We began our annual Pac-10 tour with our customary first stop in Berkeley, where the fog comes and goes, and then comes back again. It's a different kind of year for head coach Jeff Tedford, coming off an 8-5 campaign and a loss in the bowl game (to Utah). Beaverton native Kevin Riley is now a senior, and by all accounts, has put in tons of extra work and studying in order to make his final season in Berkeley a good one.
The Bears return eight starters, including Riley, and tailback Shane Vereen. Vereen, a scat back at 5'10", 200 pounds, gained 952 yards and rushed for 12 touchdowns in 2009. In talking with Tedford, he believes Riley and Vereen will both be able to make some plays behind an offensive line that averages over 300 pounds per guy.
As for the 42-3 drubbing at the hands of the Ducks last fall, Tedford, Riley, and the rest of the Bears we talked to all chalked it up to 'one of those days'. They feel like they got ambushed-as many teams do-when they walked into a hostile Autzen. Nobody thinks for a second that will happen again this year.
When it comes to playing Oregon State, the Bears have to be at least a little bit happy that this year's game is Corvallis. OSU has won the last five games at Memorial Stadium, including last year's 31-14 manhandling of the Bears. That game also saw tailback Jahvid Best leave on a stretcher after a nasty fall resulting from a dive into the endzone. Best wound up with a concussion, and the Beavers rolled from there. One Bear called Oregon State 'not a team of stars, but certainly a team that is woven together, and tough'.
Also present at practice, former Oregon quarterback Akili Smith, now working as an administrative assistant for the football program. Smith starred at Oregon in 1997 and '98, and led one of the most prolific offenses in Oregon history. During the first five games of the 1998 season, Smith, along with Reuben Droughns, Tony Hartley, and Damon Griffin, lit up the scoreboard with an average of more than 50 points per game. With a desire to get into coaching, Smith called his former offensive coordinator (Tedford was at UO from 1998-2002) looking for an opportunity. Akili told me he's happy to be reunited with Tedford, a man who helped him to some of the finer moments of his football career.
Next stop: UCLA.
Be sure to catch the Inside the Pac: Season Preview Show on September 1st at 7:30 p.m. on KVAL-TV.