BERKELEY — Cal coach Jeff Tedford had the same message as last year after the Bears suffered their first loss of the season.

"The only thing we can't do now is go undefeated," Tedford said after the Bears' 35-27 loss at Maryland on Sept. 13.

The major difference this season is nobody actually thought they could.

When the Bears absorbed their initial loss last season, they had emerged as a possible national title contender. Cal was 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country before falling to Oregon State.

Expectations weren't nearly as high heading into this season, so when the Bears lost to the Terrapins in their last game, there wasn't quite the letdown as last year.

That has allowed the Bears (2-1) to cope with their first loss this season much better than last year. Cal fell hard and fast after losing to the Beavers in 2007, winning only one more game during the remainder of the regular season and falling out of the national picture before finishing 7-6. The stakes don't appear to be as high this year.

The Bears also say they've learned from last year's setbacks, and a new brand of on-field leadership has emerged that has allowed them to handle their first dose of adversity.

"It's a totally different situation," Tedford said. "But that being said, I think the leadership and the chemistry are a little different than last year. I've been pleased with how they've responded."

Just minutes after the loss to Maryland, Cal linebackers Zack Follett and Worrell Williams stressed this year's team was better equipped to respond to a loss than last year's. After enjoying a bye week, the Bears are preparing to host Colorado State on Saturday and seem confident the Maryland game is a thing of the past.

"I think we're good," Williams said. "Guys don't seem down at all. Enthusiasm doesn't seem down. Camaraderie is still there. I don't think our morale is down at all. I think we're going to bounce back in a strong way."

This time around, the Bears had to contend with a bye week after their first loss. Some players said they would have preferred to play again right away, but the coaching staff handled it by putting the team through a much more demanding bye week of practice than usual.

Cal wore pads all week and had live sessions of offense going against defense each day.

"It was a physical bye week," quarterback Kevin Riley said. "We couldn't go into a bye week after losing and just take it easy. Everyone's goal last week was to get better, and I think we did."

Linebacker Anthony Felder said one of the primary reasons the Bears had a more intense bye week than usual was to improve on their physicality, something he said was missing against Maryland.

"When we got in Tuesday for practice, they changed the schedule around to full pads," Felder said. "Everyone knew then what was coming up. I don't think we played as physical as we should have in Maryland. That's what the emphasis was in the bye week, to make sure we have a physical mentality going into next week."

Contact Jonathan Okanes at jokanes@bayareanewsgroup.com.