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Top 25 countdown

August 05, 2008|Chris Dufresne

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason top 25, one day (and team) at a time:

No. 24 California

Full disclosure: Cal was not in the top 25 mix until former two-sport Bears star Tony Gonzalez saved a man's life at a Huntington Beach restaurant last month.

Sometimes it takes heroics to move a school up in the ratings.

Or, sometimes it just takes the setup line Gonzalez provided for a school that otherwise was going to check in at No. 30-something:

"Where was Gonzalez last year when Cal football needed the Heimlich maneuver?"

That's a subterranean blow, lower than Stanford, but Cal has it coming after starting 5-0 and reaching No. 2 in the nation, with a chance to get to No. 1, until a boneheaded home loss to Oregon State put the program on the endangered top-10 species list.

The cartoon of Cal last year was Wile E. Coyote spiraling down a gorge before landing in a puff of smoke.

The team on a national title track ended up 7-6, needing a win over Air Force in the Armed Services Bowl to salvage a winning season.

Cal suffered a crisis of confidence, leading to plenty of internal soul-searching, and now the Bears must also retool. A star-spangled receiving corps, led by DeSean Jackson, has moved on.

The program even got hoaxed on letter-of-intent day by a player who said he had accepted a scholarship to Berkeley.

At quarterback, the Bears have a Nate Longshore-vs.-Kevin Riley situation. Riley was the guy who botched the clock at the end of the Oregon State game. He's also the guy who, in relief of an injured Longshore, led Cal to its bowl victory.

Longshore is strong as a longshoreman but prone to inconsistent play and too many training-room visits.

Coach Jeff Tedford, though, has not gone 50-26 in six years at Cal because he has been lucky. He will sort out the quarterback spot, and Cal will take advantage of a seven-home-game schedule.

Jahvid Best, if he can avoid injury, can be a top Pacific 10 Conference running back. Center Alex Mack is a first-team All-American.

Cal may never climb to No. 2 again, but from its perch at 24 it can at least see the field from Tightwad Hill.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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