Jahvid Best is showing he's a contender for the Heisman Trophy, and he also has California looking like the favorite to win the Pac-10. The next three games could be a serious test to both of those lofty goals.
The sixth-ranked Golden Bears open that stretch Saturday when they begin conference play on the road against Oregon.
Best entered the season as a potential candidate for the Heisman Trophy, which has never been won by a Cal player. The junior running back has certainly backed up those expectations, leading the nation with nine touchdowns while ranking third in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 429 rushing yards.
"I see him as a complete player," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "I don't see him as a role player. That guy, we're asking him to do a lot and he accepts his workload and responsibility."
Best, averaging 7.8 yards per carry, rushed for 131 yards and a modern school-record five TDs to help California (3-0) snap a four-game road losing streak with a 35-21 victory at Minnesota last Saturday.
With Best leading the way, the Bears are looking like strong contenders for a conference title and their first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1958. Last year, they finished fourth while Southern California won a sixth consecutive Pac-10 crown. However, the Trojans' stunning 16-13 loss to Washington last weekend may have given Cal an advantage in this year's race.
The Golden Bears are starting a tough three-game stretch that sees them visiting the Ducks (2-1) and hosting the Trojans before an Oct. 17 matchup at UCLA, which is 3-0.
They are coming off a good test against the Golden Gophers -- the game was tied in the fourth quarter -- after outscoring their first two opponents 111-20.
Best had a pair of 2-yard touchdown runs in the fourth to put away last Saturday's game. Kevin Riley threw for 77 of his 252 yards on the go-ahead drive midway through the quarter and continues to provide the Bears offense with good balance, completing 64.8 percent of his passes for 698 yards with five TDs and no interceptions.
"He feels good about what he's doing," coach Jeff Tedford said. "He's very poised and very confident. He never panics. I think he's playing really solid."
One of Riley's weapons, though, is unavailable because Nyan Boateng had surgery on his broken right foot Monday and will miss four to six weeks. He has five catches for 78 yards and a touchdown as Cal's third receiver.
The Golden Bears have won three straight over Oregon since a 27-20 loss at Autzen Stadium on Nov. 5, 2005. Cal's victory there in 2007 is one of only four losses handed to the Ducks in their last 24 home games.
Oregon, which finished second in the Pac-10 last year, also is opening its conference schedule and a win could return the team to the Top 25. The Ducks fell out of the AP poll following a high-profile 19-8 loss at then-No. 14 Boise State in their season opener Sept. 3.
They lost star running back LaGarrette Blount for the rest of the season due to a team-imposed suspension for punching Broncos defensive end Byron Hout in the face as Boise State celebrated the win.
The Ducks have rebounded, beating Purdue 38-36 on Sept. 12 before snapping then-No. 18 Utah's 16-game winning streak with a 31-24 victory last Saturday.
Running back LaMichael James has filled in nicely for Blount. The freshman had 152 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries against Utah, helping Oregon overcome poor play by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
The junior completed 4 of 16 passes for 95 yards and an interception last week, though he did run for two scores and 47 yards. He's rushed for 205 yards and a team-high four TDs this season.
A good day on the ground by Masoli wasn't enough for Oregon to beat Cal in the most recent meeting Nov. 1. He ran for 97 yards and a touchdown, but completed 7 of 21 passes for 44 yards with two interceptions in the 26-16 loss.
The Ducks might have a hard time getting the ground game going against a hard-hitting California defense that has allowed 187 rushing yards -- 37 last weekend -- while creating seven turnovers and totaling 12 sacks.
AccuScore has powered more than 10,000 simulations for every College Football game on ESPN.com, calculating how each team's performance changes in response to game conditions and opponent's abilities. Each game is simulated and the game is replayed a minimum of 10,000 times to generate forecasted winning percentages.
Cal and Oregon open Pac-10 play when the teams meet in Autzen Stadium. Jahvid Best looks to continue his Heisman-level performances, a week after scoring five times against Minnesota. The Ducks have rebounded since falling to Boise State, downing Purdue and Utah in consecutive weeks.