By Devin "Reno" Wright (@TheRealReno)
So here we are. Back to square one again. It has all come full circle.
In 2001 the Cal Bears turned in one of the worst seasons in, well, since the forward pass was introduced to football. A year later, they hired offensive guru Jeff Tedford away from Oregon, and all of a sudden, the Bears were contenders. We were winning games, churning out All-Americans and NFL studs, going to bowl games, beating SC, UCLA, and Oregon. It was a glorious time in Berkeley.
In 2004 we were robbed of a Rose Bowl by a self entitled program and a sketchy voting system (not to get political but that seems to be the norm for Texas, cough..George Bush..cough Rick Perry). Then we were on the cusp of a No. 1 ranking, only to see it all dramatically fall apart in 2007. Soon thereafter, a downward spiral ensued, and no one seemed to be able to stop the mounting losses. Years of mediocrity accumulated, eventually leading Sandy Barbour to come down with the axe on the "Ted Head Era".
Enter 2013. A new coach, running a new offense and defense, a new stadium, and #CAF new uniforms. Cal fans can't help but feel a little bit better about the future of the program, but maybe that is because we have NO IDEA what that future holds. What we do know is, 2013 will be a very interesting year for Cal football. Come with me as I break down the 2013 Bears before they embark on one of the toughest schedules a Pac-12 team has ever encountered.
Before we break things down by position group, let us think about a few of the names on this side of the ball. Zach Kline, Austin Hinder, Jared Goff, Brendan Bigelow, Daniel Lasco, Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs, Maurice Harris, Kenny Lawler, Richard Rodgers, Jordan Rigsbee, Chris Adcock. There is A LOT of potential here to form a great offense in Sonny Dykes' new #BearRaid system.
The name of the game here is potential. After the transfer of Allan Bridgeford, the QB competition has been whittled down to 3 contenders, none of whom have taken a single snap at the NCAA level. But, as mentioned before, this group is all about what might be. Kline, Hinder, and Goff were all very highly recruited signal callers out of high school (Kline from San Ramon Valley, Goff from Marin Catholic). All three bring different skills to the table as well. Kline is the big armed QB that gets the ball out quick and deep when needed. Hinder probably has the lesser of the three arms, but has the ability to make plays out of the pocket with his feet. Goff is a true Frosh that is rumored to be very comfortable with the system, as he played in a similar spread type system during his high school days in Kentfield.
Coach Sonny has stated that he likes all three of the QB's he has, and knows all these guys can run his system, but he would like to get this competition figured out as soon as possible early on in August. I think I speak for all the fans when I say that we do as well.
Bigelow, Bigelow, Bigelow. PLEASE GIVE THE KID THE BALL!!
I wish someone could get an answer from Tedford as to why Brendan Bigelow only touched the ball 86 times last season (45 were kickoff returns). Did Tedford miss this game? Bigs only carried the ball 38 times after this game, and only 4 times in the NEXT GAME. This kid has the talent to be the best RB in the Pac, but he needs to touch the ball to prove it. Louisiana Tech Running Back Kenneth Dixon carried the ball 200 times last year in Sonny's #BearRaid offense. If Bigs can stay healthy, this kid is has the potential to go HAM on Pac -12 defenses week in and week out.
After Bigs, it looks like Daniel Lasco will get the lion's share of the backup carries. Lasco is more of a "between-the-guards" back who enjoys lowering his pads, looking for contact, and driving the pile. Behind Lasco will be a mix of Darren Ervin and Jeffrey Coprich. It should be noted that at La Tech, the top two backs had over 140 carries, so expect to see a good amount of rotating in the back field.
Bryce "Trigga" Treggs likes to call the Cal wide receiving corps, "The Heem Team." This is where I think the most talent lies on this Bears young squad. Treggs and Chris Harper are beasts. The two came onto the scene as freshman last season and made some incredible plays. Now, with a wide open offense to work in, these two are due for breakout seasons that should get them some national pub.
Harris (who is somehow still a sophomore), Lawler, Darrius Powe, Richard Rodgers (in the #BearRaid, there are no Tight Ends), Bryce McGovern, Maximo Espitia and Jackson Bouza can all make plays. All these pass catchers bring different elements to the table in terms or stretching the field, and settling in the zone. If they can pick up the system, and get in a rhythm with their new QB, this group has a chance to be the most well rounded in the conference.
This is a group of Big Uglies that has A LOT to work on. Now, few of us were big fans of the erratic Zach Maynard, but the kid was often running for his life in an attempt to make plays. The Bears will start this season with only two returning starters up front. Now, that usually is viewed as a bad thing, but with how poor the line played last season (allowing almost 4 sacks a game), getting some new blood in there shouldn't be a bad thing.
Cal's line will be anchored by the insanely talented and massive LT Freddie Tagaloa. He will likely be joined by Jordan Rigsbee, Chris Adcock, Alejandro Croswaithe, and Matt Cochran. While this group will probably be young no matter who starts, the key will be finding a starting center that can make the right line calls and that will keep the Quarterback clean versus uber-athletic teams like Ohio State and Oregon. Adjusting to a new blocking scheme will also be of great importance for this group. While they will be young, it bodes well for the future the more games the young guys get under their belts.
If there was one group that the Tedford staff always recruited well, it was Defensive Line. Of course that was thanks in large part to the Cal version of Benedict Arnold: Tosh Lupoi. There was a lot of hype from guys like Deandre Coleman and Viliami Moala, but we are still waiting on them to have their break out seasons. The scheme change from a 3-4 to a 4-3 will put guys like Todd Barr and Chris McCain on the end of the line, where their speed should help in the pass rush, but their size could be an issue in the run defense.
Mustafa Jalil, Dan Camporale, Puke Lopa, and Gabe King can provide depth up front. But the big question is how will these guys adapt to a new scheme lead by new Defensive Coordinator Andy Buh, and D-Line coaches Barry Sacks (perfect last name right?) and Garrett Chachere (note: Like the WR's, who have separate slot receiver and outside receiver coaches, the D-Line has both interior and ends coaches).
A quick note: Last season, Nick Forbes lead the team in tackles. The next two guys on the list were Defensive Backs. That isn't a good thing, especially in a 3-4 defense that is designed to have the linebackers make most of the tackles.
The switch to the 4-3 alignment will be an adjustment for the Bears linebackers as well. This is a very young group, that has not played a lot, but certainly has some potential. They were very young, and were very inconsistent last season. Other than Nick Forbes, it remains to be seen who will step up in Fall Camp and be named starters. Penn State transfer Khari Fortt, and youngsters like Michael Barton, Hardy Nickerson Jr, and Jason Gibson will get a chance to crack the starting line up. Meanwhile, Jalen Jefferson, and Brennan Scarlett will need to impress in their new roles in the 4-3 if they want to see extensive playing time on the field this year.
Here is what we do know. Avery Sebastian likes two things, tweeting, and hitting. This is a guy who can really take the next step by improving with his pass defense and creating some turnovers from his safety spot. After that, it's kind of a guessing game for the Bears defensive backfield.
Kameron Jackson saw time in all 12 games last year, and showed some flashes with three interceptions. Stefan McClure did not play at all last year, but might be considered the frontrunner for the other starting job. Michael Lowe should hold down the other starting safety job with Sebastian.
After that core group, it is really up in the air regarding depth with this group. Expect a lot of the younger guys to see time this season.
As a fan, my thinking is simple, There is talent on this team.
If the offense can get acclimated to the new system we should be able to score in bunches. This leaves the onus on our defense to get stops, against some of the best offenses in the country no less.
Why can't we go 7-5 and make a bowl game? We did it with Tedford in his first year (minus the bowl game due to a bowl ban). Unfortunately, only 9 starters are coming back, and the Bears are facing a schedule that features home games against Northwestern, Ohio St, USC, Oregon St, and road games at Oregon (which comes right after Ohio St), Washington, UCLA, and Stanfurd. It really doesn't get much tougher for a young team that is breaking in a new QB, and learning a new system on both sides of the ball. I'm hoping for 7-5 or 6-6, but I'm afraid we are looking at something like 5-7. Let's hope the young kids develop (especially at QB and DB), and lay the foundation for what I think will be a successful future in Strawberry Canyon.