Cal Football: You Think the 2020 Season Will Be Weird? Can't Be Stranger Than 1993
The 2020 Cal football season will be a weird one regardless of how each Saturday unfolds: No non-conference games, the season opener in November, no fans, daily COVID-19 testing, an abbreviated seven-game schedule.
The Pac-12 is expected to release the re-worked conference schedule sometime soon, and Cal will play its first game on the weekend of Nov. 6-7 against a league rival.
So it’s only fitting that the most recent season in which the Bears opened their schedule against a conference opponent was in 1993 — another indisputably weird season.
The ’93 campaign featured a 5-0 start, a 4-0 finish, with a four-game skid in the middle — all of it hinged on the health of quarterback Dave Barr's right shoulder. The Bears rallied from a 30-0 halftime hole to beat Oregon and a 20-0 deficit to upset Arizona, but they also blew a 13-point lead in the final minutes at home to Washington.
The season began on Sept. 4, when the Bears beat UCLA 27-25 on the strength of 160 rushing yards from Lindsey Chapman and three touchdown passes by Barr. Safety Eric Zomalt clinched the win by intercepting a pass deep in Cal territory in the final 30 seconds.
Dramatic for sure but hardly surreal, the victory was just the Bears’ second on the Bruins’ turf at the Rose Bowl since 1971.
Cal won its next three without fireworks, then pulled off the stunner against the Ducks. Down 30-0 at Memorial Stadium, the No. 15 Bears roared back to the third-greatest comeback victory in NCAA history. Barr passed for 368 yards and three TDs, including strikes of 46 and 72 yards to Damien Semien, the father of A’s shortstop Marcus Semien.
A week later, ranked No. 16 and playing in front of 55,000 fans in Strawberry Canyon, the Bears led No. 13 Washington 20-3 at halftime but lost 24-23 when the Huskies scored two touchdowns in the final 2:06.
Barr injured his right shoulder in the game and the season took a sharp turn south. With the junior from Concord in and out of the lineup, the Bears lost their next three games as well. And none was close.
Unable to perform at full strength, Barr was the picture of frustration. “The season was going so well . . . all my dreams were coming true. Then something like this happens,” he said during the losing streak.
Coach Keith Gilbertson raised eyebrows when he burned freshman quarterback Pat Barnes’ redshirt year in Week 9 at Arizona State. Barnes wasn’t ready for the assignment and was pulled at halftime in a 41-0 loss. ASU freshman Jake Plummer was much better, throwing for 265 yards and two TDs for former Cal coach Bruce Snyder.
Barr was feeling good enough to start Cal’s next game at home against Arizona, but the Wildcats jumped out to a 20-0 halftime lead. Over a span of 16 quarters dating back to halftime of the UW game, the Bears had been outscored 158-24.
Cal came alive in the second half. Barr threw a touchdown, Chapman powered the ground game and Zomalt again delivered a huge defensive play, returning a tipped interception 35 yards for the winning score with 3:38 to play.
The comeback win sparked the Bears, who beat Stanford, Hawaii and Iowa in the inaugural Alamo Bowl by a combined margin of 125-38. Barr passed for 910 yards and seven TDs in the three victories as Cal climbed back to a 9-4 record and No. 25 in the final AP rankings.
Here are the only other times Cal has opened its season with a conference matchup:
— 1966: Cal beat Washington State 21-6 in Seattle to open the schedule. The Bears lost 17-7 at No. 9 Michigan the following week and dropped their final five games of the season to finish 3-7.
— 1967: Cal beat Oregon 21-13 at home, but lost 41-8 a week later at No. 1 Notre Dame and on the way to a 5-5 record.
— 1970: Cal lost 31-24 to Oregon in Portland, then was crushed 56-15 at No. 2 Texas a week later. The Bears regrouped to go 6-5, including a 13-10 road win over No. 13 USC.
— 1979: Cal lost 17-9 at Arizona State, but wound up going 7-5 under coach Roger Theder. The Bears played in their first bowl game in 21 seasons, losing 28-17 to Temple in the Garden State Bowl.
— 1984: Cal lost 23-13 at Arizona to open the season and skidded to 2-9 under coach Joe Kapp.
— 1989: Cal lost 35-19 at Oregon. The Bears finished 4-7 under coach Bruce Snyder, but were 17-6-1 with a pair of bowl victories the next two seasons.
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
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