It may seem like Cal’s work is done after its riveting 24-20 victory over Stanford on Saturday, but the Bears’ season is not over. Far from it.
Cal still has two games left, including its regular-season finale against UCLA, which, despite its 4-7 record following a 52-35 loss to USC, is a slight favorite over the Bears heading into their Saturday night matchup in Pasadena.
The Bears (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) accomplished quite a bit by ending their nine-game Big Game losing streak, but they must avoid a letdown against the Bruins because a couple of possible rewards remain within reach – one concerning the postseason and one regarding the final Pac-12 standings.
Cal has a chance to end up tied for second place in the Pac-12 North, which would be their highest finish since the conference added two schools and split into two divisions in 2011.
A Cal win over UCLA combined with a loss by Oregon State in its game against Oregon on Saturday would put the Bears behind just one team in the Pac-12 North – Oregon. The Bears would still have a losing conference record, but they have never finished higher than fourth in the Pac-12 North. That possibility, though.
“What we’re concerned about is beating UCLA,” Wilcox said Monday night. “How things shake out, we can’t really depend on other people.
“We need to do a better job of controlling what we need to control.”
The bowl picture seems to intrigue Wilcox a bit more.
Cal won its sixth game on Saturday to become bowl-eligible, but a lot has to sorted out in terms of bowl invitations because three other teams (Washington, Arizona State and Washington State) have the same 6-5 overall record and 3-5 conference mark as Cal.
“What we’re trying to do is give ourselves a chance to play in the best bowl possible,” Wilcox said. “A bowl game is really important to our program for a number of reasons, so we’re excited about that.”
(A longer look at Cal's bowl possibilities will be posted Tuesday.)
Cal should have no trouble preparing psychologically for UCLA knowing that the Bruins, who were 0-5 at the time, handed Cal its worst defeat of the 2018 season – a 37-7 rout in Berkeley.
Bears safety Ashtyn Davis and wide receiver Kekoa Crawford, both of whom missed Saturday’s game against Stanford with unspecified injuries, are questionable for the UCLA game as well.
But quarterback Chase Garbers is healthy, and that counts for a lot.
The Bears are 5-0 this season in games in which Garbers played more than a half, and 1-5 in the games in which he didn’t. His performance on Saturday, when he led Cal to a game-winning touchdown in the closing moments of Saturday’s game, had to make Cal fans wonder what the Bears could have done this season if Garbers had not missed significant time with injuries.
Wilcox does not play the what-if game.
“I don’t spend a lot of time on hypotheticals,” he said. “It’s part of the game. I thought Devon Modster continued to improve the more he played.”
Modster provides an interesting storyline to Saturday’s game, because he was UCLA’s quarterback for much of the Bruins 30-27 victory over Cal in 2017, before he opted to transfer to Cal. It’s unlikely he will play against his former teammates on Saturday, but we have seen strange things occur regarding Cal’s quarterbacks this season.
Modster is one of 29 players on the Cal roster who are from the Los Angeles area.
Cal wide receiver Nikko Remigio, who had nine receptions for 157 yards in the Big Game, expects 50 or more family members to be on hand in Pasadena.
“Any game in L.A. will mean so much to me, just because I’m back home and I have a ton of family coming,” said Remigio, who is from Orange, Calif.
NOTES: Sophomore outside linebacker Joseph Ogunbanjo, who was suspended indefinitely for unspecified reasons in mid-October, is back on the team. “He’s returned to the team; it’s conditional,” Wilcox said. “Joe’s just got to keep following through with some things on and off the field.”
Cal Nose guard Aaron Maldonado, who missed much of the season for personal reasons, received increased playing time on Saturday and played role in the fourth-quarter stop on Stanford’s Cameron Scarlett on a fourth-oand-1 play in the closing minute that sealed the win.