2011 Record: (7-6, 4-5 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: Jeff Tedford (79-48 at Cal, 48-38 in Pac-10/12)
Four Year Win Trend: 7.25 wins and 5.5 losses overall; 4.5 wins and 4.5 losses in conference
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Holiday Bowl: lost to Texas 21-10
Big Name Opponents: 9/15 at Ohio St, 9/22 at USC, 10/20 vs Stanford, 11/10 vs Oregon
Must Win: 9/1 vs Nevada, 9/8 vs Southern Utah
Revenge: 10/6 vs UCLA, 11/2 vs Washington
Stats to Cheer: scored on 89.09% of trips to red zone (2nd in Pac-12, 12th in Nation); allowed opponents to score TDs on just 52.27% of trips to red zone (2nd in Pac-12, 26th in Nation)
Stat to Fear: Committed 72.4 yards of penalties per game (11th in Pac-12, 119th in Nation)
Phil Steele’s Returning Starters: (Offense: 6; Defense: 5; Specialists: 0)
Key Defensive Returnees: S Josh Hill (48 tackles), CB Marc Anthony (37 tackles), LB David Wilkerson (17 tackles, 4 sacks), DT Aaron Tipoti (25 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Zach Maynard (17 TD, 12 INT), WR Keenan Allen (98 rec, 6 TD), RB Isi Sofele (1322 yds, 10 TD), OT Matt Summers-Gavin, C Brian Schwenke
Inside Scoop with Bears With Fangs:
CFBZ: Five of Cal’s top six tacklers were seniors last season. Who needs to step up to replace that production?
Bears With Fangs: The biggest “step-up” unit will be the linebacking corps, where the Bears will need to find answers to replace both starting inside linebackers, including Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and second round draft pick Mychal Kendricks and departed senior DJ Holt.
The duo combined for a hefty 187 combined tackles last year. Cal features a host of unproven but talented prospects to fill their shoes, including highly-touted, but oft-injured redshirt sophomore Nick Forbes. Sophomore Dave Wilkerson returns to his more natural position of inside linebacker, as does redshirt freshman Jason Gibson who played outside in high school but flourished in spring ball when moved inside.
Each player was a four-star prospect and certainly has the talent to start on day one. Though, the Bears may need upperclassmen JP Hurrell or Robert Mullins to direct the defense and help fill the void left by Kendricks and Holt.
CFBZ: Who are some under the radar offensive players to keep an eye on this season?
Bears With Fangs: Expect one of the incoming freshman wide receivers to make an impact this season. The smart money is on Bryce Treggs, who by all accounts should make a strong push to start opposite All-American Keenan Allen. The Bears are going to need Treggs to take some pressure off of Allen, and Treggs is talented enough to make the most of the balls coming his way. He could have something close to the level of impact that both Allen, and former Cal wide receiver Desean Jackson had in their freshman seasons.
The Bears also hope to utilize their tight-ends this season, with Coach Tedford even having met with the Patriots coaching staff this offseason to glean some ideas. Tedford has raved about sophomore Richard Rodgers, going so far as to call him a potential high NFL draft pick. Rodgers could also provide some nice mismatches for opposing defenses this season.
Finally, despite playing behind two senior runningbacks in Isi Sofele and CJ Anderson, don’t count out sophomore Brendon Bigelow. After spending last season physically and mentally recovering from his two ACL injuries from high school, Bigelow has shined in fall camp and finally appears to be ready to show off what made him a highly coveted high school prospect. Look for the Bears to try and get Bigelow in the open field, on sweeps and in special teams, much like the way they did with Jahvid Best in his freshman season.
CFBZ: In what areas does Cal need to make the most improvement this season?
Bears With Fangs: While it is cliche, it really boils down to quarterback. The Bears have had their best years when their quarterbacks have succeeded in moving the chains and minimizing turnovers. Plain and simple, when senior QB Zach Maynard plays well, the Bears usually win. If Maynard can play the way he did towards the end of last season (completing 67% of his passes, 5 TDs, just 1 INT, and a 149.5 QB rating), the Bears have a chance to win a lot of games.
And just as much connected to Maynard’s performance is that of the offensive line. If Cal’s o-line can step up under the second year of offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, then the Bears’ offense can be something pretty special. If not, just watch Cal’s offense against Texas in the Holiday Bowl last year. Bleh.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Bears With Fangs: I honestly would be disappointed with anything less than 8 wins this year. To reach at least 8 wins, the Bears are going to need to pull an upset here or there, which may be tough road games against Ohio St., USC, or Utah, while also securing home wins against competitive teams like Washington, Stanford, or *gasp* Oregon?
While that’s certainly not the goal, 8 wins would certainly validate a lot of the talk that the Bears are back on track to competing for one of the top teams in the conference. The Bears have recruited well the past few seasons, and it’s about time for many of Cal’s talented players to begin stepping up.
If you take away the games against the Pac-12′s current “big three” (Oregon, Stanford and USC), Cal’s record was 7-2 with losses to UCLA and Washington. Coming off of a 5-7 disappointment in 2010 this was a step in the right direction. Jeff Tedford has averaged 7.9 wins per year since he’s been head coach at Cal so 7-6 was somewhat par for the course. Right now, Cal is stuck in that “second tier” of teams in the Pac-12 behind the big three. A lot of teams in the Pac-12 are in transition due to coaching changes and it will be interesting to see if Cal stays in the group or moves forward or backward.
Cal has the talent on offense to be very competitive this year with the big three. Keenan Allen and Isi Sofele are big time talents and they will help Cal be competitive this year. As was stated above in the Q&A, Zach Maynard has to be more consistent. He threw 12 INTs last year but more than half of them came in two losses (USC and UCLA). He also had three games in which he completed less than 50% of his passes and seven games in which he complete 55% or less of his passes. If Maynard can step up this year then this offense can really click and Cal can do some damage.
The big concern is the defense. Believe it or not, Cal’s defense has been number one in the Pac-12 for the last two years in total defense. This year they lose a ton of senior leadership as their top four tacklers last year were seniors and they accounted for over 40% of Cal’s solo tackles. Breaking in new defensive starters and stars will be a concern and the third and fourth games of the season (at Ohio State and at USC) will both be huge tests for this team. I think Cal will be very competitive on the field this year but I see them taking a very small step backwards in terms of their overall regular season record.
2012 Prediction: 6-6
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