CAL MOURNED ITS 42-3 shocking loss Saturday at Oregon by, of all things, crowing about the Pac-10 championship.
That's right, the Bears will rebound, roll through their remaining schedule and come out smelling like a Rose Bowl.
No, this Rose Bowl fantasy simply served as a ludicrous, desperate distraction from Saturday's carnage.
Said running back Jahvid Best: "This doesn't mean we can't win the Pac-10. It doesn't mean we can't maybe even go to the national championship."
The Bowl Championship Series is truly bungled if it can be won by a team that got pummeled by 39 points, the worst lost in Jeff Tedford's seven-plus seasons as Cal's coach.
They think this was an aberration. It wasn't. Saturday's mistakes were teamwide, and there were too many to dismiss so flippantly as a one-day hiccup.
USC is charging in next Saturday for a fight for Pac-10 survival. Then it's on to UCLA.
Looming on the possible horizon: a snowball that resembles the 2007 avalanche that sent the Bears from a possible No. 1 ranking to six losses in their final seven regular-season games. The Bears are spooked by such a scenario, as they should be. That fear factor had better help them in their recovery.
"We've got to come back from this. We don't want another '07 season," offensive tackle Mike Tepper said. "We won't have that. We'll learn."
Added quarterback Kevin Riley: "It's one loss. We don't want this to be a downward spiral."
Why should we believe it won't be? Because Oregon is great? Because Cal's big-play ability will magically reappear along with 50-point offensive showings? Because Cal learned from 2007?
No, this loss was a tremendous reality check, if not a familiar one.
Losing at Autzen Stadium is nothing new. Getting blown out — as the nation's sixth-ranked team, no less — was downright novel. Yeah, it was loud. But not deafening, other than the cheers for the home team.
"This isn't like how we play," Riley said after his 12-of-31, 123-yard, four-sack afternoon in his native state. "We'll come back and surprise people."
Yes, surprise. Because everyone now thinks Cal is a fraud, and that its 3-0 start came courtesy of an easy schedule.
There's enough talent there to know Cal is better than Saturday's goosing. But the 2007 team had tons of talent, too.
"A couple years ago, we were No. 2, and when we lost, in the locker room it felt like the end of the world," linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "... The Pac-10 is still wide open."
Cal opened Pac-10 play by giving no inkling it can compete for its first Rose Bowl berth in 51 years. No inkling. None.
The postgame damage control revolved around the "it's-only-one-loss" theme, as first voiced by Tedford in his locker-room address. "All it means is we're not going to go undefeated," Tedford said.
He can't let them off the hook that easily. It's not as if there were hidden meanings in this defeat. Cal's blunders were out in the open for 58,975 rubberneckers.
Offensively: Tedford admitted Cal's line got "manhandled," and Riley aptly added: "From the first play on, we took turns messing up." Best, the nation's most valuable playmaker, didn't have a run past 11 yards, finishing with 55 yards in 16 carries.
Defensively: This had to be the worst unit, allowing 524 yards to an offense previously ranked 116th out of 120. Coordinator Bob Gregory: "If I saw it coming, I wouldn't have shown up. I expected us to play better. Hats off to (Oregon)."
It was the type of day where Cal would force a fumble, then cough the ball back up on the return. Or wide receiver Verran Tucker would draw a pass-interference penalty in the end zone, then nullify that gain by drawing a 15-yard taunting foul.
That incident with Tucker came as Cal tried to answer Oregon's first touchdown drive. Instead of moving up to Oregon's 14-yard line, Cal was back at the 29, and an eventual 43-yard field goal attempt slid wide left.
"It was undisciplined, and you can't do things like that," Tedford said of Tucker's taunt.
Said Tucker: "My emotions got the best of me."
Just as they will for Cal fans when they see the Bears in the Rose Bowl. But not this season.
Contact Cam Inman at email@example.com.