2012 California Preview - Ready To Roar
Cal RB Isi Sofele
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - California Golden Bears
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- By Richard Cirminiello
Different year, same old climate in Strawberry Canyon.
Head coach: Jeff Tedford
11th year: 79-48
Off. 25, Def. 26, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best California Players
1. WR Keenan Allen, Jr.
2. RB Isi Sofele, Sr.
3. CB Marc Anthony, Sr.
4. S Josh Hill, Sr.
5. RT Matt Summers-Gavin, Sr.
6. C Brian Schwenke, Sr.
7. CB Steve Williams, Jr.
8. DE Deandre Coleman, Jr.
9. QB Zach Maynard, Sr.
10. LB Chris McCain, Soph.
Sep. 1 Nevada
Sep. 8 Southern Utah
Sep. 15 at Ohio State
Sep. 22 at USC
Sep. 29 Arizona State
Oct. 6 UCLA
Oct. 13 at Washington St
Oct. 20 Stanford
Oct. 27 at Utah
Nov. 2 Washington
Nov. 10 Oregon
Nov. 17 at Oregon State
Nov. 23 OPEN DATE
The Bears and specifically head coach Jeff Tedford begin the spring with optimism, but also with the knowledge that they've been underachievers in recent seasons. The program is just 36-28 since 2007, including 7-6 a year ago, consistently finishing with a thud. And it's been six years since it was higher than fourth place in the conference.
What's even more frustrating around Berkeley is that the Cal roster has not been light on talented athletes, the kinds of players that go on to populate NFL rosters. The team has simply had problems executing at key points in games, especially at quarterback, which has become a particular indictment of Tedford, a man who has partly earned his reputation from what he's produced behind center.
The coach's starter for 2012 is likely to be incumbent Zach Maynard, though a high-profile battle for the job could brew like a hot cup of mud in the coming months. Hard-throwing Zach Kline, the nation's fourth-ranked hurler, is already on campus, delighting the locals with his poise and promise for the future.
Now, the Bears would prefer to redshirt their gem this fall, but if Maynard happens to digress, it wouldn't be a stunner if the Kline era began a little earlier than anticipated.
Cal remains a talented program on both sides of the ball, which only makes the pressure on the staff that much greater. While the coaches have excelled at attracting the right players, repurposing them into a winning product on the field has been elusive. For Tedford, that has meant a perpetual reservation on college football's coaching hot seat.
Yeah, he was the savior, both on and off the field, after the school had veered into a ditch, but what's the feel-good expiration date for turning a team around? Three years? Five years? Whatever it is, the coach is likely up against it.
The Bears have been battling mediocrity right around the same time rival Stanford has hit the tarmac, a recipe for a lot of frustration around Berkeley. Now more than ever, Tedford needs to catch the rest of the Pac-12 snoozing, and get back to competing on a high level before it gets too late.
What to watch for on offense: The young receivers. Cal is home to one of the country's most dangerous targets, Keenan Allen, a sure-fire All-American candidate. However, after the junior, the corps gets very young, very fast. Current Cincinnati Bengal Marvin Jones is no longer eligible, making it a little less risky for opponents to double Allen. His cousin, redshirt freshman Maurice Harris, exited spring as the starter on the opposite side. However, a wave of incoming freshmen, especially Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler, are going to get a chance to pay immediate dividends for a passing game that needs them.
What to watch for on defense: The super-sophs. Out with the old, and in with the new. Cal's recent recruiting prowess is about to go on full display with the unveiling of a swath of second-year players on the two-deep. DE Mustafa Jalil, linebackers Nick Forbes, David Wilkerson, Chris McCain and Cecil Whiteside, CB Stefan McClure and S Avery Sebastian are busting at the seams with potential. That upside is about to meld with opportunity, affording the Bear cubs a larger spotlight and far more reps than were available in 2011.
The team will be far better if… it does a better job of protecting the ball. While the Bears were sixth in the Pac-12 in turnover margin, they were tenth in turnovers lost. And those mistakes, both fumbles and interceptions, proved especially costly in the program's losses. In those six games, Cal was minus-nine in turnover margin, committing a whopping 17 total turnovers. Reducing that number will be a total team effort that includes better decisions from the quarterbacks, cleaner snaps in shotgun formations and a tighter grip on the ball across the board.
The Schedule: The Bears will have to be tough and smart about conserving their energy without and weeks off. It'll be a 12-game dash that ends in mid-November a few weeks before many other teams are still playing, but there won't be many chances to take a break. Beating Nevada in the opener is a must to avoid a possible disastrous start with road trips to Ohi oState and USC coming up in mid-September. Fortunately, there are only three remaining road games after the date in L.A., and while getting an away date at Utah is a bad break from the South, getting Stanford, Washington, and Oregon all at home in a nice stretch of three home games in four weeks late in the season.
Best offensive player: Junior WR Keenan Allen. Cal's returning First Team All-Pac-12 performer might be the most underrated superstar in college football. Despite getting intermittent support from his quarterback in 2011, he still managed to catch 98 balls for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns. At 6-3 and 206 pounds, he has the length, big hands and precise route-running skills that NFL teams covet in a go-to wide receiver. While he's surrounded by young receivers, batterymate Zach Maynard figures to be more comfortable in his second year in the system.
Best defensive player: Senior CB Marc Anthony. Anthony played well in 2011, but might have been an all-star had he not been hindered by injuries. After taking it light in the spring, he's expected to be at full strength in time for the opener. Safety-sized, with the cover skills of a corner, the 6-0, 200-pound is an asset to the Bears in a number of different of ways. His five stops behind the line led Cal's defensive backs a year ago, as did his dozen broken up passes.
Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Zach Maynard. Maynard was the key a year ago, and he will be again this fall. The Bears need a higher degree of consistency from the position after the lefty ranked tenth in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency. After bottoming out with awful October efforts versus USC and UCLA, he played with a little more crispness over the final five games, throwing five touchdown passes and only two picks. Cal needs to see a little more of that player now that he's in his second season with the program.
The season will be a success if ... the Bears win at least eight regular season games for the first time in three years. Although the team is not facing an easy schedule this fall, it'll be no excuse for not taking a positive step forward in the standings. With seven homes games at newly-renovated Memorial Stadium, Cal should be well-positioned to avoid the kind of losing skid that derails its goals. This is not a Pac-12 championship team, but it is one that's capable of advancing the ball compared to where it was in 2011.
Key game: Oct. 20 vs. Stanford. Having lost two straight in the Big Game, the Bears are poised to bring the Axe back to Berkeley. Not only is the game at home, but Andrew Luck is no longer on the opposite sideline of Cal. This will be a huge game for head coach Jeff Tedford and his entire squad. This is one of those fork-in-the-road points of a season that couldn't whether or not the Bears reach their 2012 goals, or remain in contention for the North Division title.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Passing yards per game: Cal 246 – Opponents 204
- Sacks: Cal 34 – Opponents 28
- Fourth-quarter scoring: Cal 41 - Opponents 79
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