Pac-10 showdown between Cal, USC loses some luster

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - After all that went wrong for California in 2007, coach Jeff Tedford did take one valuable lesson from a season that started with so much promise only to end in bitter disappointment.

The best way to make sure one bad loss doesn't send a season spiraling out of control is to work on the players' psyche instead of devising better schemes.

"Back then, I just focused on Xs and Os," Tedford said. "They were tough losses that we had two years ago and instead of me spending time motivating the team and looking for things in the locker room that were maybe getting us down, I spent all my time trying to come up with plays and things like that. So I learned a lot as a coach that year that there's a lot more to it than just Xs and Os."

Tedford will carry that lesson into Saturday's game against No. 7 Southern California (3-1, 1-1 Pac-10), when the 24th-ranked Golden Bears (3-1, 0-1) will try to bounce back from a 42-3 loss at Oregon to get back into the conference race.

The Bears were poised to move into the top five in the AP poll with a win last week, but instead plummeted 18 spots following the most lopsided loss in Tedford's eight years in Berkeley.

As bad as defeat was, the only thing that could make it worse is allowing it to linger into this week. That's just what happened to the Bears back in 2007, when they were set to move up to No. 1 before losing 31-28 to Oregon State. Cal lost again the following week and the week after, and ended up dropping six of its final regular-season games.

"We were hanging on to those losses," running back Jahvid Best said. "Guys were still talking about it after the fact. We didn't do a good job putting those disappointing losses behind us. This team will. We put that loss behind us. We don't mention it, we don't talk about it, we just get ready for the next game."

What makes that job easier is knowing who the opponent is this week. The game against the Trojans is always the measuring stick for Cal. The Bears have won just once since Pete Carroll arrived at USC in 2001, a 34-31 triple-overtime thriller six years ago.

USC has won at least a share of the last seven Pac-10 titles, making five trips to the Rose Bowl in that span. Cal is looking for its first Rose Bowl bid since the 1958 season and needs a win this week to keep that dream viable.

"Winning the Pac-10 is not out of the picture at all, so the older guys who've been through it will talk to young guys and tell them to just forget about it," Cal quarterback Kevin Riley said. "You learn from it, you move on. That's all that you can do."

What once looked like a game that could play a role in the national title conversation, now could be an elimination game for any BCS bid following USC's loss at Washington on Sept. 19 and Cal's debacle at Oregon last week.

While the game lost quite a bit of its luster nationally, it still is critical for the teams.

"It doesn't take any off of ours and I know it doesn't take any off theirs so I don't think so at all," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "Maybe it does for somebody else, but not for the teams playing."

This game might feature two of the best players in the country at their positions, in Best and USC safety Taylor Mays, who is nursing a bum knee.

Best vaulted toward the top of the Heisman Trophy talk by rushing for 412 yards and scoring and scoring nine touchdowns in the first three games. But he was held to just 55 yards rushing by Oregon last week.

Best managed only 30 yards on 13 carries in last year's 17-3 to USC and wants to make a better showing this week.

Cal has tried to move Best around this season, featuring him as a wide receiver and on direct snaps from center. Wherever he goes Saturday, Mays figures to be close by.

"They know how to move him all around," Carroll said. "They use him as a receiver. He motions in and out of the back field, runs into it, catches balls. They do everything with him as a highlighted player should be used."

The deciding factor could come down to the play of the two quarterbacks. Riley looked ready to emerge as a star after throwing four touchdown passes in the season opener against Maryland, but has just one in his last three games.

Freshman Matt Barkley made a big splash by leading the game-winning drive at Ohio State on Sept. 12, but missed the loss at Washington with a shoulder injury and didn't need to do much to beat Washington State last week.


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