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Cal Football: No Bowl at Stake, But Bears Promise They Will be Ready For USC

Cal's 42-14 loss at UCLA takes a lot of potential rewards off the table.

Cal’s home date Saturday against USC could have been the Bears’ Game of the Year.

Now it’s just their final game, with no capital letters.

It could have been the chance to achieve big things.

Now it’s just a matchup of two 4-7 teams that expected so much more from their seasons.

There will be no bowl eligibility on the line for Bears. UCLA took care of that with its 42-14 trouncing of Cal at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena late Saturday night.

USC knows the feeling. The Bruins crushed the Trojans 62-33 the week before.

So where's the motivation for the Bears?

Quarterback Chase Garbers promised there will be plenty.

“USC’s up there for most-hated teams we play, right up there with Stanford and obviously UCLA,” he said. “There’s a lot to play for.”

But a little less than there might have been.

A win over the Bruins would have set up the chance for Cal to finish the Pac-12 with a winning for the first time in 12 years and to sweep its three in-state conference rivals for the first time since 1958.

Those streaks now endure.

Senior safety Daniel Scott alluded to all the Bears have been through this season, including a 1-5 start and a two-week stretch impacted by a COVID-19 outbreak. It was that episode that caused the USC game to be postponed three weeks, rescheduled for Saturday.

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“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs and challenges this year, but we’re a pretty resilient team,” Scott said. “We’ve got to come with a little bit of attitude on Monday.”

The Bears’ reactions were normal in the wake of a disappointing game. And the nature of the UCLA loss was more than disappointing — it was shocking.

Cal rolled up 636 yards in its 41-11 rout of Stanford in the Big Game just a week earlier. The Bears could barely operate against UCLA’s blitz-happy defense, shut out in the second half and held to 9 yards and one first down until the Bruins had extended their lead to 28 points.

Chase Garbers was chased all night by the UCLA defense.

UCLA sacked Chase Garbers four times Saturday.

And the Pac-12’s best run defense gave up 282 yards on the ground while never figuring out where dynamic quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson would go next. DTR finished with 102 rushing yards along with his three touchdown passes.

Cal coach Justin Wilcox, while conceding, “They beat us everywhere,” expects his players to respond appropriately before their season finale.

“We get another chance to play another game,” he said. “Guys are prideful. Whether they’re playing for the Cal script or the name on the back of their jersey, there’s a lot of motivation.”

For Cal’s seniors, the USC will be their final opportunity to represent their school. Unless it’s not.

Because of the havoc COVID-19 created a year ago, the NCAA granted every athlete an additional year of eligibility. So Garbers and Scott, along with teammates such as Cameron Goode and Elijah Hicks, could opt to return in 2022.

None of them so far have indicated yea or nay on that subject.

Wide receiver Nikko Remigio, whose kickoff returns of 58 and 68 yards were squandered with drives that went nowhere, said he would make a decision about what’s next within several weeks.

Either way, Scott insisted the Bears will get their heads right by time practice resumes Monday.

“We have to come back with a little sour taste in our mouth, stay together and finish the season off with USC,” he said. “It’s still always winning. You don’t walk on the field and not want to win.”

Cover photo of Cal running back Marcel Dancy by Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo