BERKELEY, Calif. - A short walk around the California campus this summer was all Geoff McArthur needed as proof of how much Golden Bears football has changed since his freshman year.
A program that won only one game in 2001 and has the longest Rose Bowl drought of any Big Ten or Pac-10 team is finally getting noticed at a school more known for its protests than its passing.
"People come up to us and tell us where we're ranked and how good we're supposed to be," said McArthur, Cal's star receiver. "It's like we're at a national level now. It's crazy. Some of the new guys think it's always been like this. Hopefully we can keep it up because it can easily go back the other way."
After two years of exceeding expectations under coach Jeff Tedford, the Bears would be successful if they could just meet them this season. Cal was ranked 13th in the preseason poll, its highest preseason ranking and best at any time since finishing the 1991 season at No. 8.
That has Cal fans talking about the possibility of making the Rose Bowl for the first time since Joe Kapp led the Bears there after the 1958 season. What a difference from the 1-10 team Tedford took over.
Instead of convincing his players they can compete, Tedford's job this season is making sure the preseason publicity doesn't go to their heads.
"It's not what people are expecting of them. It's what they expect of themselves. That's the key," said Tedford, who went 15-11 his first two years. "If we go into this thing worried about what people think about us or what people expect of us, that's a tough thing to be under all the time. What we expect from each other on a day to day basis, that does matter."
There's plenty of reason for optimism for a team that's looking to put together three straight winning seasons for the first time since 1950-52.
The Bears feature a high-powered offense that averaged 40.6 points per game during a 5-1 stretch to end last season. They return an electric passing duo, with McArthur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
McArthur caught 85 passes for 1,504 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and ranked second in the nation to No. 3 overall NFL draft pick Larry Fitzgerald with 107.4 yards receiving per game.
McArthur will benefit from Rodgers' experience. The junior college transfer was inconsistent last season despite passing for 2,903 yards and 19 touchdowns. Another year in Tedford's quarterback-tailored system should help Rodgers show the improvement he needs for Cal to contend with No. 1 Southern California in the Pac-10.
"He really showed a lot of progress by the end of last year," Tedford said. "His confidence level was evident. He really looked like he had command of the offense."
Rodgers' inconsistency showed in the Bears' biggest game last season, a 34-31 triple-overtime win over eventual national champion USC. Rodgers led Cal to a 21-7 lead in the first half but was pulled in the third quarter after he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
"You want to be noticed and you want to be recognized," defensive back Ryan Gutierrez said. "It's a nice feeling but at the same time we have a lot of work to do."
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