BERKELEY — Although Cal's hopes of snapping a 50-year drought of playing in the Rose Bowl likely were dashed with Saturday's loss at USC, the Bears still are in a pretty good position to finish off a very good season, one that could have important implications for recruiting and next season.

The Bears have three games remaining, the final two at home against teams they will be favored against. That means Saturday's game at No. 23 Oregon State could be crucial in determining what the history books ultimately will say about this season.

"I think we can bounce back," Cal center Alex Mack said. "We're still a good team. We had so many opportunities (against USC) that we missed. If we would have made those plays, we could have won. Knowing that, we can go into (Saturday) trying to make those plays and really finish out the season right."

The Bears (6-3, 4-2 Pac-10) can clinch at least a tie for second place by winning their final three games. That would put Cal at 9-3 overall and likely around No. 20 in the national rankings at the end of the regular season. The Pac-10's second-place team goes to the Holiday Bowl against one of the top teams from the Big 12, which this year also will mean a team ranked high in the polls.

If there is a tie for second place, the Holiday Bowl has the choice of which team to invite to San Diego.

The picture gets a lot murkier if the Bears lose to the Beavers. Cal likely would finish no higher than third place, and could be tied with as many as two other teams. That would put the Bears either in the Sun Bowl or Emerald Bowl.

Winning in Corvallis won't be easy, as USC found out earlier this season. The Beavers are riding high on a four-game win streak and knowing they control their own destiny in the Pac-10 race. If Oregon State can win its final three games, it will reach the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1964 season.

But even though the Bears lost to the Trojans on Saturday, they took some consolation that they were in the game until the final minutes before falling 17-3.

"There's going to be a lot of good that's going to come out of this game," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said Saturday night. "We went toe-to-toe with a very good football team."

Extra points

Right guard Noris Malele, who played just one series Saturday before reinjuring his ankle, is day-to-day, Tedford said. ...… Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who leads the Pac-10 in rushing (121 ypg), was named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week.

— Jonathan Okanes