Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
It's fair to say that California looks like the Pac-10's second-best team at midseason, a suspicion supported by the Bears national ranking. But it's hard to ignore the egg laying in the 35-27 loss at Maryland, when they fell behind 28-6 before fighting back in the fourth quarter.
The offense has been inconsistent, with coach Jeff Tedford changing course from quarterback Kevin Riley back to former starter Nate Longshore -- at least for now. And the offensive line lost two starters to injury and the green receiving corps has been slow to catch on.
The saving grace has been the improved defense, which switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme this year. The Bears rank 25th in the nation in total defense (290.6 yards per game) and lead the Pac-10 with 10 interceptions.
Offensive MVP: Sure, running back Jahvid Best didn't play in the win over Arizona State, and his only highlight at Maryland was his barfing onto the field after taking a brutal hit. But he leads the nation in all-purpose yards (215.5 per game) and is second in the Pac-10 in rushing (105.25 yards per game) while averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
Defensive MVP: Syd'Quan Thompson has become a shutdown cornerback with three interceptions and eight pass breakouts. He also has 25 tackles and has returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown.
What's next?: It's entirely reasonable to believe that California could be 7-1 and ranked near the top 10 before it visits USC on Nov. 8 -- and the Pac-10 sure could use another marquee game. But it's also possible that the Bears could lose at Arizona on Saturday and join the rest of the conference in a flounder toward mediocrity.
Cal, which beat 20th-ranked Michigan State to open the season, could give the conference a second elite team. Or it could become part of that mediocre muddle. The game at Arizona could be revealing which path the Bears will take.