BERKELEY -- With the preliminaries finished and last season's scores settled, Lavelle Hawkins can't wait to find out whether No. 6 Cal is a national title contender or just another good bunch of Golden Bears.
"I started thinking about Oregon in the fourth quarter," Hawkins said after the Bears (4-0, 1-0) opened their Pac-10 schedule Saturday with a 45-27 win over Arizona.
Hawkins' sentiments were echoed by teammates, who realize Cal's meeting with the 11th-ranked Ducks on Saturday in Eugene serves the same purpose as last season's game between the West Coast powers, won convincingly by Cal.
The winner stays on track for Bowl Championship Series consideration and stakes its claim as top-ranked USC's biggest rival for the conference crown. The loser starts thinking about the Holiday Bowl.
At least that's the way most of Cal's players see it, and their coaches won't dissuade them.
"The win over Tennessee was big, but conference games are always bigger, and Oregon is one of our biggest rivals," said safety Thomas DeCoud, who had an interception, a fumble recovery and a sack during an outstanding game against the Wildcats. "They're a great team, and that game means a lot. They run the same kind of offense (as Arizona does), but I think they do it a little better. It's definitely good to play against a team that likes to chuck the rock. That's a defensive back's dream."
Cal's victory over Arizona was its second over a school that beat the Bears in 2006, following a season-opening victory over Tennessee. The September schedule provided easy motivational fodder for Cal's coaches, who must now keep their players focused on the rigors of Pac-10 play.
"I feel pretty sure what our potential can be, but no, we haven't reached that yet," coach Jeff Tedford said. "We've shown flashes at times, but we're not there yet."
Cal is averaging 41.5 points per game, showing off an offense with seemingly no significant weaknesses. Even the rebuilding offensive line has been outstanding, allowing only three sacks and opening holes for tailback Justin Forsett.
"We've played good, but I don't think we've played a full game yet," said Forsett, who has seven touchdowns and is averaging 121 yards rushing. "We're one step away from having that complete game."