Cal lost to the top two teams in the Pac-10 by a combined score of 72-6. Cal beat the bottom two teams in the conference by a combined score of 94-43.

Clearly, the Bears belong somewhere in the middle of the pack. Just where will become clearer on Saturday when they visit Arizona State.

Cal and ASU, along with Oregon State, are tied for fifth place in the Pac-10 at 2-2. Depending on what happens Saturday, the Bears could be just a game out of first place or tied for seventh.

"It's the biggest game up to this point in the season," Cal quarterback Kevin Riley said. "We're facing a better team than we have these past two weeks. We're going to have to play well. It will show how much we've grown as a team."

After beginning the Pac-10 season with blowout losses to Oregon and USC, Cal bounced back to take care of UCLA and Washington State, which are a combined 0-9 in the conference. So, all we know is the Bears aren't one of the best teams in the conference. Nor are they one of the worst. What we don't know is if they are an upper division team that can contend for a solid bowl bid or one that could find itself at the bottom end of the middle of the pack.

"It'll be good to get a more quality opponent and really see what we're all about," Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "The biggest thing is, can we get the explosive Cal out there? The Cal that scores points early in the first quarter and then the defense shuts guys down. We've kind of seen opposite sides of Cal at times, mainly the USC and Oregon games. We're hoping to go out there and put up some points and then just hold their offense."


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While the first step is to emerge from Pac-10 mediocrity, Cal (5-2) still has its sights set on making an impact nationally. If the players achieve their goal of winning out to finish 10-2, that would give them a berth in a high-profile bowl game as well as a lofty national ranking.

But the Bears' next four opponents are either tied with or above them in the Pac-10 standings, so that will not be an easy task.

"Every game is important," Cal left tackle Mike Tepper said. "You lose two games, it doesn't matter. We've got a good team we're playing this week. We have to win. We have to win every game after this. Mental toughness is a tremendous key."

After losing eight of their previous nine road games entering this season, the Bears have won two of three away from Memorial Stadium this year. With the following two games at home, a win Saturday at ASU could go a long way in determining just how strongly Cal finishes the season.

"Being on the road is just counting on each other and feeding off each other's energies because you don't really have the crowd to get behind you," Riley said. "It's just sticking together. You can't press when things go wrong. You've just got to bounce back and make some plays."

Notes: Cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson (hip/back) and nose tackle Derrick Hill (sprained shoulder) are day-to-day. ... Arizona State features the No. 2 run defense in the Pac-10 (sixth nationally, 83.4 ypg) while the Bears have the Pac-10's best run offense (216.0 ypg).