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Bears blow chance to prove BCS wrong

12/31/2004

SAN DIEGO -- When the damage was finally done, when the nationally-televised "I told you so" had been shoved down his team's throat, Jeff Tedford sat in a jam-packed interview room and answered the question everyone was thinking, but Tedford couldn't believe was actually asked.

Did the BCS actually get this one right?

Did Texas -- not Cal -- deserve the BCS spot in the Rose Bowl?

Before the reporter even finished, running back J.J. Arrington shook his head in disgust. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers mumbled something about the query being "stupid." And Tedford answered, as only he knew how.

"What do you want me to say?" the California coach said. "They're right? They got it right. Then they're right. There. I don't know what you want me to say."

This wasn't the way Thursday night was supposed to go. Ever since the final BCS Standings were released three weeks ago and the Longhorns leapfrogged the Bears, college football fans from San Diego to Boston clamored that the Golden Bears got hosed. Rodgers called Texas coach Mack Brown's plea to voters "classless." Most everyone that doesn't sleep in burnt orange agreed.

And Thursday would be the night Cal proved everyone right. Texas Tech would be the victim. Cal would take out all its aggression on another team from the Lone Star State. They'd crawl into their three-point stances, look at the black and red across from them and pretend it was burnt orange.

Instead, they walked off the field embarrassed. A double-digit favorite, 10-1 Cal, ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense, gave up 597 yards in a 45-31 loss to a Texas Tech team that earlier this season lost to New Mexcio.

Afterwards, Tedford, the Pac-10 Coach of the Year, was left defending his team's focus.

"We didn't lose the game because we did not go to the Rose Bowl," Tedford said. "I want to make that perfectly clear once and for all. There was not a lack of focus because we didn't go to the Rose Bowl.

"What happened three weeks ago has nothing to do with what happened tonight."

But one has to wonder. And you can be sure that if Cal would have dominated, if the score would have been 45-31 Golden Bears instead of 45-31 Red Raiders, there would have been some Cal player -- perhaps even Rodgers -- proclaiming how this proved they belonged.

Rodgers himself said all week that it was a "statement game." Well, Texas Tech fullback Johnnie Mack got the statement loud and clear.

"Texas Tech should have been in the BCS," Mack said. "We should have been in the BCS. That's what I'm saying."

OK, let's not get crazy here. But consider this -- Tech beat Cal by two touchdowns and led by 21 with less than a minute to play. Back in October, Texas beat Texas Tech 51-21. So that Cal is better than Texas argument? Flush it. At least on this night.

"It's frustrating," Rodgers admitted. "We didn't execute. We didn't make plays. The better team won tonight."

And they made it look easy. Texas Tech's wide-open offense marched up and down the field without a hitch, completing passes as short as one yard and as long as 60. Quarterback Sonny Cumbie threw crossing patterns underneath, fly patterns up top. He dumped it to receivers, fullbacks, tight ends. And the Golden Bears couldn't stop it. Even though they knew what was coming.

"They came right at us with exactly what we expected they would," free safety Ryan Gutierrez said. "We just haven't seen anything quite like that."

Cal jumped out to a 14-7 first quarter lead, but was outscored 31-3 in the second and third quarters. In that span, the Red Raiders scored on five of six possessions. And the only possession they didn't score came when Joel Filani fumbled the ball after a 48-yard catch.

It was total domination. Even in the third quarter, when California threatened to get back in the game, a roughing the quarterback penalty on a third down and a roughing the kicker on a fourth down kept Texas Tech drives alive.

"It's hard enough stopping those guys without the penalties," Tedford said.

Arrington, whose teammates thought that he was snubbed for both the Heisman and Doak Walker trophies, set a Pac-10 record for running backs by rushing for 162 yards, his 12th straight 100-yard game.

But Rodgers struggled. Without All-American receiver Geoff McArthur, who fractured his fibula in the season finale against Southern Miss, the offense never got into a consistent rhythm, with Rodgers completing 14-of-29 attempts for 142 yards.

"I wasn't on today," he said. "I wasn't as accurate and consistent as I like to be. We just didn't get it done."

Prior to Thursday's game, Cal's No. 4 ranking was its highest in 52 years. Its 10 wins the school's most since 1950. They were nine yards away from beating USC and cementing their spot in the national championship game.

After Thursday's game, Tech coach Mike Leach refused to echo the sentiments of the Tech cheering section, which belted the chant "overrated" in the game's final minutes. He had another explanation for what happened here Thursday night.

"Maybe we're better than everybody thought," he said. "That would explain it."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.