Cal must be wary of Nevada's pistol

California fans have the perception that the Golden Bears play better when no one sees them coming. When they are ranked and celebrated things don't go so well.

After being picked seventh in the preseason Pac-10 media poll, the Cal Bears are now ranked -- 24th to be exact -- in the coaches poll.


Quarterback Kevin Riley didn't want to hear about rankings this week, nor that Cal tends to disappoint just when it looks ready to make a statement nationally and in the Pac-10.

"It's just a statistical fluke," he said. "I mean, you go out there in the game and if you're ranked it doesn't matter. You just go out there and play. I wish we weren't ranked, actually. I was liking not being ranked, but it doesn't matter at all."

What matters is a Friday night showdown at Nevada. A loss likely would end all the good feelings from an impressive 2-0 start. And the first order of business is wondering whether that impressive start has created a team that might get complacent when it eyeballs a WAC opponent.

The Wolf Pack is the sort of squad that is fully capable of undressing a BCS conference foe that might be too big for its britches.

"I don't see how that you could take this team for granted," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "You watch the tape and it's evident that these guys can get after you."

The obvious angle is Nevada's high-powered "pistol" offense versus Cal's resurgent defense, which is living up to an offseason vow to be more aggressive.

How about this symmetry? Nevada is No. 1 in the nation in total offense piling up 592 yards per game. And Cal is No. 1 in total defense, holding foes to just 160 yards per game.

In other words, something has to give. Though it's worth noting that both teams played overmatched opponents and the competition may not have be a true gauge of Cal or Nevada's abilities.

Still, the Wolf Pack offense is for real. It ranked second in the nation last year with 505.6 yards per game, and veteran quarterback Colin Kaepernick is a maestro at running the scheme. He is one of only two players in college football history to throw for at least 2,000 yards and rush for at least 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

And it doesn't help Cal that its best defensive player, linebacker Mike Mohamed, has been nursing a sprained toe all week. Mohamed, however, is expected to play.

"If you don't stay in your gap and you don't tackle well in the open field, they can -- you look at their scores from last year, there's a 70, there's a couple of 60s, there's a couple 50s on there," Tedford said. "They can explode on offense very quickly, so it's going to be a major challenge for us to slow those guys down a little bit."

If Cal manages to outlast Nevada, it will start the Pac-10 schedule on the upswing in what could be a critical conference matchup at Arizona on Sept. 25.

But that's getting ahead of things. First Cal needs to handle its early success.

National ranking?

"We haven't talked about that once this week," Tedford said.