BERKELEY (AP) — As big as the stakes may be in the regular-season finale for California, the Golden Bears are trying their best to treat the game against BYU like any other.
That’s not always easy with family members, friends and reporters asking the importance of getting a sixth win that would send Cal to a bowl game a year after winning just once in coach Sonny Dykes’ debut season.
“That’s something we’ve thought about, but at the same time we’re not preparing like it’s going to be some Super Bowl,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “We have to prepare like it’s another game and prepare like we’re playing BYU and not playing the Packers back in the 60s. It’s just a regular game. It’s nothing we can overhype or make too special or we won’t be able to perform like we need to.”
The Bears (6-5) did not perform the way they needed to in their first shot at becoming bowl eligible, falling 38-17 at home to Stanford in the Big Game.
Cal committed five turnovers and 12 penalties in the game, getting thoroughly outplayed by its biggest rival. Dykes said the test for his team would be how they responded to the tough loss and he has been pleased with the early results.
Dykes made sure his team knew what was at stake in the season finale as soon as the Stanford game was over but then told his players he wouldn’t talk about a bowl game again all week.
“We need to focus on getting better,” he said. “I don’t know how thinking about where are we going to play a potential bowl game makes you get more prepared for a game. For us we want to focus on the stuff that matters.”
BYU (7-4) knows its bowl plans already, having already accepted a bid to the Miami Beach Bowl. The Cougars are concerned with continuing a turnaround after a midseason slump that saw them lose four straight games following a season-ending injury to star quarterback Taysom Hill.
BYU has won three straight against lesser competition, outscoring Middle Tennessee State, UNLV and Savannah State 133-30. Those teams have combined for eight wins all year.
“I feel like that’s the biggest thing for us is ending on a great note because in the middle we had sour note. October was a rough month,” offensive lineman OL De’Ondre Wesley said. “Just ending on a great note would be good for us.”
Here are some things to watch when BYU visits Cal:
FIRST QUARTER FLIP-FLOP: The Bears were fast starters early in the season, outscoring the opposition 56-0 in the first quarter the first three games of the season. That has turned as the competition has grown tougher late in the season with Cal being outscored 97-26 in the first quarter the past eight games.
BACK ON TRACK: BYU backup quarterback Christian Jones threw three interceptions after Hill broke his leg against Utah State on Oct. 3. He then lost his first three starts before rebounding with nine TD passes and no interceptions the past three games.
“I’d like everyone to increase at the rate and improve at the rate Christian is,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I think he’s kind of set the standard that way.”
FLAG DAY: Penalties have been a recurring problem for Cal this season; the Bears are tied for third in the nation for most penalties with 100. The lack of discipline has been especially worrisome the past few weeks with 43 penalties for 412 yards the past four games.
“A lot of our penalties are kind of bonehead plays we shouldn’t make but it’s guys who are trying to play really hard and sometimes trying to do a little too much,” defensive tackle Austin Clark said.
SEEKING RECORDS: Goff has already broken his own school record set last year as a freshman for yards passing in a season with 3,580. Goff needs one more TD pass to set the single-season record for touchdown passes. Goff tied Pat Barnes’ mark set in 1996 when he threw his 31st last week.
MEASURING STICK: BYU already has two wins against teams from Power 5 conferences this season, beating Texas and Virginia in September. The Cougars have 17 wins against Power 5 teams since 2003, second to Navy among non-Power 5 teams. BYU’s last beat a Pac-12 team in the 2012 season opener against Washington State.