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No. 15 California

(By Marcio Jose Sanchez -- Associated Press)
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Last Season: 9-4 (defeated Miami in the Emerald Bowl).

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Returning Starters: 7 offense, 8 defense.

Key Game: vs. Southern California, Oct. 3.

Why They're Worth Watching

This is the second-most talented team in the Pacific-10 and the team with the best chance to knock off perennial favorite Southern California. Running backs Jahvid Best, who had seven runs of 60 or more yards last season, and Shane Vereen are big-play threats who will run behind a deep and stout offensive line. With eight starters back, the defense should be better than it was last season, when it ranked second in the Pac-10 in scoring and fourth nationally in forced turnovers. Everyone is back in the secondary, including preseason all-American cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, the Golden Bears' active career leader in tackles (208), interceptions (6), passes defended (32), punt returns (28) and punt return yardage (344).

Player to Watch

Jahvid Best, Jr., RB

Best is a human highlight film and a strong Heisman Trophy candidate. He finished second in the nation in all-purpose yards and had three runs of 80 or more yards. Best missed spring practice after recovering from offseason surgeries, but he could be the nation's most explosive player.

Why They're Vulnerable

The Golden Bears have flopped recently when anointed as a title contender; in 2007, they climbed to No. 2 in the nation before fizzling out, and last year's upset loss at Maryland derailed any momentum the Bears had early on after opening wins over Michigan State and Washington State. Quarterback Kevin Riley should be the man under center, but Coach Jeff Tedford's support has been lukewarm, leaving open the possibility that Brock Mansion could play. The wide receivers were very green last season and need to mature. The passing game averaged 190 yards per game last season, and the Golden Bears finished sixth in the conference in pass efficiency.

-- Eric Prisbell


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