Don't try asking Cal's coaches or players about their upcoming four-game stretch, one that will tell us a lot about the legitimacy of their Rose Bowl hopes this season. As they should, the Bears are focusing solely on Saturday's nationally televised game at Minnesota.

"I just look at this game. You knew the answer to that question before you even asked it," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said with a laugh. "This game on the road at Minnesota is first and foremost, and that's all we're thinking about."

Clearly, if the Bears are looking past Saturday's game, the rest of this four-game span might not mean anything. But the bottom line is Saturday marks the beginning of the meat of Cal's schedule.

After playing Minnesota, the Bears will go on the road again to play Oregon, considered one of the other teams in the Pac-10 with a legitimate chance to dethrone USC this season. Cal then returns home to play the Trojans, which could turn out to be one of the biggest games in college football this season. After a bye week, the Bears are back on the road to play at UCLA, which just notched a road win at Tennessee. Cal hasn't beaten USC or UCLA in Los Angeles since Tedford took over in Berkeley.

"We're just taking it one game at a time," Cal linebacker Eddie Young said, echoing the party line. "The next game is the most important game. (The four-game stretch) could possibly be (important) later down the road. But we have to beat Minnesota first."


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The end of the upcoming stretch will also mark the end of the first half of the season. The Bears will have played almost all of the tougher games on their schedule at that point. The hardest remaining game likely would be against Oregon State on Nov. 7, and the Bears get the Beavers at home.

Cal will know a lot more about where it stands in the conference and national landscape when it leaves Los Angeles. The Bears could be in position to make a run at a national title or staring at another midlevel bowl game.

Here's a look at what the Bears are up against in each of the next four games:

  • Saturday at Minnesota: The Gophers are considered a lower-level Big Ten team but will be buoyed by the excitement of the second game in their new stadium. The Bears have won just one of their past nine road games dating back to 2007, so any contest away from Memorial Stadium presents a stiff challenge.

  • Sept. 26 at Oregon: The Ducks were picked to finish third in the preseason Pac-10 media poll and began the year ranked 16th nationally. But a gruesome season-opening loss at Boise State, which included tailback LeGarrette Blount's season-ending punch, has rocked the program. The Ducks came back to edge Purdue at home last weekend. It's hard to get a gauge on where Oregon stands now, but the Ducks rarely lose at Autzen Stadium.

  • Oct. 3 vs. USC: The prevailing theory is this is Cal's best chance in years to beat USC. The Bears will be at home and are catching the Trojans in a season in which they are replacing almost their entire defense and have a true freshman at quarterback (although Matt Barkley's status this week is up in the air because of a shoulder injury). USC already has beaten Ohio State on the road, so it remains to be seen if it's really a down year in Los Angeles. If both teams enter the game undefeated, it could be one of the biggest Pac-10 games in years.

  • Oct. 17 at UCLA: The Bears appear to be the better team, but they haven't won in L.A. since defeating USC in 2000. The Bruins' win at Tennessee demonstrated they may be better than expected, although they lost starting quarterback Kevin Prince for three to four weeks with a broken jaw.

    ON DECK
    Cal's next four games:
    Saturday, at Minnesota, 9 a.m.
    Early morning start at Maryland last season wasn't kind to Bears.
    Sept. 26, at Oregon, 12:30 p.m.
    Cal has won four of past five meetings, including a 31-24 victory in Eugene in 2007.
    Oct. 3, USC, 5 p.m.
    Trojans have won past five meetings.
    Oct. 17, at UCLA, TBA
    Home team has won past nine games.