The final play of the regular season prevented California from getting a bowl berth and eliminated a chance for a winning season, which added up to Cal's most disappointing season since Jeff Tedford became the head coach prior to the 2002 season.
Even if Cal had beaten Washington in its finale on Nov. 27, it would have been difficult to put a happy face on the 2010 season. But losing that game 16-13 when the Huskies scored on a fourth-down play that began with two seconds left was a slap in the face to a Cal program that had been to bowls each of the previous seven years and had finished over .500 in all eight seasons under Tedford.
But the Bears finished 5-7 overall and 3-6 in the conference, about where they were projected to finish, but much worse than what Cal has come to expect.
There were two problems: quarterback play and an inability to win close games.
The Cal defense was erratic -- outstanding in some games and lousy in others -- but overall, it was good enough for the Bears to have posted a better record. The addition of Clancy Pendergast as the defensive coordinator paid dividends, especially in terms of Cal applying pressure to the passer. And although the Bears will lose their two best defensive players -- DE Cam Jordan and LB Mike Mohamed -- they should have enough talent to be as good next year.
But the Bears were 0-3 in games decided by less than seven points, losing to Arizona by one point, to Oregon by two and to Washington by three. And in all three of those losses, Cal was in position to win. Arizona scored its only touchdown with 1:11 left. Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio missed a 29-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would have put Cal ahead against Oregon. And Washington scored the decisive touchdown on the final play of the game after a 45-yard pass put the Huskies in position to win.
The inability to finish was a major frustration for Tedford and the Bears.
The bigger issue, though, was the passing game, or, rather, the lack of a passing game. The passing attack was Cal's weakness when Kevin Riley was the quarterback, but when he got hurt in the eighth game and was lost for the season, Cal lost any semblance of a passing threat. Backup quarterback Brock Mansion, a fourth-year junior, produced very little while starting the final four games and playing most of a fifth, and developing a quarterback will be the No. 1 priority in the offseason.
"The slate will be completely clean," Tedford said of the quarterback depth chart heading into the spring. "That's obviously a focal point, no doubt about it. The offense revolves around your quarterback. There will be an open competition from now until, I assume, next fall."
The prime possibilities to be Cal's quarterback next season are Mansion; sophomore Beau Sweeney; Austin Hinder, who redshirted this season as a freshman; and Zach Maynard, who transferred from Buffalo and is expected to enroll at Cal in December. Tedford could bring in a junior-college quarterback, but, as of Nov. 28, there was no evidence a quality JC quarterback was ready to commit to the Bears.
Tedford has been known for developing quarterbacks, but shaky quarterback play has limited Cal's success each of the past three seasons, and never more so than in 2010. Shane Vereen provided an adequate rushing game, and if he returns to Cal instead of turning pro, he makes Cal solid at the running back spot.
But the Bears simply could not get anything accomplished through the air. And in the Pac-10, you cannot win unless you have a good quarterback. The lack of confidence in Cal's passing game was evident in the Bears' play-calling against Washington, as running plays were called on a lot of obvious passing situations.
Next season, Cal will play in the North Division of the Pac-12, along with Oregon and Stanford, which are the powerhouse teams of the conference this season, so it will not get easier.
NOTES & QUOTES
GAME OF THE YEAR: Cal 50, Arizona State 17 -- The Bears' 15-13 loss to No. 1 Oregon on Nov. 13 may have been Cal's most notable performance, but the rout of Arizona State on Oct. 23 was its most impressive win. The Sun Devils had lost six games as of Nov. 29, but four of those losses were by four points or fewer, including a one-point loss to Wisconsin and a four-point loss to Stanford. The Sun Devils only lost to Oregon by 11 as well, but they were never in the game against Cal, the only team to dominate Arizona State this season. The Bears led the game 40-3 midway in the third quarter, and Arizona State's offense did not score a touchdown. (One Arizona State touchdown came on a blocked punt, and the other came on a fumble return.)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: TB Shane Vereen -- Despite facing defenses designed to stop him because they knew Cal had no passing threat, Vereen still rushed for 1,167 yards and scored 16 of the team's 35 offensive touchdowns. He also caught 21 passes for 213 yards. There was a concern that Cal's running game might decline with the loss of Jahvid Best, but Vereen may be better than Best. DE Cam Jordan, ILB Mike Mohamed and OLB Mychal Kendricks were the standouts on defense, although Mohamed did not have as good a season as he did in 2009, partly because of injuries.
FAST FORWARD: Cal coach Jeff Tedford is not in danger of losing his job, but the pressure is starting to mount. And it will mount further next season, when the Pac-10 becomes the Pac-12, with Cal becoming part of the North Division with Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State. The key is finding a productive quarterback, and there is no indication that any such player exists. None of the four leading quarterback candidates -- Brock Mansion, Beau Sweeney, Austin Hinder and Zach Maynard -- have the look of somebody who can be a standout in the Pac-12 next season. The other key is the choice Shane Vereen will make. If he turns pro, the Bears' running game takes a hit. If he returns to Cal, the Bears should be able to run the ball. The losses of DE Cam Jordan and LB Mike Mohamed rob the defense of its two best players, but there is considerable defensive talent returning.
RECRUITING TRAIL: As of Nov. 28, Cal had 10 verbal commitments for 2011, although none is the kind of player who can make a major impact as a freshman. The biggest name among the commits is defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil, who could help next season, but the most important recruit may be QB Kyle Boehm, because the Bears need someone who can develop into a top-flight Pac-12 quarterback. He's only rated the No. 15 quarterback in the 2011 recruiting class by Scout.com, though, and is not likely to help next season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm probably not going to be in a good mood for the next few months." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, after completing his first losing season at Cal.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2011:
OLB Mychal Kendricks -- He fit nicely into the attacking 3-4 defense installed by Clancy Pendergast. A good blitzing linebacker with the speed to make big plays, Kendricks had 15 tackles for losses in 2010. He also had an interception and recovered three fumbles. Kendricks is the player best able to apply pressure to an opposing passer, and he had 7.5 sacks in 2010.
TB Shane Vereen -- Assuming he does not turn pro, Vereen should be one of the best backs in the Pac-12 next season. He rushed for 952 yards in 2009, primarily as a backup to Jahvid Best, and 1,167 in 2010 as the No. 1 back in 2010. He has also caught 74 passes in his Cal career, plus he's a good blocker. His biggest problem is that he's overshadowed by Oregon's LaMichael James and Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers.
WR Keenan Allen -- Although Marvin Jones was the Bears' top receiver in 2010 and may be again in 2011, Allen showed as a freshman that he could be something special in a year or two. Not only was he a starting receiver in 2010, but he returned kicks and punts, ran end-arounds often, took snaps out of the Wildcat formation to run the ball, and he threw a touchdown pass.
DE Cam Jordan -- Jordan is Cal's top pro prospect, and he has a chance to be taken late in the first round. He had 12.5 tackles for losses, knocked down three passes and forced three fumbles. His combination of speed, size (6-foot-4, 283 pounds) and athleticism is what NFL teams look for from defensive ends. His only shortcoming was that he did not play hard on every play, but he eliminated much of that habit in his senior season.
TB Shane Vereen -- He may return to Cal for his senior season, but if he turns pro, he's likely to be taken somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. He can do anything a pro back needs to do, and he's durable at 204 pounds. He carried more than 40 times in a game against Stanford in 2009. He's an underrated receiver and blocker. The only reason he would not be a first-rounder is because he is not quite as fast as Jahvid Best, although he is faster than many realize.
LB Mike Mohamed -- His 2010 season probably hurt his NFL stock, and he might not get taken until the middle to late rounds of the NFL Draft. He is not the most athletic linebacker around, and he does not do anything that is going to wow NFL scouts, so he will get downgraded. But he's a guy who does the right things at the right times and is likely to have a long, productive NFL career.
TE Anthony Miller -- He is just a junior and is likely to return for his senior season, but he could be a late-round draft pick if he decides to turn pro.
--QB Zach Maynard was expected to join the team in the fall of 2010 after transferring from Buffalo. However, he had some academic issues to straighten out, and he is expected to enroll at Cal for the spring term as a junior and compete for the starting quarterback job in the spring. He should be eligible to play in 2011. He is the half-brother of Cal WR Keenan Allen. Maynard was the starting quarterback at Buffalo, but Cal may have to alter its offensive style for Maynard, who often acted as an option quarterback at Buffalo. By no means is he a shoo-in to win the Cal quarterback job.
--QB Kevin Riley missed the final four games of his senior season after sustaining a knee and calf injury. He will try to make an NFL roster, but he is unlikely to get drafted.
--WR/PR Jeremy Ross missed the final two games of the season after breaking his finger in practice. The Bears missed his ability as a punt returner. He is a senior.
--WR Keenan Allen had an outstanding freshman debut in the season opener against UC Davis, but injuries limited his development until the final two games, when he began to show his big-play potential again. He took a number of snaps in the Wildcat formation against Washington.
--LB Mike Mohamed led the Pac-10 in tackles in 2009, but he fell well short in 2010, partly because of a shoulder injury and a broken thumb.