California opens stadium, season vs. Nevada
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP)
Coach Jeff Tedford has longed for state-of-the-art facilities and a modernized stadium ever since arriving at California more than a decade ago.
After 21 months as college football nomads with trailers for offices, a rugby field for practice and a baseball field for home games, the Golden Bears finally have everything Tedford wanted.
They open their remodeled Memorial Stadium on Saturday against Nevada, eager to show off the $321 million seismic retrofit and renovation that gives the Bears top-notch facilities that the team wants to match with improved play on the field.
''This is all great. Everything we have here is awesome but it's about performance on the field,'' Tedford said. ''All the facilities and things are not going to win games for us. What we have to do is we have to prepare, we have to execute, we have to play smart, we have to be disciplined. We have to do all the things to win games. It still comes down to playing. What goes on between the lines is the most important thing.''
The Bears are expecting a sellout crowd for their first on-campus home game since November 2010 after playing last season across the bay at the San Francisco Giants' home of AT&T Park.
''We're all really excited. We're back home,'' center Brian Schwenke said. ''I'm expecting it to be loud. I'm excited. I can't wait. I don't think all our fans made it out to San Francisco. It will be cool having them all back here.''
They will all be hoping for a better season than they've seen in recent years. After a promising start to his tenure at Cal that transformed the program from conference doormat to a perennial challenger to Southern California, the Bears have been mired in mediocrity in recent seasons.
Cal has just a 36-28 record the past five seasons, including a losing mark of 21-24 in the conference. Even worse, the Bears have fallen behind rival Stanford in the Pac-12 pecking order and have not competed for a conference title since 2006.
But now with the new stadium attached to a $150 million High Performance Center, there are no more excuses for the lack of winning at Cal.
''You want to be back to challenging for the conference championship. That's what the goal is and be at a national level,'' Tedford said. ''The facilities are not going to win you games. Facilities are going to provide a place for you to train and things like that and over time should have a positive effect on recruiting. Typically, better recruiting equals better success on the field.''
Cal is hoping for better success already this season with quarterback Zach Maynard returning for his second season as starter, Keenan Allen back as one of the country's most dangerous receivers, a talented running duo of Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson and a potentially strong defense.
The first test comes against a Wolf Pack team that dealt the Bears a 52-31 loss in Reno two years ago when Cal had no answer for Colin Kaepernick and the pistol offense that ran for 316 yards.
While Kaepernick is in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, the Bears feel this year's starter, Cody Fajardo, could be just as dangerous.
''It wasn't what they did. It was mostly on our end just people not being in their gaps and not doing what they're supposed to do,'' cornerback Marc Anthony said. ''We're really focusing on technique and being where we're supposed to be and having good eyes.''
Fajardo was the WAC freshman of the year last season when he threw for 1,707 yards, ran for 694 and accounted for 17 touchdowns as he helped lead the Wolf Pack to a seventh straight bowl game.
Coach Chris Ault expects Fajardo to be even better in his second season as starter.
''Cody having the experience of last year certainly gives us a presence in our offense in terms of what we want to do and what we might be capable of doing,'' Ault said.
This is a big season for the Wolf Pack, who are playing their first year in the Mountain West after leaving the WAC.
After opening Cal's stadium, Nevada returns home to face a Big East school when South Florida comes to town, giving the Wolf Pack a chance to make a big impression early in the season.
''One of the things I think is important for these kids to understand is you only get so many opportunities in your life and this certainly is an opportunity,'' Ault said.
Associated Press Writer Scott Sonner in Reno, Nev., contributed to this report.