BERKELEY, Calif. – California
's next opponent is Oregon State. Jeff Tedford
's next opponent is uncertainty.
It seems easy to confuse the two, with most attention ahead of Saturday's season finale focused squarely on the future of the embattled 11th year head coach. But the Golden Bears (3-8, 2-6 Pac-12) have their focus squarely on the resurgent Beavers (7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network), not on the meeting between Tedford and athletic director Sandy Barbour expected to take place Sunday to determine the direction of the program moving forward.
"Understandably we want to make sure we put all our heart and soul and preparation into the way we finish this, and that's been the approach all week," Tedford said.
"I don't hear too many guys saying, ‘Hey, I don't really care about this season.' That's what you want to hear going into the game," cornerback Steve Williams said. "I want to hear people saying, ‘I think we can win this game,' and I think we can."
Tedford has frequently termed his worst season at Cal as a week-to-week issue, with three losses decided by one score, and not a more systemic one, pointing to the team's consistently strong preparation during the week and fight in game day.
Even with the roster devastated by injuries, headlined by the absence of quarterback Zach Maynard, wide receiver Keenan Allen, and right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin once again, Tedford insists Cal has not thrown in the towel.
"I think that says a lot about this team, motivation when the record isn't what you want it to be," Tedford said. I've been very pleased with the work ethic, the attitude, the togetherness. It's been challenging with the record, but all the things they are doing off the field with preparation has been all positive. I'm happy that the foundation has stayed strong.
"That's really all you can ask, and that is what I anticipate seeing again this week. They will come out and they will be ready to play. The guys who are playing will give if their all, and if there is no depth, they will lay it all on the line. They've been doing that every week. That's never been a question in my mind."
The secondary, whose Tedford play described as "up and down," will need to bring that mentality and execution to Reser Stadium to contain Oregon State wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton.
The two have combined to averaged better than 206 receiving yards on just over 13 receptions per game, leading Tedford and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to the far-more heralded USC duo of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.
"They fit kind of right there with Woods and Lee," Tedford said. "Lee has separated himself as a really special player, but all four of those receivers, you can't just focus on one guy. They have guys on both sides that can hurt you."
Cooks, a sophomore from Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln, ranks second in the Pac-12 to Woods in receiving yards per game. His ability to stretch the field is most apparent in his absurd average of 17.3 yards per catch.
The senior Wheaton has caught nine touchdowns after reaching the end zone just once in 73 receptions last season.
They are featured in a variety of ways, in all three levels of the passing game, and on reverses, end arounds, and fly sweeps.
"They mix it up with both those guys," Pendergast said. "They are both very talented receivers that are going to have bright futures at the next level."
The challenge, Pendergast said, comes because defenses cannot commit an extra safety to both Wheaton and Cooks, and still defend the run. That puts the onus on the corners to cover and tackle well, something Cal has been unable to do reliably.
"Some games we have been solid, other games we haven't been," Tedford said. "We need to be more consistent in pass defense in the secondary."
But there have been some positives. Tedford singled out Williams as having had "a very solid season," while Pendergast is pleased with the number of takeaways Cal has created.
"You look at the turnovers," Pendergast said. "I think we're 17th in the country in interceptions. I think we're somewhere in the top 25 in turnovers, so that's probably one of the bright spots that we have had."
Still, Pendergast is unhappy with the numbers of plays has faced, having been on the field for more than 78 snaps per game.
Whether Pendergast, and Tedford, will get a chance to fix Cal's issues is uncertain. As Oregon State has shown, going from 3-9 to 7-2, 5-2 in conference in a year, things can turn just that quickly.
"I don't think we can't get back to where we want to go," Williams said. "Just look at Notre Dame. They wasn't that good, and next thing you know they're one of the top teams in the country. It happens every year. Anything is possible.
"The games this season, it could have went our way some games, and we could be sitting here talking about a bowl game."
And talking about Cal's game at Oregon State as more than a possible prelude to Tedford's exit.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.