, and how do you dig deep?
``The fight that we watched was about the most dig deep you could ever ask for,'' said Tedford, who didn't recall the names of the fighters. ``It was an unbelievable brawl.''
The Bears responded on the game's first series. Cal linebacker Zack Follett leveled Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge from behind, forcing a fumble that Worrell Williams picked up and returned 44 yards for the opening score.
The Bears also kept Tennessee off the board on a first-and-goal from the Cal 3 in the third quarter.
Still, the defense had some holes. Tennessee's Erik Ainge passed for 271 yards and three touchdowns and the Bears seemed content to trade scores at times.
Nate Longshore displayed plenty of poise in completing 19-of-28 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns.
Cal's running game didn't miss a beat despite losing Marshawn Lynch, the Pac-10's rushing leader a year ago. The Golden Bears rushed for 230 yards, led by Justin Forsett, who gained 156 and scored a touchdown.
``There's never been any concern about dropping off at the tailback spot with Justin in there,'' Tedford said. ``He's a great player.''
The Bears also unveiled speedy freshman Jahvid Best, whose 34-yard run in the second quarter set up a touchdown.
``No. 4 gives them a dimension that is special because of his speed,'' Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer said, referring to Best's jersey number.
Cal's overall speed was evident on a series of big plays. Three different runners - Forsett, Best and Jackson - had gains of at least 20 yards. And three different receivers - Forsett, Jackson and Cameron Morrah - had receptions of at least 23 yards.
``We have very, very good team speed, there's no question,'' Tedford said.
As the Volunteers headed back to Knoxville, they vowed to shore up the defense, which was one of the team's strengths a year ago. The 45 points were the most allowed by the Vols since a 62-37 loss to Florida in 1995. In the last three games of last season, Tennessee conceded a total of 42 points.
``There were a number of occasions when we just looked bad,'' Fulmer said. ``We looked bad trying to tackle those guys.''
Fulmer said the Cal game will provide plenty of lessons as the Vols try to rebound. Tennessee faces Southern Mississippi Saturday at Neyland Stadium and then travels to Gainesville for an SEC East showdown with Florida, the defending national champion.
``It will be a great film study for us,'' Fulmer said.

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