CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS
Team Overview: The Bears are an intriguing young team in the Pac-12. With a newly renovated Memorial Stadium and a jam-packed home schedule the Bears are looking to challenge mighty Oregon for the North crown once again, but this time they are hoping the tables turn their way. More on that later, but first let’s review last season.
Cal is coming off of a campaign that saw them lose 3 curious games to Washington, Ucla and Stanford. With the wacky Pac-12 season going the way it did, the losses to Washington and Ucla were both games that Cal was supposed to win. Sure, Ucla somehow won their division and UW was a good looking team in the beginning (at least nationally it was thought), but Cal was coming off a year with the best defense in the league, and once again they ended top in the league in 2011. UW and Ucla ended in the bottom half of the league on D and the offenses between the 3 were very similar. The Stanford loss, well we all know that game wasn’t supposed to be as close as 31-28, but the Big Game is never a gimme and Stanford wasn’t dealing well with the pressure late in the year while Cal was playing their best ball.
So where does Cal fit in 2012? The schedule is as tough as they get in the West after Nevada and Southern Utah christen the new Memorial Stadium with what should be a 2-0 record to open the year. Then it will be open season on the Bears, as they will be heading to the Horse Shoe and the Coliseum to face newly energized powerhouses after Ohio State’s hiring of the best college football coach right now and the reinstatement of the annual National Championship bids from USC. After that it’s gonna be a ride as the remainder of their home contests include ASU, Ucla, Stanford, Washington and Oregon, while they’ll face a difficult triplet of road games at Washington State, Utah and Oregon State. One might have to think that ASU is the “easiest” of those contests because both WSU and OSU played very well at home over the final half of last season and are returning some firepower offensively.
The Good: First, the Defense: #1 in total defense in the Pac two years running (#4 in scoring D in 2011) and they return a bevy of starters which is always bad news for opponents. Because of this Cal should be in just about every game at least till very late in the contest. Last year the defense was thought to be a drop off after All Americans graduated the year before, but a group effort kept the lack of star power unnoticed. The D-line is very, very big and the effort to rally to the ball is amazingly instilled by the coaching staff. If the defense can force more turnovers this season (23 last season good for 6th in the Conference), then Cal could win enough games to challenge Oregon in the North. Plus, Oregon never plays well at Cal and so it’ll be very interesting what Tedford does with a bye week to prep for the Ducks late in the year.
Recruiting: Old Jeff Tedford can still recruit with the best of them, hauling in the #23 recruiting class according to rivals.com and surrounding his qbs with 4 very highly touted receivers. Speaking of qbs, with Tedford signing a big kid with a big arm in Zach Kline, does this mean the handoff from one Zach (Maynard) to another? I know the Cal staff would rather be able to redshirt and unleash a refined and stronger Kline in a couple years, but they also have to win now for Coach Teddy! That’s the big expectation in Berkeley right now.
Ball Control: Both runners return in elusive power back Isi Sofele and bruiser C.J. Anderson behind an experienced O-line that got it going a little bit towards the latter part of last season, while Keenan Allen lurks as a deep threat.
The Bad: The Offense: The “O” stunk for much of last year, except when they began to run the ball late in the season. The qb battle isn’t settled, even though Zach Maynard was the starter for the majority of the year and brings some upside with his experience and athleticism. Maynard will have to fight to keep his job as Tedford brought in some competition and he was horribly inconsistent throughout the season. With the offenses in the Pac-12, especially those of which are ramping up via coaching style changes, the Cal offense will have to produce on a regular basis to keep pace, even with their powerful D.
Youth: The team is not explosive on the scoreboard… yet. Allen is the only proven big play threat and offenses in the Pac-12 need more than that to keep up. As mentioned earlier, Tedford addressed the issue in recruiting, so we will see where the offense pans out. One thing is for sure, Maynard has to be more accurate by a lot. Cal only completed 55% of it’s passes and scored only 17 times through the air which was good for 11th in the Conference, and that was with another explosive target on the other side in Jones, who has graduated.
Schedule: There is no “cupcake” on the menu after week 2 and there is no bye week till after week 10. If the Bears don’t come out ready to play, they could find themselves behind the curve in a real hurry. Also the Bears are not happy that The Big Game has been moved up to week 7, when traditionally it is the final game of the season. There is fear of a let-down in case of a loss in that game as Cal didn’t respond well in the Holiday Bowl after the emotional loss to Stanford last year. On the flip side a win at home in that game could set them up nicely for a late year rally.
Silver Linings: The bulk of the most difficult games are at home. Memorial Stadium renovated means that Cal fans are going to come out with renewed energy after missing a bunch of home games last season while Cal played at AT&T Park. With the schedule that I mentioned to you earlier, they could very well be set to come out in record numbers. With 7 home games on the docket, the Golden Bears could be in for some serious home field advantage this season. They sure could use some after the trips to San Francisco resulted in terrible crowds all last year.
Well that’s it for Cal, we’ll be back next week and take a trip to Palo Alto for a preview of Stanford. Until then keep tuned to Allcougdup.com for your latest Cougar sports news.