Cal Football and anything that relates

Sandy Barbour out as Athletic Director

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Sandy Barbour is “stepping down” (inside word is that she fought it but then took the dignified way out) as AD. Today I feel similar to the day I heard Tedford was gone, although I’m less convinced that she needed to go.

Sandy bled Blue and Gold. Sandy cared a GREAT deal about the student athletes and she carried herself with dignity and treated everyone else with the same sort of dignity. It was always interesting to see her at events at which she wasn’t in a lead role (like at an away Football game on the field). You could tell that she saw her role as supporting those who were in the trenches doing the real work. She walked the journey with them.

Yet there is no doubt that things have been a bit rough for the athletic program. The graduation rate problem falls squarely on her shoulders. It was her job to push her coaches to make sure they kept on top of their players.

The other big issue is the Memorial Stadium finances. I must admit I think this is a mixed bag. One should never look at the finances for this and forget the most important point: She got it built.

Many before her had tried and failed. She ended up in an epic battle to get it built. When you’re that sort of a battle you do everything in your power to minimize the number of things that could stand in your way. To that end, she needed to make sure the finances didn’t get in the way and came up with a plan that made sure that was the case. The 1st day the bulldozers could move, she needed them ready to go. A stoppage while waiting for funding to come in would have been devastating and allowed the opponents to re-group and find a new way to bring things to a halt.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that it’s a LONG time before the stadium financing ends up becoming a burden on the athletic department or the campus as a whole. While it is fair to call it a ticking time-bomb, there is an unstated benefit to such a bomb: There’s time to defuse it.

Cal has another 20+ years to figure out how to dig itself out of this mess. That’s a long time. All it takes is another Tedford-like run of success and focusing the dollars that come from it towards the debt and the problem could go away. Even if we don’t have another such run, there are still other incremental things that can be done to minimize the damage of when those bonds come due.

Nevertheless, perception is, as they say, reality. And it doesn’t help the program to have someone at the helm who is sitting on a perception problem (the finances) in addition to a few real missteps that will haunt her and her ability to inspire confidence in the donors (and make no mistake, the big donors are BY FAR the most important people to have on board).

So, it’s reasonable to say it was time for Sandy to go.

But that doesn’t make it any harder to swallow that someone who bled Blue and Gold, someone who had great dignity and treated everyone else with that same dignity, has to be cast aside.

Thank you Sandy for your dedication to Cal athletics and God bless you in your future.

2011 and before forgotten?

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Sorry it’s been a long time since I’ve posted. Longtime readers know that I’m often quiet during the off-season. But I needed to put something up just to get the Ted Agu post off the top…

In any case, the ESPN Pac-12 blog has a post up about the best wins between World Cups for each team. For Cal they picked the 43-17 victory over UCLA in 2012:

The Bears haven’t had a lot of quality victories between World Cups. They went 0-4 against rival Stanford and failed to beat an FBS team in 2013. In fact, they’ve lost 16 straight games to FBS squads. Their last win was on Oct. 13, 2012, when they topped Washington State 31-17. The week before, however, they shocked a surging UCLA team, 43-17, behind a 25-of-30 passing performance by Zach Maynard, who threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns.

Am I the only one who feels people have completely forgotten anything that happened before 2012? Not a lot of quality victories? May I humbly remind ESPN:

2011: Cal 47 – ASU 38
2011: Cal 23 – OSU 6
2011: Cal 34 – Utah 10 (Utah went 8-5 that year)
2010: Cal 50 – ASU 17
2010: Cal 35 – UCLA 7
2010: Cal 52 – Colorado 7

It may be that 43-17 over UCLA in 2012 is still the best victory (they did win the Pac-12 South and were 9-3 in the regular season), but it’s a pretty weak statement to say that Cal hasn’t had many quality victories in the last 4 years.

2011 had a lot of hope in it and some pretty strong performances. (It has some frustrating moments too). 2010 was looking promising until Reilly had his knee blown out.

It’s amazing how quickly people forget…

Time to retire a 2nd number?

(Written by Ken Crawford)

I’ve been reluctant to post on the subject of Ted Agu’s passing. There seemed to be very little accurate and detailed info the first few days and I wanted to let the dust settle before sticking my foot in my mouth.

Well, it’s been a few days and no more meaningful info has come out. No cause of death. No more details about the nature of the difficulty he was having before he collapsed. No confirmation of the rumor he had Sickle Cell trait.

I sure hope the details eventually come to light so that something can be learned from this. If/when they do, I will comment more.

But in the meantime, I wanted to put an idea out there…

Should #35 be retired?

I must admit I didn’t know anything about Ted Agu until this happened. But from what I’ve read, and I’ve got a strong BS meter for the posthumous deification of people who die a tragic death, he seems like a great guy. It’s pretty clear he loved football and was on the team for all the right reasons. And anyone who dies in the pursuit of excellence for the team, deserves to be recognized.

Retiring his number would be the greatest honor we could give him.

Usually retired numbers are reserved for those who excel on the field. Cal has one retired number, and it is for someone with great on the field success, who also lived an exemplary yet short life off the field. I think it would be a nice bookend to also have someone who lived a similarly exemplary yet short life without the same on the field success.

Thoughts?

Various January thoughts

(Written by Ken Crawford)

1st up, after previous denying defensive changes, Dykes cleans house on that side of the ball, demoting Buh to a position coach (not announced but assumed to be linebacker) and firing both the defensive tackle (Randy Sacks) and defensive back (Randy Stewart) coaches.

Frankly, this surprises me. I mean, we all know the kiss of death for a head coach is the AD giving a “vote of confidence” to the head coach, and I guess the same is true for the assistant coaches when the head coach states he’s not making any changes. But something about the way Dykes said it in November and his image as a straight-talker, made me think he was going to ride it out.

But I’ve made it no secret that Buh doesn’t impress me. So I guess I’ll stick with calling this good news. Let’s just see who we get as a replacement.

Next up, the 2014 schedule is out. It validates what we already knew, including the Friday night Oregon game at Levi stadium and the non-conference slate of @Northwestern, Sac State and BYU and that the boycott on Thanksgiving weekend games in Berkeley is over with BYU coming to town that Saturday. The new news is that the bye weeks are set (9/13 and 11/8) and we’re playing at USC on a Thursday night (11/13).

Anybody else feel that we’re getting more than our fair share of non-Saturday games?

Depending on how good the team will be next year, this schedule is really bad or somewhat good. If you think the team will stink, it’s good, we get the worst teams at home (Colorado, Sac State). If you think we’re going to be struggling with mediocrity, the schedule is troublesome as most of the next tier games (@Arizona, @WSU, @OSU, BYU (at home)) are on the road. If you’re crazy and think this team is going to be good (and thus win those mid-tier games), most of the high-end games (UCLA, UW, Stanford, Oregon (neutral), @USC) are at home. For the non-crazy, perhaps what that means is we have a shot at a signature win for a mediocre team trying to show they’ve got the ability to beat the big boys.

Final thought on the schedule, I wish that first bye was a couple weeks later, but overall they’re not bad.

And final topic, the defections… Kline is no surprise and overall I think won’t hurt the program much. Tagaloa hurts a bit more. That guy has talent although under-achieved. But overall 3 guys defecting after a big change to the program is not that surprising. Overall it’s not too concerning. More concerning is the lack of progress on getting 4 star plus recruits and that we’re still 8 or so recruits away from the numbers we need in a month.

A look at a time not far from now

(Written by Ken Crawford)

It’s a different time and a different place… the fans are worried.

The previous coach who had showed some promise at first, but then flushed the team down the toilet, has been replaced by someone who did even worse. His last season was even worse than his first. The team had lost the last 5 rivalry games in a row. Frankly, that last good streak of winning teams seems more like an exception to a negative trend than a reason for hope.

What hope for the future is there? Should we even be playing FBS ball? There’s NO WAY we play for a Rose Bowl anytime in the foreseeable future.

Welcome to the fans of Stanford in 2006.

OK, sorry to pull that stunt on everyone…

But I was trying to find a way to show that there is hope out there. So, let’s go take a look at 2006 for a minute:

  • Cal and USC shared the Pac-12 title that year and it looked like these two teams were going to be battling for the conference title every year.
  • Washington was the next worst team to Stanford.
  • Oregon was showing signs of collapse after their strong run in the late 90′s and early 2000′s.
  • Arizona State and UCLA were perpetual underachievers.

Yes, the conference was a very, very, VERY different place than it is right now. Anyone who had predicted that Stanford would be the best team in the conference would be laughed at in 2006. Anyone who said USC was about to falter big-time would be ridiculed, particularly if it was suggested that ASU and UCLA were the ones to displace them in their yet-to-exist division. Heck, even that Oregon was going to be a powerhouse program would be met with a raised eyebrow from many.

Point being, the future is uncertain. Things change in VERY unpredictable ways and surprisingly quickly. Is Dykes the guy to take us to the promised land? It’s reasonable to argue perhaps not. But neither was Walt Harris for Stanford. At the same time, Jim Harbaugh didn’t exactly light up the field his first 3 years, going a combined 9-15 his first two seasons. Dykes might yet surprise us.

Or not… frankly it doesn’t matter (in regards to the point I’m trying to make). What matters is that this is no time to despair. If in 15 years we’re still turning out horrible teams and regularly uncompetitive games, then it might be time to talk. But even Duke has managed to turn it around after having had only ONE winning season since 1990.

And Cal’s not even in that boat. Cal has had a comparatively large amount of recent success.

So, grind away on how unhappy you are with Dykes. Talk about how horrible this team was. Moan and complain about how you hate the scheme on offense. Rip Buh to shreds for his ridiculously bad defense.

But please don’t despair. We aren’t doomed to what we saw on the field this year, forever.

Playing Oregon at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara

(Written by Ken Crawford)

The news came out yesterday that Cal has agreed to play it’s 2014 home game against Oregon on a Friday night at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara.

The university gives two reasons for the decision:

  • They expect a million-dollar bump in revenue from doing this
  • Since Cal has to occasionally play a weeknight game and the UW game in 2012 was problematic, they wanted to play their next one away from campus to ease logistics.

I must admit, after my initial gut reaction of anger subsided, that those reasons seemed pretty reasonable. One can argue how ridiculous it is that Cal has to occasionally play a Thursday or Friday night game at home, but that ship has sailed (at least for the foreseeable future). Cal is stuck with the Pac-12 TV contract for better or worse. And if we can get a two-fer of getting some more money and dealing with the unfortunate contractual situation in a way that doesn’t create additional logistical hassles, that’s a win-win, right?

Until I dug deeper:

Key point #1: this game will not be included in the season ticket package. At some level that’s good. Fans should have the right to opt out of such a game and excluding it from the season ticket package accomplishes that. HOWEVER, who amongst us is stupid enough to think the season ticket prices will be lower next year? I highly, highly, highly doubt it. If I’m wrong, good on Cal. That’s a pretty good compromise. But seeing as how the millions have to come from somewhere, I’m guessing they’re expecting that to come from additional ticket revenue, which means the ticket sales have to be incremental to the normally expected season ticket revenue, not a replacement for lost season ticket revenue.

Key point #2: Levi stadium has just as many logistical problems on Friday night. I’m being told this 2nd hand, but I have no reason to doubt these sources. Apparently Levi has no dedicated parking and they’re overall plan is to rely on all the adjacent businesses for Sunday parking for 49′er games. With this game on a Friday evening, how are they going to make that work? When you add to it that there’s no good public transit options into what I’ve long called the “southbay triangle of hell” (where I-880, US 101 and 237 come together), and this has the makings of a logistical nightmare.

Which all adds up to a poor decision by the University and more cranky Bears fans.

Yo Sandy: Bears fans are already pretty cranky (am I right, joshiemac?), there’s no need to give them more reasons to be upset.

Big Game OTRH Podcast

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Here’s your Thanksgiving gift from me to you:

Closing up the season posts

(Written by Ken Crawford)

I’ll have a few posts in the next week or so:

  • Big Game OTRH Podcast
  • Overall analysis of what went wrong
  • What changes I suggest
  • Blogging plans for the offseason

Big Game preview

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. Both a busy week for me and I kinda needed a week away from thinking about Cal football. Last week’s loss was pretty depressing to me. It’s not just that they lost. It’s that they lost so thoroughly.

The pundits have completely written off the Bears today. They’re expecting a slaughter. I’m actually inclined to disagree with them.

Here’s a question for you, what is the most points Stanford has scored after the month of September? 31 points. And that was in their first game of October. Since then, they’ve never gotten out of the 20s.

Stanford wins games by controlling the football and grinding it out. They’ve actually responded really poorly to trailing in a game. In fact, they lost the only two games that they trailed in (Correction, they trailed in a 3rd, Army, who just happened to score first, but Stanford had the lead before the 2nd quarter started).

The fundamental problem that Stanford has that they do a very good job of hiding is that Hogan is not that good of a QB. The minute you put some pressure on their passing game and force it to be successful or lose, they start making all sorts of offensive mistakes.

So the key to beating Stanford is to beat their defense early for a few scores and then watch them very slowly implode as the clock moves really fast.

Can Cal do that?

If you said yes… please go sell crazy somewhere else.

I guess there’s some theoretical 5% chance that Cal gets a few lucky scores early by throwing over the top and letting their very good WRs fight for the ball against Stanford’s a bit over-aggressive defense. But Cal has shown no inclination to do it and Goff hasn’t exactly excelled at it.

But the real killer is the Cal defense probably doesn’t have what it takes to keep it together even if the above miracle happens. They’re WAY too tempted to give up the easy score. The trailing trend only works if the defense has a backbone.

So Cal loses this one, although merely because Stanford won’t score that many points, it’s also closer than Vegas thinks.

Final score: Cal 13, Stanford 27

Live-blog of Colorado game

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a live-blog, seeing as how I go to so many games, but what the heck…

We’ll do it old-school. Hit the refresh button to see the updates. Post comments in the comment section, I’ll reply in the post-thread.

1:17 PM: Wait until closer to game time for actual commentary.
2:20 PM: Pretty good WSU @ UA game. Not sure why everyone was so surprised that WSU won that one. Arizona still doesn’t have a quality win under its belt. They’re not that good and just have an easy/back-loaded schedule.
2:28 PM: Both Miller of ESPN and two of the three Pac-12Net commentators pick Cal? DOOOOOOOM!
2:30 PM: The team must really like the gray uniforms. I don’t. Yuck! At least they’ve got the blue pants.
1st 15:00: I think we’ll see a lot of touch-backs today.
1st 14:50: Uh-oh… if we let them run like that every down, we’re in trouble.
1st 13:30: Defense in its usual 1st drive funk. Hopefully they use this timeout to kick them into gear.
1st 13:20: Now that’s a lot better pursuit. Key 3rd down here.
1st 12:50: Man have we been susceptible to the hook pattern. Drive continues.
1st 11:00: Not looking bad so far in the rush defense. Pass defense is trouble so far.
1st 10:30: Dang. Cal has had a REAL problem with giving up too many 3rd and longs.
1st 9:30: Yup. The run defense is looking fine. Just not getting the job done in the passing game so far. Although there’s some hope. YES! Finally held on 3rd down. Although looks like another field goal coming… BUT HE MISSED! Cal getting some luck to start today.
1st 8:50: Like the 1st play call. Don’t like the result of the 2nd play though.
1st 8:00: Here’s the problem. Way too often in 3rd and long. We get lucky this time with the interference call, but we can’t live with those sorts of downs and distances.
1st 7:00: I like the dedication to the run game so far, but doing it smartly.
1st 6:30: And that’s the problem with 5000 feet. Those over the top balls are just aching to sail like that.
1st 6:00: Oh, you have to either go for it or kick it here… good. DANG! That’s on the linemen. Goff was calling for the ball but the line wasn’t listening/watching. Pootch kick into the endzone. Dang.
1st 6:00: Well, looks like a balanced game is in front of us. Both reasons for hope and concern. If Goff can find his touch over the top, it would be a BIG benefit. I don’t know what the wind was doing, but am I the only one who thinks D’Amato could have made it from 56 in Boulder?
1st 4:50: That’s the advantage of Boulder… they make those over the top throws. Not horrible coverage overall. Let’s just hope they can’t live on that all day.
1st 3:30: Nice defensive pressure being applied on passing downs by the Bears, but the one long pass gets CU a field goal. Score: 0-3.
1st 2:40: I like the play-calling balance so far.
1st 1:15: Interesting to see all this pootch punting. Is this lack of faith on the punt return unit?
1st 0:45: Hale Dozier (#37) is getting burned. He was on the receiving end of both of the long plays. This is where I accept the argument of the young team/injuries. They really are quite depleted back there. Although I still think Buh should be using defensive schemes that put less on their backs.
2nd 14:50: OUCH! That one hurts. A nicely designed play, but again, as I said in my preview… It’s going to be tough for Cal to come back from down 10. And what’s the score: 0-10.
2nd 14:15: Lawler again. He’s our receiver with the “it” factor. In a key moment, I want the ball thrown to him.
2nd 12:45: I feel like Goff is throwing a bit more dangerous today. Worried about an INT.
2nd 12:30: Good point WIAT, into the wind may help the sailing passes. And there’s the 3rd pootch punt. I wonder if Cal might be able to use that to its advantage a bit later, catching CU sleeping on 4th down.
2nd 11:00: Nice defense on 3rd down. Weren’t fooled on the read-option.
2nd 10:00: This wind stinks. A definite disadvantage for Cal.
2nd 9:30: Lawler again. And then nearly Lawler again. This is our guy.
2nd 9:00: Our WR screens aren’t working at all. CU is pouncing on them. There’s got to be a way to take advantage of that defensive assumption.
2nd 8:30: Way to go D’Amato. The guy has a great leg. We’re going to miss him next year. One of the things I liked about Tedford is that he cared about recruiting punters and FG kickers. Score: 3-10.
2nd 8:30: You know what we haven’t had all year? A momentum changing turnover in Cal’s favor. Boy could we use that right now.
2nd 7:10: Yes, yes, yes, YESSSSS!!! That run from Muhammed has been coming for a while. TOUCHDOWN! Nice job of keeping in bounds through that last tackle. Score tied: 10-10
2nd 5:30: Feels like Cal is over committing to the run and then getting a bit out of position.
2nd 2:00: Jeez, you’d think my Dad the Cal alum wouldn’t call in the middle of the Cal game. And we can blame the events of the last 3 1/2 minutes of game clock on him.
2nd 1:00: That’s the sort of penalty that I both completely understand and think is complete BS. It’s very hard to not bang helmets in a moment like that.
2nd 0:50: Gotta give it to Colorado for knowing when to pounce. Great timing and completely put Cal’s defense on its heels. That’s a killer. Going to be very hard to come back from 14 points down in the 2nd half. Particularly with the wind. Score: 10-24
2nd 0:30: That was HORRIBLE blocking. How can you as a lineman not get out to that guy and pick him up so that Bigelow can focus on running down field. That could have been big.
2nd 0:05: Hail Mary is all we’ve got now for the half. Thankfully we get the ball to start the 2nd.
2nd 0:00: WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT!?! That’s the sort of moment that makes me worry that Dykes and Co. is amateur-hour coaching. There’s no benefit to what they did. If anything it’s just an excuse for a pick-6.

Halftime thoughts:
How many games have gone like this… Cal gets in hole. Cal does something to close the gap and bring the game back into play. But it’s like they’ve used up everything they have and just when they’re back in it, the opposition explodes and it feels like it was all for naught.

The defense just looks tired right now. The power running game of Colorado is starting to bowl over the Cal defense and their passing game is still working, despite the tough conditions (have to give it to their QB for being successful in the conditions). I have a feeling it’s only going to get uglier from here.

Cal needs to find some big halftime adjustments to get back in this one and I just don’t know what sort of options there might be. The cupboard is pretty bare. The bag of tricks is pretty empty. What other worthless platitudes could I use?

3rd 13:00: While not the worst set of plays, the Bears needed more than that on the 1st drive of the 2nd half. They needed a score.
3rd 12:45: Didn’t I say the Bears could use a big interception? YES!
3rd 12:00: Again, a lack of situational awareness. Why are we throwing a 4 yard out on 3rd and long? I even get why you might throw something a few yards short under the thought that between the run after catch and it’s a situation you might go for it on 4th… but THAT was NOT it. Ridiculous. I’m getting really frustrated. I feel like I’ve been patient in waiting to see improvement. And we should be beyond this point by now.
3rd 10:30: Nice stop again on 3rd down by the defense. These guys aren’t giving up. I think they got pretty tired at the end of the 1st half, but the effort is there. I fear we’ll see the same tiredness problem late in the game.
3rd 10:30: Off-topic controversial question of the day: Is Algazira (sp?) America news actually a good alternative to the ridiculously bad major networks (and FoxNews) or is it just a mouth-piece of Muslim radicals? (and yes, I know it need not be an either or)
3rd 10:20: Goff is looking worse as the game wears on. And I fear we won’t have enough commitment to the run game (although the playcalling hasn’t shown that yet)
3rd 9:50: That was a pretty bad spot. But if history tells us anything, the replay booth is VERY reluctant to over rule spot issues.
3rd 9:50: See? (watch for the fake)
3rd 7:00: WOW the switch to Kline. I didn’t expect that. But you know what, the way Goff is struggling, it’s not a bad move. One thing you can’t say about Dykes is that he’s afraid to make a bold move.
3rd 6:50: And then Kline makes a bungle that was far more stereotypical of Goff.
3rd 4:00: Cal defense is starting to look tired again. And why shouldn’t they? The offense isn’t doing anything to give them a rest.
3rd 3:50: Definitely WIAT, those stands look pretty dang empty. I wonder how much the conditions have to do with that and how much the weakness of the team is the issue? In either case, even Memorial hasn’t been that empty.
3rd 2:30: OK, who’s the bozo who voted in the poll after the end of the 1st half? Of COURSE the Bears are going to lose NOW!?!
3rd 0:40: The tired D finally holds, but in the redzone and the field-goal is converted. This game is effectively over. Score: 10-27
4th 15:00: This game feels like it is just going through the motions at this point. I’m sure Kline doesn’t feel that way. But you watch, he’s not going to do anything that impressive. Goff has his problems, but Kline hasn’t shown me anything better either.
4th 14:30: That sort of high-risk play that the backup QB is more willing to make, is not something to write home about. At a different time, that’s a painful interception.
4th 13:00: That’s what a tired defense who is just going through the motions occasionally gives up. And YO announcers… this wasn’t the nail in the coffin. It’s been over for a while now.
4th 12:00: What’s going on with the QBs? Was Goff dealing with a minor injury? Needed to warm up? Dykes sending a message? Very hard to speculate. But I really didn’t expect to see Goff back.
4th 7:30: Colorado still all over the Cal WR screens.
4th 6:00: Cal drives the field late in the game. I guess this could be the beginning of an epic comeback, but it feels more like garbage time points. Score: 17-34
4th 6:00: Speaking of garbage… that onside kick attempt. I get what they were trying to do, but you just CAN NOT let the guy run it back for a TD. So much for the “comeback”: 17-41
4th 5:30: Imagine if there had been no onside kicks today… the score would theoretically be 17-27. Special teams issues have killed the Bears the last two games.
4th 1:30: More garbage time points. Doesn’t matter if it should have been Lawler or if it was Bigelow… it’s still garbage time points. Score: 24-41
4th 1:20: Man, THAT is one empty stadium. It’s gotta be freezing.
4th 1:15: Cal recovers the onside kick this time. That’s the right way to do it as it is defended these days… right up the middle, in between the two defensive groups, and the kicker and one or two others follow/pounce on it after it goes 10 yards.
4th 0:55: Sad that a desperation pseudo-Hail-Mary breaks Goff’s interception free streak.

Final score: 24-41

Really disappointing game. Thus ends the live-blog.

Colorado preview

(Written by Ken Crawford)

This is a really tough one for me. Part of it is that I’ve had a very good season predicting games. Only got one wrong so far and have nailed 3 to 4 depending on how picky one is for having nailed it. I don’t want to mess this one up. :)

The one game I missed was WSU. I thought Cal was going to win in the trenches against a less talented WSU. I was a year behind in understanding where WSU’s talent was. They had gotten a fair bit better. I fear that today I’ll make the same mistake of not appreciating how far Colorado has come.

Thus, I’ve spent a fair amount of time watching Colorado game highlight videos (well, usually the highlight is for the other team) this week. Here’s my assessment:

  • Colorado has BCS conference size/speed. Unlike some of the weaker teams out there who struggle in BCS conferences because they just can’t recruit the bodies like the big boys, Colorado has the bodies.
  • Overall team speed is mediocre, but they’ve got a few really fast guys.
  • Their lines seem OK at getting stalemates in the middle, but aren’t exactly winning. Lot’s of the big plays against them seem to happen when there is just a big heap of guys at the line of scrimmage and the opposition just goes around the big mess.
  • Their linebacker and defensive back units are pretty weak, particularly lacking in speed, but their tackling is not horrible.
  • They seem to start well (they had a lead on Oregon for crying out loud!?!) but also seem to get discouraged later in the game as the opponent points start piling up.

Of all of those things, it’s the last one that worries me. Cal has been starting HORRIBLY, all season. The last thing this team needs is to get in a 10 point hole to start the game against Colorado. Colorado won’t be discouraged late if they’ve got a sizable lead and as the altitude takes it’s toll on Cal more than Colorado, their ability to make a comeback will be diminished.

Moving on, here’s how I see the pros and cons:
Pros:

  • Cal’s offensive scheme can do well when they can be successful on the perimeter, which Colorado is susceptible to.
  • Cal is the more talented team overall.
  • Cal has shown to be slightly better against the same teams.
  • Cal seems better prepared to play 4 quarters.
  • Weather is mild today (55 and partly couldy is as good as it gets in mid-November).

Cons:

  • Colorado starts the game strong.
  • The game is at Colorado which is the best home field advantage in the conference, being at 5000 feet. (Anybody remember how sluggish the Bears were at 4400 feet in SLC last year?)
  • Colorado’s defense is statistically stronger across the board

The more I think about it, the big question is, can Cal get the run game working today. Passing over the top is going to be very difficult for Cal at altitude, so Colorado will load up on the short passing game. (This is particularly true since they’re expecting a fair amount of wind today.) But because of the spread nature of the Cal passing game, the way for Cal to neutralize that is to run well between the tackles. And if there is good news, Colorado is by far the weakest team against the run Cal has faced all season. Add to that, that Cal has been getting significantly better running the ball and the offensive line has made real progress, and there’s reason for hope here.

So Cal needs to come out and hit Colorado in the mouth and have success running the ball early and the defense needs to be able to do what it hasn’t all season, get early stops. If Cal can do that, as the game wears on, they have the potential to stretch out a good lead as the game wears on.

If they don’t, if Cal is dependent on the passing game and the defense gives up a couple scores, it’ll still be a tight game, but the attempts at a comeback will fall a bit short. It’ll feel a bit like the Arizona game where the team gets close, but can never quite get over the hump. Every time it looks like the comeback might be real, an exhausted defense will give up something that kills the comeback opportunity.

But I’m going with option A, the Bears come out and hit them in the mouth early and the defense plays what looks like one of their best games of the season (but that will be mostly because of the quality of the competition).

Bears win this key one: 31-20

Tie-breakers are ordered wrong

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Tie-breakers are always something that cause controversy when they’re used but get little attention elsewhere. Nevertheless, I was looking at the Pac-12 division title tie-breakers and I think they’ve got them in a bad order:

  1. Head to head (in case of multiple teams, record against all the tied teams)
  2. Record in the division
  3. Record against the next highest team in the division (so 3rd place in 2-way tie, 4th place in 3-way, etc.) and then iterate down the list from the highest to lowest until the tie is broken
  4. Record in common conference games
  5. BCS standing

All of it seems reasonable except #3 and #4, which should be swapped. The problem with #3 is that for it to break the tie you have to ask yourself a difficult question.

See, for it to matter all the tied teams must have the same division record (see tie-breaker #2) and must have lost to someone outside the tied teams. A common example would be teams A, B and C each are 7-2 in conference. They have a circle in head to head (A beat B, B beat C, C beat A). But they each lost one other divisional game. So let’s say A lost to the team in 4th place, B lost to 5th place and C lost to 6th place.

So what’s “worse” or said another way, what should eliminate you from the tie-breaker? Is team C beating #4 a big positive, but their losing to team #6 not much a negative… or is it the other way around? Is the fact that you lost to a really bad team worse than the fact that you beat a higher team? It’s a difficult question without an objective answer. The Pac 12 decided beating the higher team is more important, which is fine, but arguable as to whether it’s the right choice. Thus it should be as low a tie-breaker as possible.

Tie-breaker #4 however is a great/important one in our divisional, highly unbalanced schedules. A new scenario: Teams A, B and C are 7-2 in conference and 5-1 in division. The only division loss is the circle of loses to each other. But team B has two conference losses because they’re the only ones who played Oregon and the other two got lucky, schedule wise. They instead lost to Washington State. Assuming team B also played WSU (and won), they should win the tie-breaker, right?

So, the way to make that happen is by looking at all common opponents, since that would eliminate a games against tough teams only one team had to play. It doesn’t always work (the other teams could have lost to non-common opponents as well), but when it does, it’s the most even judge and a very important factor in each team’s conference record. Eliminate the games that aren’t in common and then see how it turns out. It’s an objectively good way to judge the teams.

Thus, in my opinion, the conference needs to swap tie-breakers #3 and #4.

(BTW, unlike this will come into play this year. Any potential tie-breakers should be solved by head-to-head this time out (3-ways are unlikely (most likely: ASU loses to both UCLA and Oregon State, UCLA loses to USC, USC loses to Stanford and they all have a 6-3 conference record. Tie breaker would be BCS standing unless ASU loses to Arizona instead of Oregon State in which case it would be divisional record and USC goes to title game.)).)

USC OTRH Podcast

(Written by Ken Crawford)

It looks like Thursday is my day. Here it is:

The common opponent test

(Written by Ken Crawford)

One of the benefits about late season games is there are often many common opponents to judge. Here’s the Colorado line-up:

Oregon: Cal lost 55-16, Colorado lost 57-16 (odd to share 16 points…)
UCLA: Cal lost 37-10, Colorado lost 45-23
Oregon State: Cal lost 49-17, Colorado lost 44-17 (another common score)
Washington: Cal lost 41-17, Colorado lost 59-7
Arizona: Cal lost 33-28, Colorado lost 44-20

Note, every game had the same home vs. away status except Oregon and Oregon State where they were swapped (Cal played @ Oregon and OSU at home and Colorado played @OSU and Oregon at home).

Overall, the two teams played equivalently in 3 (Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA), Cal had a less horrible blowout vs. Washington (not something to hang one’s hat on) and Cal played Arizona much closer. Slight edge to Cal.

How about based on points:
Cal: 215 against, 88 for
Colorado: 249 against, 83 for
Edge for Cal

Overall conclusion, Cal looks to have a SLIGHT edge in common opponents, but not a whole lot. Definitely not enough to inherently out-weigh the advantage Colorado has playing at home at 5000 feet.

USC preview

(Written by Ken Crawford)

I’m really not looking forward to writing this review. I’m not the type of guy that likes dancing on anyone’s grave and that’s what it would take to be excited about what we’re going to see tomorrow.

Simply put, the Bears are going to get crushed.

USC is and will continue to be the sleeping giant in the conference. They are still hands down the most talented team in the conference, even with the scholarship sanctions. The way the season had been going for the spoiled children, I had hoped I wouldn’t have to focus on the raw talent of USC, because talent is meaningless in football unless it is focused and refined in a team. Kiffin seemed to be doing everything in his power to make sure there was no refining and oddly, despite being very focused personally and seeming to want it for the team, it just seemed they were “focused” like a hyper-active kid on sedatives… can you really call it focus?

Orgeron seems to have been the perfect pick for interim head coach. He’s not going to work miracles, but what he has seemed to do is take the sedative shackles off a very talented bunch and let them go out there and push people around. They seem excited to play and and have a nasty combination of feeling like they have nothing to lose and a take no prisoners attitude.

So here’s how it’s going to go…

The Bears are going to lose BIG in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Expect to see the Bears just looking silly a lot. Big run plays for the Trojans. Tons of time for Kessler to find receivers and big passing plays as coverage breaks down. On the other side, offensive plays for the Bears that are just blown up will be all too frequent and quite cringe worthy. Don’t ever expect the Bears to get in a rhythm.

However, the upside is you’re also going to see a messy game with lots of mistakes. “Duh” would be the response for expecting that of Cal, but USC will make their share of mistakes too. As a result, Cal might get a few big plays to give us hope, perhaps one or two special teams too.. USC might even cough up the ball now and again (I’d call for some easy picks if it weren’t for the fact this Cal secondary is pathetically bad at having a nose for the ball). Cal might get a big sack on a busted assignment or good blitz package. These flashes of hope might even be frequent enough that if the talent differences weren’t so vastly different that it could sway the outcome of the game.

But it won’t be… not even close. It’s just be a couple blips of joy amongst a really tough game to watch. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb: Tomorrow will be the lowest point of the first half of the Dykes era. If you’re a positive person, it means it only gets better from here. If not… well… sorry.

Bears lose big: Cal 13, USC 52

Arizona OTRH Podcast

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Dang, I thought I was on a positive trend. Back to Thursday…

Here it is:

I don’t want to hear any more BS from the students

(Written by Ken Crawford)

For much of the Tedford era there was a constant refrain from the students in the Cal blogosphere: “The Alumni side wasn’t making any noise… don’t they care!?!”

What a difference a few years makes:

I noticed this too at the game, but nice to see it from a professional reporter:

- The Cal student section at Memorial Stadium had perhaps 200 fans when the game began at 12:30 p.m.

That’s right students. The Alumni side was about 60% full when the game started and only filled in minimally more throughout the game. We WERE THERE to cheer on our team when they came out of the tunnel. Over in the student section, it was 5% full at that point, and maybe, just maybe, grew to match the percentage of the alumni side at its peak.

Thus for time immortal, I will reference this post whenever some sophomoric genius gets his panties in a wad about lack of noise from the alumni… because you know what, it’s the alumni that can be counted on to show up and root for their Bears no matter what.

The students are FAR more fickle.

We needed that one

(Written by Ken Crawford)

For the first time in a long time, the Bears were competitive in a game. Arizona was as suspect as I thought and the Cal defense did a reasonable job of keeping their one strength in line. All we needed was for the offense to be reasonably competent for all 4 quarters and the Bears would have a MUCH needed win under its belt.

Instead, we got a fist half with pathetic play calling outside the first drive and the last couple (so bad that it resulted in giving up a safety) and an interception in the 2nd half where Goff and Harper were AMAZINGLY not on the same page. That resulted in the final 7 points for Arizona that ultimately put the game out of reach. (The other interception was not nearly as bad, just thrown a little late and not over the top enough.)

Dab-nabbit! We really, really, really, really, needed that one!

So I find myself going back and forth, fighting myself. Should I be happy about the positives I saw? Or should I be disgusted that in game 9 we’re just starting to see these improvements? Should I be looking at the potential on the field if the Bears continue to improve? Or should I be looking at just how far the Bears are from where they need to be to beat the better teams in this conference?

I’ll let you know how the internal fight works out in my next post…

Arizona preview

(Written by Ken Crawford)

I’ve really toiled in my mind trying to get a sense of how good this Arizona team is. As I mentioned earlier in the week, they are VERY unproven. But unproven doesn’t mean bad.

After looking over a number of things, what scares me is their power running game. If you had asked me before the Washington game, I probably wouldn’t be as scared about that. But the supposed strength of the defense, the run defense, fell apart last week when faced with a tougher running game.

Frankly, this game will be won and lost in the trenches when Cal is on defense. It will also be won and lost based on Cal’s tackling.

If I was the head coach and I had no scrupples, I’d be soaking their Wheaties in testosterone. The more ethical part of me would have been working all week at practice on how to get these guys ready to be nasty in the trenches tomorrow and working on a great speech before the game like Bethea did before the 2003 USC game.

And a big part of why I’d be working my butt off for this one is because this game is REALLY important. Imagine if the Bears lose this one. Then the team isn’t sitting on a lot of confidence going into the following Saturday against a USC that is ripe for a couple more upsets this year. It’s a team that, even if they beat Colorado, will exit the season with no wins to build on. All they could do was beat the doormats.

But let us say that they win tomorrow. Now you’ve got a team that is full of hope. You’ve got a team that believes in itself and has turned a corner. Now you have a team that just might be ready to upset USC the following weekend. And if you pull off that miracle, now we’re looking at a team that could be on a 3-game win streak when they head into the Tin-Bowl on the farm, into the Big Game where anything can happen… particularly to a 2-loss Stanford team that at that point will be locked into the Alamo bowl no matter what (Yes, I’m predicting Oregon beats Stanford). And even if it doesn’t get quite that far, the Bears will have at least one win to feel good about going into the off-season.

As for the other side of the ball, I think the Cal offense has been showing signs of slowly re-working things to get productive again. The offense that was scoring 30+ points a game is still there, hiding between the mistakes and miscues. I also think there might be some hope for the running game to see some improvement. They won’t be great. But they might at least force Arizona to give it a little defensive attention. I think the offensive line configuration is better, but it has taken them a game, and may take them part of tomorrow’s game, to gel. I think Goff will do much better at home.

Yet at the same time, at best I see them giving a performance like the Northwestern game. Still too sloppy and still hurting themselves with mistakes and miscues. I worry that even if the yardage numbers go back up, we’ll still be kicking too many field goals when in the redzone. This team just hasn’t really turned the corner yet.

So to recap:

  • This game couldn’t be more important.
  • I have a feeling the offense gets better this week.
  • It will be won and lost based on Cal’s toughness in the front-seven against Arizona’s power run game.

But through all that, I’m just not ready to call for the upset.

Final score: Cal 27, Arizona 31

Heard Sandy speak last night

(Written by Ken Crawford)

There’s a great Cal Bear fan club in Sacramento called the Sac Grid Club. It goes waaaaay back in Cal’s history when fans/alumni were allowed to recruit and so Cal had a grid of clubs up and down the west coast. Just a few of them are still in existence and have morphed from being an arm of the recruiting department to being independent fan clubs.

In any case, every week they bring in surprisingly good speakers including Sandy Barbour once a year. I don’t often make it to the meetings because I generally have a conflict at Church on Wednesday evenings. But since it just so happens I was free yesterday and Sandy was the planned speaker, I couldn’t resist going. (Ironically, they still had a name-tag for me, one that said “Guest speaker” since the last time I was there it was to speak as a Rivals reporter.)

If you’ve never heard Sandy speak in a small setting, I suggest finding a time to do so. She is very personable. She’s a very good fit for Cal. You can’t help but like her and her sense of humor and her general honesty.

Here are some highlights from her talk:

  • The number of night games is a concern of both her and our new chancellor. Investigations are under way to see how much it would cost to “buy back” some of the flexibility we sold/allowed the TV networks to schedule so many night games. However, she cautioned that a number of the other Pac-12 presidents aren’t so upset about it. She said only Arizona is truly in our camp. But it was apparent to me she thinks that if the number of dollars lost is small enough to fix the problem, she believes the other schools will come on board.
  • In regards to academics, she spoke at length about the lag in the APR and GSR numbers and what they reflect. She talked about the steps already taken to fix the problem. She expects the basketball numbers to rebound significantly next year but there will be one more bad year for the football team based on the delay/averaging effects. She shared some of what the new numbers that will be replacing the old numbers will be in the future and they are quite encouraging. She specifically said she apologizes, that it is her responsibility and she expects better, just like we do.
  • She clarified that the issue with academics isn’t that kids are flunking classes but that they are not completing their degrees, that the complete their eligibility and then just disappear, evening going so far as to not complete the spring semester that is covered by their scholarship. She said the number of kids who have flunked out of school or have been academically ineligible has been small. Obviously that is true of the GSR, which is specifically tied to graduation, but I was a bit curious as to how that applies to the APR, which explicitly doesn’t require graduation (it’s one of the criticisms of it). Maybe the seniors who aren’t completing their spring semester are a big part… although it feels a bit dubious. Frankly, of everything she said last night, this was the part I was least convinced about being the whole truth.
  • She has a lot of confidence that the football team is going to get a lot better next year, and referenced the youth, tough schedule, injuries and the difficulty of changing the culture as why we’re not good this year.
  • Along those lines, she specifically mentioned that consistency of discipline under Tedford had suffered (although she didn’t mention him by name in this regard). That “depending where you were on the depth chart” the rules would be enforced differently. I found that to be very troubling. I’d heard rumors of it, but when the AD is talking about it, that’s pretty hard to swallow. Similarly, she talked about how Dykes agrees with her on a core rule principle: “Don’t make a rule unless you’re willing to enforce it.”
  • Sometimes we get overly focused on Football, but it is Sandy’s job to look over the whole program and she pointed out a lot of the very good things happening. The swimming teams are top notch. Golf will very good again. She has a lot of hope for the basketball teams. The academics outside of Football and men’s basketball are very good.
  • She talked about the value of the athletics department to the University as a whole. She mentioned that sports are the “connective tissue” that keeps alumni connected to their school. Looping back to the night game topic, she mentioned that a big part of how it keeps alumni connected is by getting them on campus frequently. That doesn’t happen as meaningfully when walking in and out of the stadium after the sun goes down (my language here).

Overall, I found the talk to be very worth attending and gave me some renewed confidence in what the athletic department as a whole is doing. Sandy has a very difficult job and seems to have the right goals in mind. Does she always meet them? No. But seems to be doing a better than acceptable job in the attempt.

Finally, one conclusion I walked away with was how “distracting” the building projects have been for the department as a whole. Sandy came to us from Notre Dame where she was the associate AD in charge of their building projects. I’m sure that means she was pretty hands on with the new training center and the stadium renovation. It led me to wonder if perhaps a side effect is that some of the other things, like making sure academics were top-notch, may have paid a penalty. One can only have so many priorities. The result is that some things that may have atrophied, will be coming back strong now that the building projects are complete.

Go Bears! (and thank you Sandy for coming up to visit!)