So what’s next for the Cal football team after an 0-2 start?
To hear quarterback Chase Garbers tell it, nothing is off the table.
“Going 0-2 doesn’t jeopardize our shot at a Pac-12 title,” he said, “even though we’ve got games to win, obviously next week and then October and November.”
Hey, what do you expect him to say?
And technically, of course, Garbers is right. Losses to Nevada and TCU don’t count in the Pac-12 standings. Nor would a victory next Saturday against FCS foe Sacramento.
"The 0-2 start, it sucks. It’s frustrating,” Garbers said after the 34-32 loss to the Horned Frogs. “But it has no affect on who we are as a team. We’re going to keep striving to win and get better each and every week.”
Senior outside linebacker Cameron Goode (above) was on board with Garbers’ mindset.
“Guys are really hungry — 0-2 is a bad start so we’ve got to get it going,” Goode said. “I feel like we improved from the first week. But we’ve just got to keep improving and making more plays.”
Here’s their tough reality: Cal has played in 24 bowl games since 1920 and only once among all of them did the Bears overcome an 0-2 start to get there.
That was a big one. Joe Kapp’s 1958 team lost to Pacific and Michigan State to open the schedule, then scored wins over USC, UCLA and Stanford on the way to the program’s most recent Rose Bowl appearance.
Needless to say, it’s not the recommended path to the postseason. On the way to their seven most recent bowl bids, the Bears started 2-0 or better in each one.
Then there was 2003, when the Bears lost their opener and staggered to 1-3 and 3-5 before straightening the ship to reach the Insight Bowl, where they beat Virginia Tech to finish 8-6.
To reach 6-6 and bowl eligibility, the Bears need to go 6-4 the of the way, including at least five victories in Pac-12 play. They haven't done that in 12 years.
To make any headway, Cal needs to pair the way it played defense against Nevada with the improvement it made on offense at TCU. And somehow keep the special teams wheels from coming off.
Garbers passed for 309 yards and two touchdowns - just his third career game of 300-plus passing yards - and had four completions of at least 40 yards. The Bill Musgrave offense didn't run the ball consistently, but the downfield passing threat should help open that up.
The flip side was that the Cal defense, among the best in the Pac-12 the past three seasons, struggled to stop TCU, especially the Horned Frogs' run game, which generated 264 yards.
And a botched snap on the first PAT try left the Bears trying to recover that point all afternoon. The result was two failed two-point tries in a two-point defeat.
“The way we respond is we learn from this tape and get better next week,” Garbers said. “We did that with the Nevada film. We learned from it and we got a while lot better from Week 1 to Week 2. That’s what we plan to do from Week 2 to Week 3.
“You’re not a finished product. Each week you’ve got to get better.”
Coach Justin Wilcox, who initially discusses losing Kuony Deng to injury in the video above, goes on say that improvement starts with him. But he also hints it doesn’t end with him.
“I’ve got to give them better answers, we’ve got to continue to develop,” he said. “We’ve got to play better than that.”
The Sacramento State game won’t fix all the problems, nor reveal too much. Coached by former Cal quarterback Troy Taylor, the FCS-level Hornets are 1-1 after a 34-16 loss to Northern Iowa in which they coughed up six turnovers on Saturday night.
For the Bears, it’s merely the next step.
Cover photo of Chase Garbers by Jerome Miron, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo