The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Cal

IT'S BEEN OFTEN said during the past couple weeks the most winnable game left on Washington State's schedule is Utah. And maybe people are right. The Utes, save for Saturday's 27-8 win over Oregon State, haven't looked good in Pac-12 play. The Cougars get Utah at home on Nov. 19. Still, I believe the most winnable game left on the Cougars' 2011 schedule might be Saturday's game at California.

Have you checked out the Bears lately? Or better yet, a calendar? Because this is about the time of year when the Bears begin their annual freefall. Only in 2011, California is ahead of schedule, having lost four of its last five games.

The heat is beginning to sear under the seat of Bears coach Jeff Tedford, and unless he somehow repels history, it's only going to get worse. Since 2005, Cal is 8-12 during November.

Last year, the Bears lost four of their final five games to post their first losing season during the Tedford era. Cal could be headed down that losing road again, as the Bears are 4-4 going into Saturday's game against the Cougars.

This is often the time of year when Cal falls apart. You know about last year. In 2009, the Bears lost three of their final five. In 2007, Cal dropped six of its final seven games.

Nothing in the Tedford-Cal history suggests the Bears will rebound from their latest funk. Bad teams commit turnovers, and the Bears had five against UCLA. While Cal's overall turnover margin isn't horrible – it's minus 1 – the Bears have committed 10 turnovers in their last two losses, to UCLA and USC.

Could be an opportunity for WSU's pass defense.

Other than the Utah win, California hasn't had a performance this season where you'd walk away saying, wow, that's a good team. Because the Bears aren't. Average, probably. And average opponents are right in the Cougars' wheelhouse for a win.

Not saying it will happen, because the Cougars, at best, are playing average. But if they clean up the special teams mistakes from Eugene, and Ricky Galvin has an impact, WSU has a chance.

Although Washington State hasn't beaten California since 2002, the Cougars have been very competitive against the Bears. Throw out the 2008 and 2009 games, when WSU couldn't compete with any team not coached by Tyrone Willingham, the Cougars gave the Bears fits. During this recent six-game slide to Cal, (the two teams didn't play in 2003 and 2004), three were decided by seven points or fewer. Washington State brought no offense to Martin Stadium last year, and still had a shot before losing 20-13 to the Bears.

Head-to-head matchups are usually a poor indicator of projecting an outcome of a particular game, but for what it's worth, Washington State and California have three common opponents so far this season. They both narrowly won at Colorado, and lost at UCLA and Oregon. But WSU took UCLA to the wire, and competed into the fourth quarter with Oregon. Cal gave Oregon a scare for a half, then got its doors blown off during the third quarter. UCLA took the lead over Cal during the second half and never looked back in a 31-14 win.

The kickoff:
Washington State (3-5, 1-4) at California (4-4, 1-4) starts at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at San Francisco's AT&T Park. (TV: Comcast SportsNet California, Root Sports NW.)

The series:
California has a six-game winning streak over Washington State, including last year's 20-13 win in Pullman. But WSU has fared well over the years. Prior to the six-game losing streak, the Cougars had won 9 of 11 against Cal. This will be the 73rd game between the two schools, with Cal owning the series lead 42-25-5. On the road, WSU is 11-28-3 against the Bears.

The spread: Bears by 9.

Familiar faces:
The most prominent Bear with ties to Washington State is Cal offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik, who played offensive line with WSU coach Paul Wulff during the Cougars' 1988 Aloha Bowl season. Michalczik, who also coaches offensive line, has been on Tedford's staff for eight years. The Bears have three players on their roster with ties to Washington in senior defensive lineman Trevor Guyton (Woodinville), sophomore defensive lineman DeAndre Coleman (Seattle) and redshirt freshman punter Jed Barnett (Camas). Guyton and Coleman are among the Bears' leaders in tackles for losses.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel

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