Cal Ready For Rematch With MSU

By: GREG BEACHAM - Associated Press
By: GREG BEACHAM - Associated Press

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- Six years after California coach Jeff Tedford made his first big splash with a victory over Michigan State, he's hoping the Golden Bears don't provide the same career opportunity to Mark Dantonio.
Tedford was a rookie head coach with two home victories under his belt in 2002 when he took the long-struggling Golden Bears to East Lansing to meet the nationally ranked Spartans. Cal's emphatic 46-22 victory put Tedford's rebuilding work in the national spotlight and even earned a brief ranking for the Bears, who won just one game the previous year.
"We've had some big wins here over the years, but I think that was one of the biggest," said Tedford, who now has six straight winning seasons at Cal. "It was a new coaching staff coming in, and it was pretty good test to go back there to their place. I think they were ranked No. 15 in the nation, something like that. ... I felt like when we left the field that day, there was a different confidence, a different belief that our guys had."
Michigan State finally returns that visit Saturday night when Dantonio begins his second season 2,300 miles from home in Strawberry Canyon. Both teams made big changes after going 7-6 last year, and their meeting will be the first chance to evaluate those changes.
The prospect of traveling all the way to the Bay Area for a tough opener against a perennial bowl team doesn't bother Dantonio, who's making clear strides in his rebuilding project at Michigan State. Cal's team speed and experience should provide a challenge
"These are the reasons you come to Michigan State -- to play in these type of games," Dantonio said. "To go across the country and play in a game like this, to have all the alumni people from the West Coast and all the people coming from here on a Labor Day weekend come and watch you play."
Cal will start Kevin Riley at quarterback over senior Nate Longshore, whose struggles last season were blamed for much of the Bears' 1-6 performance after a 5-0 start. Riley led Cal to a win in last year's Armed Forces Bowl, but hasn't begun a season as the club's starter.
Many of Cal's top recruits in recent years were influenced by Tedford's remarkable turnaround in 2002, punctuated by that Michigan State game. Not Riley.
"To be honest, I didn't even know that much about Cal football in 2002," Riley said. "What we did then won't help against Michigan State this time. They like to bring pressure and hit the quarterback so he's always thinking about it. We've got to be smart with the ball and not play like it's our first game together. We've been together in practice long enough to be better than that."
In fact, Cal's entire offense is dramatically new, except for the offensive line. With the departures of skill players Justin Forsett, DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins, Robert Jordan and Craig Stevens, the Bears will have newcomers or former part-timers at every key offensive position around center Alex Mack, the returning leader of the offensive line.
"They come off the ball pretty fast, and they're not afraid to hit you," said Mack, who graduated during the summer but decided to return for his senior season. "It's going to be fun no matter what, though. It's fun to hit a different color. Starting off the season with such a good team is going to be fun."
Cal has had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of Tedford's six seasons, and speedy Jahvid Best could continue that tradition if he gets enough carries. But the best running back in Saturday's game is likely to be Michigan State's Javon Ringer, last season's team MVP after recording the Spartans' first 1,000-yard season in six years.
Ringer pops out on game film to the Bears, who recognize elements of Forsett's fast, low-to-the-ground style. But Ringer is a bigger back who could cause major problems for Cal's rebuilt line in its new 3-4 defense, designed to take advantage of the Bears' wealth of linebacker talent.
"I know their offensive line is big, but Alex Mack is probably the No. 1 offensive lineman in the country," Cal linebacker Worrell Williams said. "We get that test every day in practice. ... We're going in there with a mentality of stopping the run, even though Ringer looks real good. He'll break a lot of tackles. Those legs will continue to move, no matter what."


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