After finishing towards the bottom half of the PAC-12 North in 2011, the California Golden Bears are seeking to improve their 4-5 conference record this upcoming season. Perhaps Cal should take a look back to its team’s best season a mere six years ago, when the 2006 Golden Bears earned their first and only conference title since 1975.
Despite an opening loss to the Tennessee Volunteers in 2006, Cal recovered with eight consecutive victories, five of which showed 40 or more points on the scoreboard. The Golden Bears rose as high as No. 8 in the AP poll while remaining undefeated at home. An unexpected loss to to Arizona and a 23-9 defeat by USC cost the Golden Bears a Rose Bowl bid, but their luck was about to turn.
In its final game of the regular season, Cal was to play Stanford in the 109th Big Game, the rivalry match between the two PAC-12 teams. It is most known for The Big Play (video below) in 1982 in which the Bears performed five laterals in the last seconds of the game and scored a touchdown amidst the Stanford band prematurely charging the field in assumed victory. Hoping to recreate the excitement and triumph from that Big Game, Cal prepared for the match-up at its home, California Memorial Stadium.
The Bears didn’t play their best against their rivals, only scoring one offensive touchdown. However, the four field goals by Tom Schneider and a late fumble recovery were enough for the Bears to defeat the Cardinal 26-17. It was the Golden Bears’ fifth straight Big Game win, and allowed them to keep the Stanford Axe trophy for another year.
That same day, UCLA upset the reigning conference champions at USC. That, coupled with Cal’s victory over Stanford, earned the Bears a share of their first PAC-10 conference championship in over 30 years. They accepted an invitation to the 2006 Holiday Bowl, in which they defeated Texas A&M 45-10.
The 2006 Bears ended the season with a No. 14 ranking and an overall 10-3 record, their best since 1991. Can Head Coach Jeff Tedford repeat the title-winning success of his 2006 season? Or are the California Golden Bears doomed to stay in the middle of the PAC-12?