Cal can right ship vs. USC

With 3 losses in past 4 games, Golden Bears looking to upset top-ranked Trojans today

National notebook


There were moderate expectations at California this season, given that the Golden Bears lost their two big offensive stars, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tailback J.J. Arrington, and had only eight starters returning from last season's team that finished the regular season with a 10-1 record.

Picked to finish behind USC in the Pac-10 this season, the Bears won their first five games before the bottom dropped out. Now, with three defeats in their past four games, Cal has a chance to turn things around quickly today with an upset at home of the top-ranked Trojans.

It's not out of the realm of possibility. USC's last loss was at Cal's Memorial Stadium, a 34-31 triple-overtime thriller in 2003. Since then, the Trojans have won 31 straight and two national titles.

"We do know it is a difficult place and they have a great crowd that gets the team fired up and inspired," USC coach Pete Carroll said earlier in the week. "We have come to learn to expect that, and hopefully we will be up to the task."

Part of the game plan for the Trojans will be putting pressure on Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob, who since coming to Berkeley this season as a junior-college All-American at San Francisco Community College has played much like the rest of the Bears - inconsistently.

Following the career path of two former Cal quarterbacks, Rodgers and Kyle Boller, Ayoob has had a first season in Berkeley filled with the highs and lows of a player making the transition to major college football.

Rodgers was an instant success, and Boller struggled. Ayoob has experienced a little of both. After losing the No. 1 job in preseason to redshirt freshman Nathan Longshore, Ayoob got the starting position back when Longshore was lost for the season with a broken leg sustained in Cal's opening game against Sacramento State.

After failing to connect on any of his 12 passes in his debut, Ayoob hit on 56 of 86 while throwing for eight touchdowns and only one interception in the next four games. Since then, Ayoob is 62 of 141 with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions, including three in last week's 27-20 loss at Oregon.

"There are a lot of things to learn, and you have big, fast people chasing you," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford, a former quarterback who took the same junior-college route when he was a player.

Said Carroll: "Ayoob is a really talented athlete. He can run the ball and make you pay the price. He has just missed the consistency to become a great player."

Cheap shots

After seeing fourth-ranked Alabama beat his Mississippi State Bulldogs, 17-0, in Starkville last week, second-year coach Sylvester Croom took a shot at his former school.

"I didn't think they played with as much class as Alabama teams usually do," said Croom, an All-America for the Crimson Tide under the legendary Bear Bryant as well as a longtime assistant in Tuscaloosa. "All that bumping and some of the other little things they did between plays. I wasn't impressed with that at all."

Speaking at a function in Huntsville, Ala., Monday night, Croom went on to say, "They've got good schemes and they're well-coached and they play hard. But some of those little things may catch up with them at some point. We've played three or four teams that are better from a talent standpoint, but they know how to get it done."

Oh, did we forget to mention that Croom was one of the three finalists for the job that went to Mike Shula, now a Coach of the Year candidate at Alabama?

Making the grade

Florida got a D. South Carolina and Utah received an F. Those were the grades handed out recently by the Black Coaches Association for the way those schools made their most recent football coaching hires. The grades were based on five categories, including the number of candidates interviewed and whether the schools followed their own hiring policies in regard to affirmative action.

"It's disappointing," BCA executive director Floyd Keith said of the fact that only three African-Americans are head coaches among the 119 Division I-A programs. "We would hope [the results] would have been better. At the end of the day, it corroborates what we've said the issues are. And it's not good."

In defending the hiring of Urban Meyer from Utah, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said, "In the course of searching for a head football coach, we used the BCA's report card criteria as a baseline in structuring our hiring process. ... We feel strongly that our process was open, fair and deliberate."

Oddly, Notre Dame received a B from the BCA when it hired Charlie Weis after Tyrone Willingham was forced out. Four other schools, including Illinois and Indiana, got an A from the BCA despite not hiring an African-American head coach.

The Associated Press and other news organizations contributed to this article.

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