Cal Football: Justin Wilcox Gives Roxy Bernstein Faith That a Rose Bowl is Possible

Coach Justin Wilcox enjoys Cal's win in the Redbox Bowl.Photo by Stan Szeto, USA Today

Jeff Faraudo

Broadcaster Roxy Bernstein, a Cal alum, says the key to the Bears’ 2020 season is quarterback Chase Garbers.

But the key to the program someday getting back to the Rose Bowl after more than 60 years is coach Justin Wilcox.

“As long as Cal holds onto Justin Wilcox, I do have faith,” says Bernstein, who was born 14 years after the Bears’ most recent Rose Bowl game appearance, following the 1958 season.

“I’m still extremely . . . can I say pissed off about 2004. That should have been the year,” he says, alluding to Texas getting the nod after then-coach Mack Brown campaigned in the media. “Cal got screwed out of the Rose Bowl.”

But Roxy is an optimistic sort, and he likes the Bears’ direction under Wilcox, who has taken Cal to bowl games each of the past two seasons.

“I think Justin has built the program the right way,” Bernstein says. “His experience being at Cal the first time, working for Jeff Tedford, getting an understanding of the place . . . we know it’s a difference place.

“There’s a Cal type of kid you need to bring in. Justin understands that kid, what kind of player belongs at Cal, on and offense the field. . . . They found the right fit in the football coach, and the football coach is finding the right fit as far as what players to recruit and bring in to his program.”

Bernstein is impressed by the progress Garbers has made entering his redshirt junior season as Cal’s quarterback. He talks about “all he’s had to deal with,” including injuries to the offensive line and wide receivers, not to mention his own injuries last fall.

Cal was 7-0 when Garbers started and finished games and he showed an ability to handle the clutch moments late in road wins over Washington and Stanford.

“I think he grew a lot last year, not just as a player but as a leader,” Roxy says. “That final drive in the Big Game, that was telling to me. Or even the final drive of the Washington game early in the year when they were able to get the field goal to win the game. And to win on the road in Seattle under those circumstances, that told me a lot about him.”

The 20-19 win at No. 14 Washiington, of course, came after a thunder and lightning storm delayed an evening kickoff more than 2 1/2 hours. The game ended at 1:22 a.m. when Greg Thomas kicked a 17-yard field goal with 8 seconds left after Garbers drove the team 74 yards in less than 2 minutes.

Two-and-a-half months later, Cal won the Big Game 24-20 when Garbers dashed 16 yards to the end zone with 1:19 left.

Assuming we have a college football season, the Bears are expected to have a nice season but remain long shots to win the Pac-12 title. And even that wouldn’t earn the Bears the prize Old Blues want most — a trip to the Rose Bowl.

The Rose Bowl this season is part of the College Football Playoff, so the Pac-12 champion will play at Pasadena only if it’s one of four teams selected to play for the national championship.

“I think it’d be a little tough to swallow in terms of, `Wait, we won the conference and we’re not going to Pasadena? We’re going to the Fiesta Bowl instead?’ " Bernstein says.

"A conference championship would be awesome. But it’s a Rose Bowl that everybody has been craving. To be in Pasadena on New Year’s Day is what we’ve all been hoping for as Cal alums.”

TOMORROW: What it's like to call a basketball game alongside Bill Walton


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

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