Within a week, Jeff Tedford could be fired as California head coach.
Tedford, Cal's winningest coach ever with a 82-56 record (.594) mark in 138 career games, wraps up the worst season of his 11-year tenure in Berkeley on Saturday when the Golden Bears invade Corvallis for a prime time contest (7:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks) that is vitally important for Oregon State and it's post-season aspirations.
For Cal (3-8 overall, 2-6 Pac-12), though, the game will serve as the final chapter of a bitterly disappointing season that began on a sour note with a stunning home loss to Nevada on September 1 and quickly spiraled downward after that.
"On Sunday, we had a good team meeting to talk about how to approach this week," Tedford said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. "We're going to attack this thing and finish strong. We're going to play a very good Oregon State team in a hostile environment. The mood has been upbeat at practice. They've worked hard. We're looking forward to competing against a great team."
Adding insult to injury, the Golden Bears' drab campaign occurred in the first season of the newly renovated Memorial Stadium, which underwent significant renovations and upgrades costing $321 million.
Injuries (27 players expected to contribute in 2012 have missed a combined 126 games due to injury) have taken their toll, of course, along with one of the most difficult schedules in the country that had the Golden Bears traveling to Ohio State and Southern Cal on consecutive weekends in September, as well as playing 12 straight weeks without a bye. The eight losses have come to teams with a combined record of 56-24.
This season marks the second time in three years Cal has failed to attain bowl eligibility. They were 5-7 in 2010. The Golden Bears are 15-21 in the past three seasons after compiling eight or more wins in six of Tedford's first eight years at the helm.
Close losses have marred the season: Cal is 0-3 in games decided by eight points or less. The nail-biters include a jarring 35-28 loss at Ohio State and a 21-13 home setback to Washington.
"It's so competitive. Winning close games is important," Tedford said.
Speculation about Tedford's future - or lack thereof - as Cal coach has already started in the Bay Area, and most of the gossip doesn't have a happy ending for Tedford. Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour told media outlets in the Bay Area on Tuesday that she and Tedford could meet as soon as Sunday to discuss his future as the Bears football coach.
"When the season ends, I'm sure we will sit down and talk about the same things we do as a staff and that's evaluation of the program," Tedford said. "I anticipate that happening next week. But we're moving forward because we have work to do. We're making plans to get where we need to be."
The two most significant injuries belong to senior quarterback Zach Maynard and junior wide receiver Keenan Allen, both of whom are sidelined with knee injuries. Both players are listed as questionable for Saturday night's game.
Allen's absence from the last two games has hurt the Cal passing attack because he is the school's all-time leading receiver (205 career catches in first 33 games) and one of the most talented receivers in the country.
He is expected to become a high-round NFL Draft pick should he depart early with one year of collegiate eligibility remaining.
While Tedford, offensive coordinator at Fresno State (1993-97) and Oregon (1998-2001) prior to taking over at Cal, is renowned as a quarterback coaching guru (Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Boller, etc.), the Golden Bears have relied mainly on a reliable running game that currently ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing offense, averaging 182.4 yards per game.
Cal's rushing leaders - C.J. Anderson (729), Isi Sofele (653) and Brendan Bigelow (412) - have totaled 1,794 yards rushing and are just 206 yards away from being the first Cal trio to reach 2,000 yards rushing since 2009 when Shane Vereen (952), Jahvid Best (867) and Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnso (211) achieved the feat.
Last Saturday night against Oregon, Sofele rushed for
a season-high 134 yards to pace a ground attack that totaled 236 yards, marking the fifth time in 2012 and third time in the last five games that the Bears have rushed for 200 or more yards as a team.
The battle between the Cal ground game and Oregon State's rushing defense (10th nationally and second in Pac-12 with 99.7 yards per game allowed) is the position battle in the spotlight.
"They have some guys playing really well," Tedford said of the Beavers defense. "They're playing very hard. They have experience and they're very well coached. They're doing a very good job on third down."
Last year's matchup between Cal and Oregon State saw Sofele register a career-high 190 rushing yards, including a career-long 56-yard run, against the Beavers.
Sofele, coming off a season and game-high 134 rushing yards against Oregon in last Saturday's loss in Berkeley, is just 109 yards away from 10th place on Cal's all-time career rushing list. He also needs two more rushing touchdowns to crack Cal's all-time top 10 chart in that category.
True freshman receiver Chris Harper is trying to fill the gap from Allen's absence with 38 receptions for 516 yards. He is eight receptions short of Allen's true freshman record of 46 catches in 2010.
Even though the offense has been productive at times (five games of 27 or more points), the Cal defense has struggled. The Golden Bears aren't ranked higher than 71st nationally in any of the major statistical defensive categories, including 87th in total defense (430.6 yards per game), 71st in rushing defense (166.6 ypg) and 101st in passing defense (264.0 ypg).
The formula for winning under Tedford is easy to figure out. Cal is 64-5 under Tedford when putting 30 points or more on the scoreboard. When the Bears fail to score at least 30 points, their record under Tedford is 18-51.
Last week, Cal held the vaunted Oregon rushing attack (came into game averaging 341.2 yards per game) to just 180 rushing yards. But the Ducks threw for a season-high 395 yards in Oregon's 59-17 victory in northern California.