Cal-TCU Rated Among Top 20 Nonconference Games, But Will It Be Played?

Cal played TCU in a dull 2018 Cheez-It BowlPhoto by Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

Jake Curtis

Cal's home game against TCU, scheduled for September 5, figures to be a significant indicator for a pair of teams lurking just outside the top 25, which is why Yahoo ranked that contest as one of the nation's top 20 nonconference games of the 2020 season.

If the game is played, that is. And if anybody will be allowed to witness it. That will be addressed later.

The Golden Bears are being mentioned as dark horses in the Pac-12 North, an improving team on the verge of emerging as a player on the national stage. But will it be this season, or will Cal sink back to mediocrity amid the overzealous expectations? 

TCU is coming off a rare losing season, and it missed a bowl game for just the second time in the last 15 seasons under lauded head coach Gary Patterson. But the Horned Frogs seem primed for a bounce-back season after they finished ranked in the top 10 in six of the past 12 seasons. CBSSports.com called TCU "Team Chaos" -- a team that could beat some of the Big 12 title contenders but lose to some of the lesser teams.

The matchup of improving Cal quarterback Chase Garbers and the Horned Frogs defense, which is always one of the nation's best, will be telling.

Yahoo ranked that Cal-TCU game No. 19 on its list of the top 20 nonconference games of the season, and provided this description:

Not only will this game be a rematch of the infamous 2018 Cheez-It Bowl, it could be an early-season look at two under-the-radar contenders in their respective conferences. TCU is coming off a rare losing season, but should finally have some stability at QB with sophomore Max Duggan. Cal has a third-year starter at QB in Chase Garbers. The Golden Bears were 7-0 in games in which Garbers played more than a half. When he was out with injuries, Cal was a much different team. He’s one of the more underrated players in the country. 

Ah yes, that dreaded Cheez-It Bowl, when Garbers threw three first-half interceptions and was replaced at halftime by a quarterback (Chase Forrest) who had not taken a snap in the 2018 regular-season. Cal lost that boring contest 10-7 in overtime.

Presumably the 2020 contest in Berkeley will be more exciting.

If it is played, which is far from certain at this point.

It is the second game on Cal's schedule (following an opener at UNLV) and the season opener for TCU. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott made it clear in Thurday's statements that the season could be delayed because of the rise in COVID-19 cases.  That suggests early-season nonconference games are in jeopardy. Scott (and others) also noted that other possible scenarios include a conference-only schedule, which obviously would eliminate a Cal-TCU contest.

Furthermore, California in general and Berkeley in particular have been slower than many regions to open businesses, particularly amid the recent rise of COVID-19 cases in the state. Having a college football game in Berkeley in early September is no sure thing in that atmosphere.

Cal reported that three of its athletes on campus to begin voluntary workouts have tested positive for the coronavirus. And further positive tests at Cal and other schools could jeopardize early-season games.

Finally the Associated Press reported on Saturday that Texas had its biggest daily increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases — 8,258. Hospitalizations are increasing. On Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott required the use of face masks, with a $250 fine for those who are not wearing one.

You have to wonder whether TCU officials will want its 70 players and coaches traveling nearly 1,500 miles to the Bay Area with the potential health risks. You also have to wonder whether the Bay Area would want those people from Texas coming to the region.

Big 12 athletic directors are already discussing options in terms of the possible cancellation of nonconference games, according to a July 2 story by CBSSports.com.

An option is to delay the entire season or a single game, perhaps having the Cal-TCU game postponed until October or November. That would require coordination between teams from different conferences, and the Pac-12 and Big 12 may have different plans. And would a Cal-TCU game in October or November have the same impact as a Cal-TCU game in early September? And would a nonconference game be worth all that rescheduling hassle as conferences consider conference-only schedules?

Let's say all those concerns (and more) are satisfied, and the game is played. Would anyone be allowed in Cal's Memorial Stadium to see it? Alameda County and the City of Berkeley have been rather hard-core in limiting social gatherings and have been slow to open businesses. And this game would be in the first week of September, probably before the the pandemic is completely under control. Social distancing of spectators would be virtually impossible at a football game if no attendance restrictions would be in place, and who would be allowed in if attendance is restricted to a select few?

Presumably the game would be televised, but which media representatives would be allowed (or would want) to cover the contest.

So, yes, TCU-Cal could be a pivotal and illuminating game. But we may have to play the game in our minds, because it may not get to the field.

Oh, by the way, the September 12 game between Oregon and Ohio State, to be played in Eugene, Ore., is rated the top nonconference game of the season by CBSSports.com. That game will have its own challenges.

Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53

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