Sweat poured through right tackle Steven Moore’s white Cal football jersey in the cool late-afternoon air. Number 64, who last year played more snaps than any other Golden Bear, had just completed a set of “gassers.” The width-of-the-field sprints iced the cake of the two-hour workout Tuesday at Memorial Stadium.
If the level of focus and intensity exhibited by Moore and his teammates meant anything, it looked like the boys from Berkeley will be ready to play Texas. Saturday’s road game in Austin will be nationally televised in prime time in the East. When it’s over, we’ll know whether the Bears will again become a talking point in the national college football conversation.
It is the strongly held belief of Moore – a behemoth out of Elk Grove High School who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds – that Berkeley’s time is now. He expects the Bears to beat Texas and every other opponent they face from the Wasatch Range in Utah to the banks of the Willamette in Oregon to the Arroyo Seco of Pasadena, where Cal hasn’t played on Jan. 1 since 1959.
“We’re going into every game like we belong,” Moore said, through a beard bushy enough to shade a baby on a sunny day.
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We’ve put in so much work. We deserve to win these games.
Steven Moore, Cal offensive lineman
Moore’s confidence flows from maturity gained through experience. He believes in coach Sonny Dykes and the rest of the staff, and he says the struggles of the past two seasons that produced only six wins in 24 games are about to give way to some hard-earned rewards.
“We’ve put in so much work,” Moore said. “We deserve to win these games.”
When last seen as relevant by the rest of the country, in the middle of October 2007, Cal blew a chance to become No. 1. All the Bears had to do in the sixth game of the season was beat Oregon State at home. But quarterback Kevin Riley ran out the clock with his team down by a field goal.
He should have thrown the ball away to preserve time for Cal to kick a tying field goal instead of trying to scramble for a touchdown deep in Beavers territory the game clock winding down and his team out of timeouts. It’s a decision only a talented few are ever put in position to make, and when Riley made the wrong one, since-departed coach Jeff Tedford spiked his headphones into the turf. It remains an enduring image of recent Cal football history.
Dykes’ fast-paced offense put up a lot of points his first year, but the defense gave up even more and the Bears lost all but one game. They got better last year but missed out on a chance for a bowl game with a season-ending loss at home to BYU.
This season, the Bears have outscored two opponents by a combined score of 108-21. Even if they came against Grambling State and San Diego State, the wins have generated some national notice for Cal. Sportswriter Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald voted Cal No. 22 in this week’s Associated Press poll. Ed Johnson of the Albuquerque Journal ranked the Bears 25th. The two ballots entitled Cal to be listed in the small print in the rankings, among “others receiving votes.”
882 Number of football wins by Texas, third all-time among major colleges
More journalists figure to join in recognition of Cal if the Bears can go into Austin and beat Texas on Saturday.
Maybe the Longhorns are down – they got killed by Notre Dame in their opener 38-3 and they needed a couple of long punt returns to put Rice on ice 42-28. Maybe the first two opponents had more first downs – 60-19 – and outgained them in yards 980 to 460. Still, they wear those gorgeous burnt orange shirts. They remain claimants to four national championships. They are third all-time among big-time schools in wins with 882 (two behind No. 2 Notre Dame).
Winning on Saturday would be a big deal for Cal, which is favored by 6 1/2 . But Dykes sees the game as merely a chance to play a good team and go 3-0.
“For us as a program, it’s really just the next game that’s on the schedule,” Dykes said before Tuesday’s practice. “That sounds pretty benign and pretty lame, but it’s true.”
All Dykes wants is for his guys to get better every day “and become a championship program,” he said. The kids are playing hard and having fun. They like each other, they care about one another. Nothing else matters much, he says, and he certainly wasn’t going to do anything this week to geek up the game and put pressure on his boys.
Moore, for one, got the message.
The big tackle last year won the Andy Smith Trophy, named for the legendary coach of Cal’s “Wonder Teams” of the early 1920s and emblematic of having played more snaps than anybody on the squad. He’s undergone double-shoulder surgery. He is a redshirt junior who has started 25 of the 26 games for which he’s suited up.
Yes, he’s excited to play Texas. Yes, he said, the Bears want to “go down there and beat those guys up.”
“But the way our coach is, it’s like he says, you keep everything in perspective,” Moore said. “The next game is always the most important game. So that’s all I’m looking at. I’ve played enough games here at Cal. I’ve been through a lot since I’ve been playing here, and I’m just ready to play the next game.”
One at a time, for sure, but some are bigger than others. Way bigger.