Four straight wins and a month later, California is still being defined by its lone loss.
The Bears, ranked No. 9 in the preseason, went to No. 23 Tennessee for the season opener and were embarrassed in a 35-18 rout on national television.
"That's hung with us for [more than four] weeks now," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "It seems like every question starts with, 'since the Tennessee game.'"
Tonight, No. 16 Cal (4-1 overall, 2-0 Pacific-10 Conference) gets another nationally televised game with the chance to move on from the first one, hosting No. 11 Oregon (4-0, 2-0).
It's simply a conference matchup in the Pac-10, where the Bears and Ducks share unblemished league records with Southern California and Washington, which also play today.
"It's what we need to do to remain in the conference hunt," Tedford said earlier this week. Over the past four games, Cal has outscored its opponents by an average score of 44-17. Quarterback Nate Longshore completed 69 percent of his passes during that stretch, for 14 touchdowns and three interceptions, while tailback Marshawn Lynch has four straight 100-yard games.
However, one of those opponents was Division I-AA Portland State and the Division I-A foes have a combined record of 7-7.
But Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter - whose team was blown out by the Bears and Ducks - said the four wins are more indicative of Cal's strength than the loss.
"I think the Tennessee game was an anomaly," Koetter said. "They just had a seven-minute stretch when everything went right for Tennessee and everything went wrong for Cal."
Nonetheless, Oregon is the Bears' top opponent since the opener. With their perfect record saved by questionable officiating (Oklahoma) and trick plays (Fresno State), the Ducks are just the team against which Cal can change others' perceptions.
"I'm hoping that at some point, we can put that one outing behind us," Tedford said. "Oregon is a great football team, and I would hope [a win] would help. People are still going to talk about the Tennessee game, but [beating Oregon] would make strides in doing that."
Fan of playoff
The recent move to a permanent 12-game schedule has pushed Michigan coach Lloyd Carr to the brink, turning a former opponent of Division I-A playoffs into a vocal proponent.
"I just think it's time for a college football playoff," Carr said. "I know it's going to happen at some point. For me, the sooner, the better."
As recently as 2003, Carr had been against a playoff - even though his undefeated 1997 Wolverines had to settle for sharing a national title with Nebraska - citing the possible academic effect.
That's also been the argument from college presidents, but the decision to expand the season is making Carr wary of the student-athlete case.
"When we went to 12 games, there wasn't much concern for academics," he said. "I think it was done for financial reasons - for me, that was the tipping point."
Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, whose teams meet today, are the two youngest coaches in Division I-A. Wildcats coach Fitzgerald is 31, and Badgers coach Bielema is 5 years older.
Fitzgerald, an All-America linebacker in 1995, was groomed to succeed Randy Walker at Northwestern, but was thrown into the role earlier than expected when Walker died in late June.
Former Badgers coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez picked Bielema as his replacement before his final year began.
Wisconsin is 4-1, and struggling Northwestern is 2-3.