BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — California linebacker Evan Weaver received word this week that he's among 12 semifinalists for the Dick Butkus award. That came after Weaver got invited to the Senior Bowl.
It's the latest in a long line of honors for the Golden Bears defensive captain and emotional leader. Meanwhile, Cal is mired in a four-game losing streak that's taken the shine off what began as a promising season.
"It's definitely an honor and stuff," Weaver said. "But right now, I'm still more focused on figuring out a way to win 2-to-4 games right now. At the end of the season, that's when the awards matter."
The Bears (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) haven't won since beating Mississippi on the road Sept. 21. They host Washington State (4-4, 1-4) in a pivotal game for both teams. The winner takes a significant step forward in becoming bowl eligible, while the loser faces difficulty being considered for the postseason.
For California, that means ending their longest losing streak since 2016.
"You have to come back ready to work," Weaver said. "I feel like we actually came ready to work this week."
Weaver leads the nation with 127 tackles (69 total) and is averaging nearly 16 per game. Several times this season he's challenged teammates to improve or stay home after losses.
Washington State coach Mike Leach credits Weaver for helping anchor the Bears defense that's among the Pac-12's best since Justin Wilcox replaced Sonny Dykes as coach in 2017.
"They've been able to hold everybody in check for the last two seasons. That's what good defenses do," Leach said. "(Weaver) is big, he moves well. He's always been a pretty gifted guy."
The Cougars have dropped four of their last five, three of the losses coming against ranked teams Utah, Arizona State and Oregon.
Despite that, Weaver said Washington State's offense is sound enough to cause problems.
"Coach Leach has a great scheme," Weaver said. "They know how to score points. They pass the ball a bunch, they also know when to run it. It's about making tackles in space."
Here are more things to watch for when California hosts Washington State on Saturday:
FEWER DISTRACTIONS: Leach felt his players and staff handled the Cougars second bye week much better than the first. Then again, Washington State didn't have to deal with the resignation of a coach. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys stepped down during the first bye week. "We are further along now with all the coaches and players settled in," Leach said. "This one has been quite peaceful by comparison. The first bye week was disruptive."
Wilcox has been tight-lipped all week about who the Bears will start at quarterback. Chase Garbers has missed more than a month with a shoulder injury and is likely to sit out Saturday. Devon Modster has been dealing with injury issues but was cleared this week. It's likely Modster will get the nod, but if not Cal will go with freshman Spencer Brasch.
CLOSING OUT: The Cougars have lost three games this season when leading in the final minutes - to UCLA, Arizona State and Oregon. Wins in even two of the three would have put Washington State in significantly better shape. "We just have to close it out," Leach said. "We've played (those) teams better than anybody else has."
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25