After blowout losses to Oregon and USC, Cal's players maintained that the zaniness in this year's Pac-10 made winning the conference title still a possibility.
They were right on one count. The Pac-10 looks nothing like it has in recent memory. But winning the conference title remains the longest of shots.
The Bears enter Saturday's game against Oregon State tied for fourth place in the Pac-10 at 3-2 (6-2 overall). One of the teams Cal is locked up with is none other than seven-time defending champion USC.
Meanwhile, both Cal and USC are in the strange position of looking up at Arizona and Stanford in the Pac-10 pecking order, although the Cardinal is tied with the Bears, Trojans and Beavers in the loss column.
Oregon, at 5-0, looks well on its way to winning the Pac-10 title. But the Bears have a realistic shot at finishing in second place, a position that seemed remote after Cal lost to the Ducks and Trojans by a combined score of 72-6.
The Bears followed their two losses with a bye week and pledged to wipe the slate clean and go 7-0 the rest of the regular season.
"It's the best situation we could be in after the bye week," quarterback Kevin Riley said.
The Bears won three games in a row after those two losses, but they will need to be at their best over the next three Saturdays to make a run at a 10-win season.
After their showdown with the explosive Beavers, Cal welcomes surprising Arizona to Berkeley, then plays the Big Game at Stanford. The Bears finish the regular season Dec. 5 at Washington.
"After the two losses, it was kind of hard to think back to the time when you had all these expectations and you were supposed to do all these special things," safety Brett Johnson said. "With the three wins that we have now (in conference play), everybody is realizing that it didn't go anywhere. We just had a couple hiccups. It happens from time to time. Everybody realizes that we are capable of being that team and we still do have a lot to play for."
Coach Jeff Tedford said nobody inside Cal's locker room lost confidence after the losses to Oregon and USC. Still, three wins in a row to put them above .500 in conference play has the Bears feeling even better about themselves.
"We never doubted we could get back to this level," safety Sean Cattouse said. "Those losses, we knew we could have and should have beat those teams. Now that we've won three in a row, our confidence is definitely growing. I'd never say it went anywhere, but it definitely helps to win games and know everything we believe in is coming true."
Cal's win streak, though, has come against teams with a combined 2-13 record in the Pac-10. The Bears' next three opponents are 10-5 in the conference.
"Every game left we play good teams, and this week we play a great team," Riley said. "We've got to find a way to win. That's all there is to it."