Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Is Cal taking the Terps too lightly?

I sense a perfect storm of distractions leading up this game causing the Bears to not give this opponent their full laser-like focus. That would be a huge mistake. It is not an overstatement to say this game requires more mental focus and attention than any other on their schedule this season, simply because there is a unique combination of distractions that the Bears won't face the rest of the way. Here's why:

Long road trip with early kickoff

News has just broken that Tedford is going to wait until Friday to fly the team out to Maryland. He said he felt there was too much downtime and sitting around if they flew out Thursday (which I cannot disagree with). In terms of acclimating to the time change, he's simply instructed the players to go to bed early Thursday and Friday night, and get up early Friday.

Early bedtimes or not, kickoff is at 9 a.m. pacific time. A lot of players simply are not loose and ready to go full speed at that hour, especially after sitting on a plane for 5 hours the day before. Not saying I think the team should waste a day of classes sitting in Maryland, but the time change is going to make it harder to focus.

Maryland looks worse than they are right now

It would be difficult for any team to ignore Maryland's pathetic play the past two weeks and view them as a formidable opponent. Maryland barely beat Delaware 14-7, and then just lost to Middle Tennessee State (first year in Div. 1) 24-14. Plus they are coming off a mediocre season.

But if ever a team was lying low in the weeds, it's this one. First off, their roster is littered with NFL talent, not necessarily all high draft picks, but guys who can play at the next level. What this means overall is that they provide tough matchups for the Bears on a player-to-player basis (maybe not as a team though). I'll preview some of these matchups later, but suffice it to say, certain Cal players are going to face their toughest matchup to date on Saturday.

Second, since their run of 3 double-digit-win seasons a few years ago, Maryland has had a problem overlooking opponents and losing games because they were looking ahead. The word is that this team circled this Cal game on their calendars last summer and have been jacked up about it since then. Cal has become a "statement game" for a lot of teams, particularly southern and eastern teams eager to show the west coast is soft. With this game sandwiched between Middle Tennessee State and Eastern Michigan, it is easy to see why the Bears will very likely see a different team Saturday than we've seen the past two weeks.

Cal is coming off two emotional wins where they exorcised some demons

It is one thing to win. It is another thing to win and silence some criticism and questions about how good you might be. Cal has done the latter the past few weeks. They answered a lot of questions. They are starting to get some national recognition, which Tedford's teams have never handled well. They have to be feeling very vindicated and flying high. And they should. That is why you play the game, for the thrill of victory.

But wins like that cause you to exhale bigger and lose your focus. It is human nature. It is not hard to envision the Bears being a bit distracted, and maybe a bit less hungry, this week. This is of course why Tedford is paid millions, to keep them focused and prepared.

The trees have come down and the construction is starting

While the players probably haven't been following the saga nearly as closely as the fans, all of a sudden, the construction is now right in their face. The trees have come down, the scaffolding is up, and construction has started. Right where they practice and spend hours every day. There is a lot of excitement, and everyone in the athletic department is going to be talking about it. Again, just one more distraction this week.

Their coach is capable of eating our coach if the players are not careful.

Not to be overlooked is opposing coach Friedgen. He is a big man, he is hungry, and Coach Tedford better not get too close in pre-game handshakes.


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