2008 CFN California Preview
California LB Zack Follett
California LB Zack Follett
Posted Apr 21, 2008

LB Zack Follett and Cal started out well with a big win over Tennessee, but the second half of the season was a disaster and now the program has to prove it's not an underachiever. Check out the CFN California Preview.

California Golden Bears

Preview 2008

By Richard Cirminiello

- 2008 California Preview | 2008 Cal Offense
- 2008 Cal Defense | 2008 Cal Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN California Preview
| 2006 CFN California Preview 

After raising, and subsequently missing, lofty expectations in consecutive years, Cal has squandered whatever equity it had amassed when it came to national respect.  

Have the Bears peaked under Jeff Tedford?  It’s a question the program will try to dismiss while attempting to eliminate the stench of last year’s putrid 2-6 finish. Cal is in the awkward position of fending off allegations it’s an underachiever, an odd assertion about a program that was 1-10 and on the brink of extinction earlier this decade, but it seems like every chance it has to make a really big statement, and every chance it has to turn a big corner, it blows it.

Head coach: Jeff Tedford
7th year: 50-26
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 13, Def. 23, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Cal Players
1. C Alex Mack, Sr.
2. LB Zack Follett, Sr.
3. LB Worrell Williams, Sr.
4. OT Mike Tepper, Sr.
5. QB Nate Longshore, Sr.
6. CB Syd'Quan Thompson, Jr.
7. LB Anthony Felder, Sr.
8. QB Kevin Riley, Soph.
9. RB Jahvid Best, Soph.
10. DE Tyson Alualu, Jr.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 0-0

Aug. 30 Michigan State
Sept. 6 at Washington State
Sept. 13 at Maryland
Sept. 20 OPEN DATE
Sept. 27 Colorado State
Oct. 4 Arizona State
Oct. 18 at Arizona
Oct. 25 UCLA
Nov. 1 Oregon
Nov. 8 at USC
Nov. 15 at Oregon State
Nov. 22 Stanford
Dec. 6 Washington

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record: 7-6

Sept. 1 Tennessee W 45-31
Sept. 8 at Colorado St W 34-28
Sept. 15 Louisiana Tech W 42-12
Sept. 22 Arizona  W 45-27
Sept. 29
at Oregon W 31-24
Oct. 13 Oregon State L 31-28
Oct. 20 at UCLA L 30-21
Oct. 27
at Arizona State L 31-20
Nov. 3 Washington St W 20-17
Nov. 10 USC L 24-17
Nov. 17 at Washington L 37-23
Dec. 1
at Stanford L 20-13
Armed Forces Bowl
Dec. 31 Air Force W 42-36

For instance, last year the Bears, helped by the opening day win over Tennessee and a scintillating victory at Oregon, had the No. 1 ranking in its grasp before blowing it late in a loss to Oregon State. While that would normally be not that big a deal with half the season left to go, the team went from the top of the charts to the ranks of the also-rans with a puzzling string of six losses in seven games. Why?

There was enough talent to beat the two tremendous teams like the Vols and the Ducks, but once the bad momentum started to roll, there was no stopping it. It was a mental issue more than anything else. Once Cal got on a bad streak, it was stuck, and it wasn’t until the second half against Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl win that the team appeared to finally say enough is enough. Now the goal is to start out hot and stay there. It’s not going to be easy.

There’s a potential quarterback controversy and a shortage of proven skill position players following the losses of RB Justin Forsett, receivers DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins, and Robert Jordan, and TE Craig Stevens. However, with nine starters back on defense, the Bears might rely on that side of the ball for the first time in the Tedford era, and it’s going to be the most important one in his career.

Tedford, the golden boy coach who always appeared to be on the verge of taking off for a big-time NFL gig, or something even bigger than Cal, hasn’t faced this level of adversity since taking the job. He responded by shaking up his staff and installing tougher offseason mandates for his players, all in the name of recapturing some national and league respect.

The Bears are no longer the trendy choice to unseat USC in the Pac-10, a blessing considering how poorly they’ve handled that role in the past, but there are still plenty of tremendous athletes. Now there’s something else that was missing in the past: an attitude. Match that with a little consistency, and the Bears have the potential to be special again.

What to watch for on offense: While the Cal offense is facing a star power outage for now, don’t bet on it lasting very long. Yeah, Justin Forsett, DeSean Jackson, and LaVelle Hawkins are no longer amateurs, but that just paves the way for the next wave of Bear playmakers to excel. Brace yourself for RB Jahvid Best, receivers Michael Calvin, Nyan Boateng, and Jeremy Ross, along with TE Cameron Morrah, who are a half-year of experience away from being steady and exciting producers in Tedford’s attack.

What to watch for on defense: More of a reliance on the 3-4 defense. Although the staff won’t make a complete shift to the 3-4, it’s clear it wants to get as many of its big, speedy linebackers on the field at the same time. Led by Zack Follett and Worrell Williams, the Bears are brimming with talent with several good prospects waiting in the wings. Once the three senior starters graduate, underclassmen Mike Mohamed, D.J. Holt, and Eddie Young are putting in the time now to ensure that linebacker will be a position of strength in Berkeley for years to come.

The team will be far better if… last year’s second half collapse is a distant memory by the time Michigan State visits on Aug. 30. Although the 2-6 finish left plenty of scars, the Bears have to get past being reminded about it every time there’s a little bit of adversity. With the right mindset, there’s enough talent on both sides of the ball, and enough manageable games on the schedule for the program to get back on track after veering off course in 2007.

The Schedule: There's no Tennessee showdown like last year, but the non-conference schedule isn't all that bad playing Michigan State, going to Maryland, and hosting Colorado State. All the games against the league's non-Trojan powerhouses are at home. The timing of the Pac 10 games isn't that bad going to USC after a two-game home stretch against UCLA and Oregon while going to Arizona after a week off. Nothing can be taken for granted if the team tanks like it did at the end of last year's regular season, but closing out with Stanford and Washington, with an off week sandwiched in between them, isn't a bad way to finish. 

Best offensive player: Senior C Alex Mack. Even if WR DeSean Jackson had stayed in school, Mack would be the Cal’s top offensive performer, high praise for a Bear who’s saddled with the anonymity of being a center. One of the country’s best at his position, he’s as dominant run blocking as he is on passing downs, and is the conductor of a line that’s yielded less than a sack per game over the last two seasons.        

Best defensive player: Senior LB Zack Follett. Follett is a rarity at his position, a versatile playmaker with a knack for creating mayhem. Now in his third season as a starter, he’ll defend the running, rush the passer, or pivot and lock down a tight end or running back in pass coverage.  The total package, he led the defense in tackles for loss and sacks, while finishing second in pass breakups.

Key players to a successful season: The defensive line. While the back seven was terrific in 2007, the defensive line was almost non-existent. That must change this year if the Bears are going to be a more competitive. The secondary can ill-afford to have opposing quarterbacks spending an eternity to find receivers, so it’s up to Rulon Davis, Tyson Alualu, and Cameron Jordan to get more pressures and sacks than a year ago.  

The season will be a success if
... Cal wins nine games. The schedule is conducive to a bounce-back season, with the Nov. 8 trip to the Coliseum being the only road game that would be considered a big upset. After last year’s disappointment, the program needs to reestablish itself as a threat to USC’s headlock on the Pac-10 crown, or else it stands to slip behind the likes of Oregon and Arizona State in the pecking order. A 9-3 record and a second place finish in the conference would do the trick.     

Key game
: Nov. 1 vs. Oregon. Call it a semifinal game for the Pac-10 title. If the Bears have any hopes of getting to the Rose Bowl, they’ve got to first get through Oregon, one of the schools on the short list of league contenders. USC looms in the on-deck circle a week later, so Cal better work out the offensive kinks during the first two months of the season.

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Sacks: Cal 22 for 165 yards – Opponents 11 for 63 yards
- Fourth down conversions: Opponents 13 of 19 (68%) – Cal 5 of 10 (50%)
- Punt return average: Cal 8.8 yards – Opponents 5.4 yards