‘Mister. Football’ in a brotherly fight, Cal’s coveted coach – and the winner of Saturday’s game

Dear Mr. Football, Is it possible for Arizona to go to the Rose Bowl from 1-11?

A: It was done – once. In 1958, Cal was on a 1-11 sled when, against all odds, it won six of its last seven games to win the conference. It was the last time the Bears were in the Rose Bowl, a 0-for-64-year streak that overwhelms Arizona’s 0-for-44-year streak.

The Golden Bears clinched their long-lost spot at the Rose Bowl on the same turf, Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium, where Arizona will play Saturday afternoon. How did it happen? Cal’s previously unremarkable junior QB, Joe Kapp, emerged as a consensus All-American in those last seven games. He then became a Super Bowl quarterback for the 1969 Minnesota Vikings.

Pete Elliott led the Bears to a 9-1 record in his first season with Cal in 1957 and opened 2-0 a year later.

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How do you get from 1-11 like Arizona did under Jedd Fisch last season to the Rose Bowl? You win tight games. The ’58 Bears beat UCLA, USC, Washington and Stanford with an aggregate score of 62-51.

And you’re lucky enough to field a generational QB like Joe Kapp.

Dear Mr. Football, Which Pac-12 school took advantage of Arizona’s ineffective state recruiting under Rich Rodriguez and Kevin Sumlin?

A: Of all the teams, that would be Cal.

The Golden Bears have 12 Phoenix-area players on their roster, including nine at this week’s two-deep deep.

Their starting outside linebacker is Odua Isibor from Phoenix St. Mary’s. Starting right Brayden Rohme is from Gilbert Perry High School. Their #1-2 quarterbacks are Jack Plummer of Gilbert High School and Kai Milner of Gilbert Higley High School and on through to their starting long snapper Slater Zellers of Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep.

Not only has Cal overtaken Arizona in Phoenix, but he’s also dominated ASU in Phoenix for the past five years. The last time ASU signed one of its many blue chip prospects (a four or five star recruit) was in 2017.

One thing that doesn’t stand out is that Plummer, a transfer from Purdue, played for an underperforming Gilbert High team and went 1-9 as a junior and 4-6 as a senior. A three-star nominee, Plummer turned down offers from Arizona, Cincinnati and Oregon State to play for the Boilermakers.

Plummer was never a full-time starter at Cal until this year. He’s not an NFL prospect, but he completed 65% of his passes at Purdue for 26 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions.

Arizona will face more fearsome QBs this year against USC, UCLA, Utah, Oregon, Washington and Washington State. Translation: Beating the Golden Bears is one of Arizona’s best opportunities to win a conference game and move toward bowl eligibility.

Dear Mr. Football, has Arizona ever engaged in a trickier brother-on-brother showdown than Saturday’s matchup between Jake Plummer and Arizona backup QB Will Plummer?

A: You might have guessed that Amphitheater’s Bates brothers — UA’s Michael Bates and ASU’s Mario Bates — would have been #1. But Michael Bates left the Wildcats in 1990, a year before Mario was sanctioned for the ASU in 1991. The Bates brothers played 18 NFL seasons.

The clear winner of the brother-to-brother showdown occurred from 1981 to 1984 when ASU All-American kicker Luis Zendejas took on Arizona’s all-time kicker Max Zendejas.

The clear winner? Arizona. Max was perhaps the most important player on the pitch in 1983 and 1984; In 1983, his last-second 47-yard field goal defeated the favorite Sun Devils 17-15; and his three long field goals defeated Luis’ Sun Devils a year later in a thrilling 16-10 game at Arizona Stadium.

Dear Mr. Football: Is it true that Cal coach Justin Wilcox twice turned down offers to become the head coach at Oregon — his alma mater — last December?

A: Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton confirmed this, adding that Washington was targeting Wilcox for head coaching last winter.

The last time a Pac-12 coach turned down a significantly better opportunity as head coach was when Arizona’s Dick Tomey turned down an opportunity to be Oklahoma’s head coach in December 1994. Having finished in the top 10 both seasons, I told me he felt honored that OU went after him, but ultimately recommended hiring Arizona defensive coordinator Larry MacDuff.

The Sooners instead hired Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger, who went 6-6 and was fired after one season.



Justin Wilcox, an Oregon native, turned down a chance to manage the Ducks.


Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press


Dear Mr. Football: Is that a misprint? Justin Wilcox turned down becoming Oregon’s head coach? For real?

A: What makes it harder to believe is that Wilcox was a standout linebacker for the Ducks in the late 1990s and his father, Dave Wilcox, was an All-Pac 8 lineman for the Ducks in the mid-1960s.

Additionally, Wilcox grew up in Junction City, Oregon, about 15 miles from UO’s Autzen Stadium.

That’s what made Wilcox’s decision to stay with Cal so amazing. The Ducks have a terrific budget, facilities, history and brand that Cal’s football program can’t touch. Additionally, the Ducks are Oregon’s #1 sports program, while the Bears football team is dwarfed by the Warriors, 49ers and Giants in the Bay Area.

In Oregon, you can drive from home to the office in 10 minutes. In Berkeley you live by the freeways. The quality of life in Eugene, Oregon is superior to that of busy Berkeley. Wilcox’s decision to stay with Cal is confusing. As average as Arizona’s football program has been since joining the Pac-12, the Wildcats are 160-180-6 in conference games; Cal is far behind at 138-221-5.

Knowlton told SI.com that part of the reason Wilcox stayed at Berkeley was because he felt he had a large part in Cal’s recent successes as a football program.

“Together we’ve solved some age-old issues that have really plagued us,” said Knowlton.

And it doesn’t appear that Wilcox did it for the money. His contract was extended by two years to 2027, but Oregon pays its coach Dan Lanning more than Wilcox will make at Cal.

Overall, it’s refreshing to see a 21st-century coach choose loyalty to their team and assistant coaches over big bucks and fanfare.

Dear Mr. Football, what’s most predictable about today’s Cal vs. Arizona game?

A: There will be tens of thousands of empty seats.

Arizona has played 17 games at Cal’s Memorial Stadium since joining the conference in 1978, and none have been nearly sold out. The average attendance for these 17 games is 39,412.

Memorial Stadium’s capacity was reduced from about 75,000 to 63,000 a few years ago, meaning the average UA-Cal attendance at Berkeley was about 45%. The biggest UA Cal viewership was 56,021 in 2007, as ex-Bears coach Jeff Tedford neared the end of a successful eight-year run.

This is not a must-see rivalry. The Bears and Wildcats have only sold out one game in Tucson since 1978, and that was in 1994.

But Saturday’s game is compelling because it appears to hit two emerging programs moving toward the middle of the Pac-12 that have improved greatly over the past decade, a time when every school has a 1- had 11 season.

Cal doesn’t have much home field advantage, but this time it’s enough to make the difference.

Golden Bears 26, Wildcats 24

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or [email protected] On Twitter: @ghansen711

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