The questions are flying at Cal from all directions after the Bears' 48-14 loss to USC on Oct. 16.
How can they look so good one week, as they did in the 35-7 win over UCLA on Oct. 9, and look so bad the next, getting whipped every way possible by USC? The Trojans' domination in the first half was so complete that USC quarterback Matt Barkley played only one series in the third quarter before taking the rest of the game off.
Is Cal as bad as it showed in that game? The Bears trailed 42-0 at halftime, and even though the final score provided the Trojans with a 34-point margin, it did not reflect how lopsided the game was. Cal did not get a first down until the second quarter, and had just three first downs in the first half.
Is there any hope Cal quarterback Kevin Riley will become the consistent passer the Bears had hoped he would become? He has just six regular-season games left in his career, and he continues to be plagued by poor decisions and inaccurate throws. He was just 3-for-12 with two interceptions in the first half against the Trojans, who ranked 116th of 120 FBS teams in pass defense coming into the game.
How much of the poor offensive showing against USC was the fault of Riley? He seldom had time and was sacked twice. His receivers missed a few balls that could have been caught. Plus, the Bears' running game did little.
What happened to the Bears' defense? When Cal yielded just 10 points to Arizona and seven to UCLA, it seemed the 52 points yielded to Nevada was just an aberration and that Cal's defense was its strength. USC rolled up 372 yards, 20 first downs and 42 points in the first half, as the Trojans rolled through the Cal defense like it was not there.
How will the Bears respond to such a thorough beating? On Oct. 23 in Berkeley, they face an Arizona State team that is considerably better than anyone expected. The Sun Devils will be coming off a bye, and they beat Washington in Seattle in their most recent game. And Arizona State's defense is better than USC's.
Will Cal ever beat USC again? The Bears have lost seven straight to the Trojans since their stunning 2003 double-overtime upset of a USC team that went on to win a share of the national championship.
What are Cal fans thinking about coach Jeff Tedford? He has built the program into a contender in the Pac-10, but Bears supporters are getting restless after performances like the one against USC.
Will Cal get a bowl berth for the eighth consecutive season? Cal is 3-3, has to split its final six games to get there, and there is no assurance it can do so.
Will Cal have a losing season for the first time under Tedford?
NOTES & QUOTES
Cal has lost by more than 20 points six times since Jeff Tedford was hired prior to the 2002 season, and five of those lopsided losses have come in the past 16 games.
The past two losses to USC have been particularly demoralizing. Last season, the Bears lost 30-3 to the Trojans, and, like this year's loss to USC, the games were expected to be close.
The 42 points tied a Cal record for the most points scored against the Bears in the first half of a game. The 42-point deficit was the Bears' largest halftime deficit in Cal history.
TB Shane Vereen caught three passes against USC, and he has caught at least one pass in all 32 college games in which he has played. He rushed for 53 yards, moving him into 10th place on Cal's career rushing list.
GAME BALL GOES TO: S Chris Conte -- Conte had a career-high 14 tackles, including 10 solo tackles and 1.5 tackles for losses. Perhaps the surest tackler on the squad, Conte seemed to be everywhere. He did as decent job in pass coverage as well. But Conte made an astute point when he told the San Francisco Chronicle, "Having a career-high tackles in this game is not the best sign. When I make the most tackles, it means they're getting into the secondary."
KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Mike Mohamed -- He had 11 tackles against the Trojans and is tied for the team lead in tackles with 39 despite missing all of one game and a good part of a second with a toe injury. If the Bears' defense is to rebound, it must get outstanding performances from Mohamed, and it's not clear he is completely recovered from his toe problem. Despite the high number of tackles, Mohamed did not seem to be the force he usually is.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was real proud of our kids in the second half. We came back and won the second half." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, to the San Francisco Chronicle, trying to find something positive in the 48-14 loss to USC on Oct. 16.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Cal's punting game. P Bryan Anger continues to be productive. He punted six times against USC, averaging 43.8 yards a boot and had two punts of more than 50 yards. The net punting average was a respectable 37.4 yards, thanks in large part to the elevation Anger gets on his punts. USC used fair catches to handle two of his punts, and Anger deposited one inside the USC 20-yard line.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Cal's passing game. Finding one aspect on which to focus after the lopsided loss to USC is difficult, but the lack of a passing attack when the outcome was still undecided was the biggest problem. QB Kevin Riley was frequently under pressure, which is part of the reason he completed just three of 12 passes for 51 yards and two interceptions in the first half. But a lot of it was poor decision-making by Riley. This was against a USC pass defense that ranked 116th among 120 FBS teams coming into the game and had been shredded by its previous two opponents.
TB Shane Vereen did not play much in the second half after getting his "bell rung," according to coach Jeff Tedford. Vereen probably will play against Arizona State on Oct. 23.
LB Keith Browner sustained a leg injury that forced him out of the game against USC. His status for the game against Arizona State is uncertain.
FB Eric Stevens did not play against USC after undergoing surgery to repair a broken finger three days earlier. His status for the Arizona State game is uncertain.