For the second straight season, Cal heads into a Saturday trying to avoid an 0-2 start in Pac-10 play. But the circumstances this year are substantially different from last.
Last year, the Bears prepared for a home game against USC after being shellacked at Oregon in their opener, 42-3. Cal had won its first three games and was ranked No. 6 in the country before unraveling against the Ducks.
This year, the Bears again lost their Pac-10 opener, but instead of a blowout, it was a game they seemingly had wrapped up. Cal's defense dominated Arizona the entire night but lost 10-9 when one big play in the final two minutes led to the game's only touchdown.
Still, the Bears remember the hopeless feeling of being 0-2 in the Pac-10 and realize the significance of Saturday's home game against UCLA.
"Looking at the Pac-10 already, everybody is going to lose a game here and there," Cal quarterback Kevin Riley said. "You've just got to go out and win. That's all there is to it. If you start 0-2, it kind of ruins your hopes of a Pac-10 championship."
Another major difference from last year is that few expected the Bears to contend for the conference crown this year. Cal was picked to finish seventh by most experts. Last year, the Bears were picked second and given a legitimate chance to win the Pac-10.
But the Bears themselves have always believed they could contend in the conference this season.
"I don't know if it's just urgency for the Pac-10. I think it's urgency just for our entire season because we've lost the last two," Cal running back Shane Vereen said. "We don't want to feel rushed. We don't want to feel pressure. But I think we all understand that we need to get this win Saturday."
No team has ever started 0-2 and won the Pac-10 title.
Cal coach Jeff Tedford said he's like to see Sofele get more involved with the offense.
"Through the length of the season, we need to be able to make sure we're rotating the backs so we can keep Shane fresh," Tedford said. "Isi has proved he's a quality back, and he can make big plays. I feel good about his contribution."
"They're really good," Tedford said. "But they're not the only ones. They have a lot of really good players."