Cal Football and anything that relates

Arizona Live Blog

(Written by Ken Crawford)

I’ll be live blogging the game at 7 PM. Come back and join the fun!
(Remember you have to go to the single-post view, not the main page, to see the live-blogging updates)

Arizona Preview

(Written by Ken Crawford)

The first thing I do before writing my preview post is to read all the various pundits thoughts on the matchup. I was expecting the consensus to more or less say that Arizona is favored but look out for those up and coming Bears. Surprisingly, I saw very little of that. If anything, there seemed to be consensus that Arizona should be much better than Cal and win handily if they don’t overlook Cal.

Frankly, as Cal fans, we should hope that the Arizona players and coaches are soaking in every word of the praise.

The reality is we know as little about how good Arizona is as we do about Cal. There’s nothing on their resume that’s the least bit impressive. UNLV is 1-2, losing badly to Northern Illinois as well as Arizona. UTSA challenged Arizona pretty good, but the thought was that UTSA was better than their reputation having beat Houston soundly in week 1. But they got stomped by Oklahoma State in week 3 and frankly the Houston win isn’t looking that good either (they’re 1-2 as well).

Which brings us to Nevada, the most interesting game in the list. Nevada has some history of success in recent years, but last year was a step back for them (4-8). So the question is whether the 2014 Wolf Pack is a return to previous form, in which case Arizona’s win, while not overwhelming, would be evidence of a reasonably good team. And the answer to that question lies in how good WSU is (who Nevada beat), because it’s the only potential impressive win on Nevada’s 3 game schedule.

My conclusion from all this is that Arizona is a middle of the road Pac-12 team that isn’t firing on all cylinders, at least not yet.

In my mind that makes them vulnerable to the much improved Bears, particularly if they let the betting line and the pundits define what they think of Cal.

Thinking as a longtime Bear fan, the biggest thing that worries me about this game is that it’s in Tucson. The Bears have a history of not doing well in the desert. I’ve been to Wildcat stadium. It’s a tough place to play. The fans are relentless and mean and surprisingly LOUD.

If there’s good news in the above, the Bear Raid always uses the silent snap count, even at home, so perhaps the noise won’t have as much as an effect as I’d fear. It didn’t seem to matter at Northwestern.

On the positive side of the ledger is that the Bears had two weeks to prepare and the KNOW how important this game is. It’s not quite at the level of Northwestern, which was circled on their calendar for the last 12 months, but this Cal team knows that Saturday is a critically important game for the program’s future. Win this one and all the long negative streaks are over. Win this one and a lot of 2nd guessing will go away. And with two weeks to prepare, you can be sure every second of it was used to prepare for Arizona (instead of general work the 1st week and game preparation the 2nd). From that perspective, the early season couldn’t have setup better for the Bears (multiple weeks to prepare for both of the key early matchups).

But are the Bears good enough?

That one is tougher to call. I think the offense is good enough to score points and Arizona’s defense hasn’t been overwhelming. It’s the other side of the ball that concerns me more. Cal’s defense looked pretty good against Northwestern, but I really think that team is in bad shape. Can the defensive line be as disruptive against Arizona as they were against NW? Can the secondary keep the plays in front of them and not give up those 2 or 3 big plays that can sink an otherwise good effort? It’s likely the Bears defense will show it isn’t as good as we’d hope.

In the end, I think these teams are close enough to each other that effort will be the difference and these Bears are hungry. REALLY hungry. Hungry and ticked off and ready to play like their lives depend on it. And that’s going to be the difference.

Bears win: Cal 38 – Arizona 30

Pac-12 review (3rd week edition)

(Written by Ken Crawford)

It could have been a GREAT week for the conference if it weren’t for USC who dropped a bomb so stinky one wonders how long it will be before they can play games again at that stadium. Straight to the review today (again in power ranking order):

  1. Oregon 48 – Wyoming 14: Not exactly the same level of opponent as the prior week, but Oregon did what they needed to do and remain the top team in the conference. I’d say the conference championship goes through Eugene except for the fact that the conference championship game will be played at Levi stadium.
  2. UCLA 20 – Texas 17: UCLA has to be riding a lot of confidence after that game. To have the backup QB come in and win the game for them was a huge confidence boost after two shaky wins the prior weeks. If there were someone else who was playing at a high level, UCLA wouldn’t be in the #2 spot, but with the problems below UCLA, they get the #2 spot by default.
  3. Arizona State 38 – Colorado 24: (ASU entry) I’d probably put ASU in the #2 spot if it weren’t for the fact their only proven QB went down last week with a foot injury and won’t make it back for their next game, a key match up against UCLA. Add the fact that they have yet to play anyone any good and it’s a leap too far for me to put them so high up.
  4. Washington 44 – Illinois 19: UW showed they’ve got resolve in their crushing win over the Illini. This feels like a team that wasn’t quite in rhythm the 1st two weeks but is now hitting their stride. We shouldn’t over value this one, but UW raises a long way up the list.
  5. Stanford 35 – Army 0: A very convincing win by Stanford. It sure looks like their defense is for real giving up 13 points in 3 games. However, they can’t go too much higher on the list, because they lost to the team that laid the stink bomb. I think Stanford is going to have a tough time winning games against good defenses.
  6. Arizona 35 – Nevada 28: It’s really hard to read Nevada this year. They’re obviously not terrible, but this is not a great Nevada team. Thus Arizona gets a bump up in the rankings because they are 3-0 and are starting to look a little less shaky than in the 1st two weeks.
  7. Utah (bye): Utah slips a bit on the bye due to Arizona, UW and UCLA surging.
  8. Boston College 37 – USC 31 What in tarnations is going on at USC? The only explanation I have for USC is that Stanford must not be that good when faced with a team with some defense. That’s the only thing that makes what happened on Saturday even remotely believable.
  9. Cal (bye): Couldn’t quite bring myself to put Cal above USC and thus Cal slips from the surge of UW and Arizona.
  10. Oregon State (bye): A surprising number of teams with a bye in the 3rd week, huh? Nothing changes with OSU’s resume while on the bye, so they still sit fairly low due to their less than impressive 1st two weeks. If there’s a team that might be too low, this is it.
  11. Arizona State 38 – Colorado 24: (Colorado entry) What’s more impressive, a road win over UMass or a home win over Portland state? I think it has to be UMass, and that’s why Colorado keeps its spot above WSU. Also, the lose to ASU wasn’t a blowout, which should give hope to the program they might be able to compete in some Pac-12 games this year.
  12. Washington State 59 – Portland State 21: Congras Wougs, you’ve got one in the win column. And it was not a bad showing even. However, with Nevada losing to Arizona, that loss continues to look worse and Rutgers isn’t tearing it up either. So while they’ve closed the gap, WSU still is on the bottom of the totem pole.

But overall, only one non-conference loss this week, which is generally good. However, the USC loss really hurts. The conference needs those sorts of games in the win column, particularly if USC does well in conference.

Anybody know a “Pac-12 friendly” sports bar in or near Roseville?

(Written by Ken Crawford)

I understand why/how it happened, but the WORST thing about the new Pac-12 is that all games on the Pac-12 network are pretty difficult to go see at a sports bar. Almost all sports bars have DirecTV because overall it has the most sports channels, particularly the NFL. However, since DirecTV and the Pac-12 network can’t come to terms, it means that the Cal game is not available at most sports bars. So when a cheap bum like me who isn’t willing to pay for cable wants to watch a Cal game, I’ve got very, very, very few options.

Since this Saturday’s game against Arizona is on Pac-12 networks, that’s a very long way of saying, anybody know of a sports bar (or really any place I can reasonably go and watch the game) close to Roseville, that uses Comcast or Dish or any other provider that carries the Pac-12 network?

ARG! Comments enabled again

(Written by Ken Crawford)

I seriously don’t understand how this keeps happening. The last comment made was Friday evening, so it turned off sometime after that. I was out of town all weekend. All I managed to do is get in a quick post on my smart phone on Saturday. I can’t possibly imagine what I would have done to turn off commenting.

I like wordpress, but in this case, this is all I have to say to say to them:

Comments are now re-enabled.

Pac-12 review (2nd week edition)

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Got back from my weekend away a couple hours ago. The game is downloading as we speak. Hopefully I’ll be able to watch it later tonight. But in the meantime, here’s a review of the other games around the Pac-12.

The conference only lost one non-conference game (WSU to Nevada) but there were a lot of underwhelming performances against weak teams that still ended up in the win column. The lone conference game was a defensive nail biter. Here’s a review (in power ranking order):

  1. Oregon 46 – Michigan State 27: Oregon started the game strong, but MSU game roaring back in the 2nd quarter for a 24-18 halftime lead, which they extended to 27-18 early in the 3rd. However, it was all Oregon from that point out and they scored the game’s final 4 touchdowns to win 46-27. It’s by far the most impressive win of the conference so far this season and solidifies their position on top.
  2. USC 13 – Stanford 10: (USC’s entry) USC broke the tie with 2:36 left in the game, but Stanford managed to get down the field to the USC 22, at which point the USC defense took over, sacking Hogan on two consecutive plays and forcing a fumble on the 2nd, which USC recovered. Thus USC takes the #2 spot, leapfrogging Stanford.
  3. Arizona State 58 – New Mexico 23: ASU keeps beating up on weak opponents, which would incline me to put them lower. But a power ranking includes momentum, and this team is well positioned for a strong run in the next few weeks.
  4. USC 13 – Stanford 10: (Stanford’s entry) Logically, if the #2 team barely lost to the #3 team, they should just fall one spot to #3. However, early in the season it’s not that simple and the confidence blow costs them a spot. It would have been more spots if what lies below wasn’t so mediocre.
  5. Utah 59 – Fresno State 27: My gut tells me Utah won’t keep this spot, but when they beat Fresno State as convincingly as the #2 team in the power ranking, they deserve a bump up, particularly when other teams are under performing so much.
  6. UCLA 42 – Memphis 35: UCLA came into the season as a pundit favorite to win the Pac-12. So far they haven’t shown they’re worthy of the praise. I was tempted to drop them lower, but the bar below is pretty low.
  7. Cal 55 – Sac State 14: Beating up on an FCS team shouldn’t be over stated, but Cal did so quite convincingly. Frankly, if Northwestern hadn’t lost to Northern Illinois, confirming that NW is a mess of a team (and thus Cal’s win not that impressive), I might have been tempted to put them above UCLA. As of now, Cal sits at the bottom of the “both wins were solid” pile with UCLA sneaking in above them based on pre-season seeding.
  8. Arizona 26 – UTSA 23: Arizona take a big fall after struggling with UTSA. Now admittedly, UTSA is better this year than normal, having soundly beaten Houston the week before. But this is still no great team and the struggles put Arizona below the teams that don’t have a eyebrow raising (in a negative way) game.
  9. Oregon State 38 – Hawaii 30: The Pac-12 better hope that Hawaii is vastly improved from last year, because thus far they’ve been giving surprisingly good teams (or so we think) fits. As of right now, OSU and Washington have similar resume’s, but I give OSU the edge due to what appears to be a better defense.
  10. Washington 59 – Eastern Washington 52: The supposedly strong Huskies are stinking it up thus far about as bad as a team can and still be undefeated and thus at the bottom of the 2-0 pile.
  11. Colorado 41 – UMass 38: Colorado is out of the doghouse but just *BARELY*. I can’t imaging a more pathetic 1-1 resume. In fact, there are a number or 0-2 teams I would put in front of them. But considering what’s below, a weak 1-1 still gets them out of the cellar.
  12. Nevada 24 – Washington State 13: The wheels are falling off the bus in Pullman. While in fairness, the two teams they’ve played are better than a fair number of other opponents around the league, they’re still not exactly overwhelming opponents and WSU should have beaten both of them if they expect to be competitive in the conference.

At this point, there’s only 4 teams who’s results coupled with pre-season expectations would suggests the Bears couldn’t hang with them (Oregon, USC, ASU and Stanford). Since Cal doesn’t have to play ASU, one has to think that if the team can deliver on the promise they’ve shown thus far, a winning record (and not just barely 6-6) seems well within reach.

Sac State 1st thoughts

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Wow! I did not see that coming. I have not yet seen anything but the box score, but based on that, this was quite a beat down.

Gotta feel good about the team going into the bye week, and with two weeks to prepare, one has to feel good about our chances against Arizona.

How do others feel about that matchup at this point?

Sac State preview

(Written by Ken Crawford)

It’s not hard to predict a winner of this game. You’d really have to be high on Sac State and low on Cal to predict anything but a Cal victory. I mean, just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong against a very similar caliber team (Portland State) last year and the Bears still squeaked out a victory.

So the question becomes, what sort of game should we expect.

I’m expecting the Bears to take a step back. Call this a “letdown game”. The Bears had the Northwestern Game circled on their calendar from the moment last year’s disappointing game ended. It got double and triple circled at the end of the season when it was clear that redemption for a miserable 2013 would only come in 2014.

And this was quite clear last Saturday. As an Oregon fan friend of mine said, “The Bears played the 1st quarter of the game like their lives depended on it.” Add to this various quotes from Dykes that he both played up the importance of the game and started game planning for Northwestern earlier than normal (two weeks into camp), and it’s quite clear the Bears were hyper-focused for the game.

Now, to be clear, I think this was wise. With Sac State next on the schedule and a bye after that, it allows the team to have that sort of singular focus on the Northwestern game.

However, as a result of that singular focus, I expect to see a flatter team tomorrow and more mistakes. I also expect to see a more generic game-plan, both because Dykes will want to hide the more creative aspects of his plans from future opponents and because they won’t have spent nearly as long optimizing the game-plan as they did for Northwestern.

Luckily, the Bears have the talent to easily beat Sac State.

Plus, Sac State is not the same team they were 2 and 3 years ago when they beat Pac-12 teams in huge upsets.

Let’s get down to the specifics… I expect the Bears to come out running the ball and until Dykes feels he’s gotten all the kinks worked out (or learned all he can), he’s going to keep running the ball. He’ll see this as a game to work on the area of the offense that still isn’t pleasing him.

The defense will be playing pretty vanilla coverages (again, don’t give future opponents too much revealing game-film) and as a result, the ‘giving 120% to try for the huge upset’ Sac State will probably have a little early success on offense.

So the 1st half will be a lower scoring affair than we’d expect and Sac State will likely score a couple times. Somewhere around 17-10 Cal at half.

But in the 2nd half, a tired Sac State team won’t be able to keep up with the more talented Bears and Cal will extend the lead in the 3rd quarter. By the middle of the 4th quarter, the backups will be in for both teams and Cal will comfortably cruise to the win, but overall people will be nervous about the slow start.

Final Score: Cal 41 – Sac State 20

Pac-12 review (1st week edition)

(Written by Ken Crawford)

The 1st week is in the books and the conference went 10-2. The only two losses were Colorado to Colorado State, quite surprising, and WSU to Rutgers, a mild surprise. Here’s breaking down each game/team (in power ranking order):

  1. Oregon 62 – South Dakota 13: Oregon starts the season in the pole position and their easy win over South Dakota doesn’t change anything. It’s a little bit disconcerting that Oregon gave up 370 yards to such a weak team, but at some point one is straining at gnats trying to find weaknesses. We’ll find out next week when they host Michigan State if they really deserve their spot at the top.
  2. Stanford 45 – UC Davis 0: Any shutout is impressive, even when it is UC Davis. I’m not sure Stanford will keep the #2 spot, but amongst the others who would contend for that spot, Stanford made the easiest work of their weak 1st week opponent.
  3. USC 52 – Fresno State 13: I watched part of this game and USC definitely has strong talent. They were a little bit sloppy and they most definitely lack depth, but this is a team that appears to be on the rise. They leap frog ASU and UCLA to take the #3 spot.
  4. Arizona State 45 – Weber State 14: Don’t let the 14 points fool you. It was 38-0 and then ASU clearly went into 2nd string mode. But Weber State might just have been the weakest team on the week 1 schedule for the Pac-12, so it excludes ASU from the top of the list.
  5. UCLA 28 – Virginia 20: UCLA didn’t live up to their hype in week 1, but let’s go a little easy on them. Cal fans know how tough it is to make the cross country trip for a 9 AM East Coast game. Nevertheless, the uninspiring offensive performance knocks them out of contention for the top spots in the power rankings after week 1. They’ll have a shot at redemption in weeks 3 and 4 when traveling to Texas and ASU in back-to-back weeks.
  6. Arizona 58 – UNLV 13: How good is UNLV? I mean, we know they’re not GOOD, but are they truly terrible, or are they middling enough that a 58-13 win for Arizona is something to be impressed with? Well, it’s hard to say, but it’s good enough for me to move Arizona up in the power rankings significantly. However, it won’t take much evidence for me to bump them down significantly if Arizona doesn’t perform strongly in the coming weeks.
  7. Oregon State 29 – Portland State 14: Oregon State under impressed me this weekend, particularly considering PSU was leading at halftime, 14-13. OSU keeps itself half way up the list based on pre-season expectations and a stronger 2nd half that helped them win the game.
  8. Cal 31 – Northwestern 24: Cal would have been a couple spots higher if they hadn’t let NW back into the game in the late 3rd quarter. However, despite starting the season at the bottom of the list, considering the quality of the opponent and the win coming on the road, Cal leap-frogs a number of teams after that win.
  9. Utah 56 – Idaho State 14:Utah didn’t do anything overly impressive against ISU, although one shouldn’t overlook the yards and points they put up. Nevertheless, there’s not much here that changes what one would think of the Utes. So they pretty much stay where they were, above the worst teams, but not quite in the middle. True, the worst teams now include UW and WSU and the middle for the pack includes Arizona and Cal, but overall the Utes more or less hold position.
  10. Washington 17 – Hawaii 16: A squeaker against a HORRIBLE Hawaii team? Not something that builds confidence. Washington thus tumbles more than any team and finds itself of the bottom of the list of teams that won their game. Not much of a chance for redemption until they host Stanford at the end of the month. Although if they keep playing the way they did on Saturday, they could lose one before then.
  11. Rutgers 41 – Washington State 38: Don’t under appreciate Rutgers. They have more talent and can play a better game than people give them credit for. Nevertheless, the late cross country game on Thursday for Rutgers put them in a pretty big hole and for WSU to be unable to find any meaningful defense is disconcerting. Thus this WSU team also goes tumbling in my estimation and here’s hoping they are as beatable as they looked in week 1 when the Bears make the trip to Pullman in early October.
  12. Colorado State 31 – Colorado 17: While I wasn’t expecting great things from Colorado this season, I was expecting more than a lost to CSU. In fairness, CU was leading late in the 3rd quarter and then the wheels came off the bus. Don’t completely write Colorado off yet, but this was not the start they were looking for and they FOR SURE are now looking up at the rest of the conference, particularly as long as Cal and Utah keep winning.

Overall, I think every team from Arizona down is beatable by Cal at this point. Not that Cal will win them all, but in all of them, based on the 1st week’s play, Cal has the talent and the team to win with a good effort.

Post Northwestern Sunday Morning thoughts

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Nice for the Bears to have a win under their belt. It was all the way back in 2011 the last time the Bears were 1-0. Here is a lists of pros and cons to take from the game:

Pros:

  • A win! Let’s start with the basics. No matter what transpired, what matters at the end of the day is who won.
  • Goff looked good. He had a few misthrows, but overall he made good decisions, and was fairly accurate with the ball.
  • Running backs were significantly improved. I liked the toughness and resiliency of both Mohammed and Lasco. They both did a good job of getting the few yards they could even when the play didn’t go as planned. They also were pretty good at sneaking through small holes.
  • The OL was significantly improved in pass-protection. Goff left the game with his jersey the same color as when it started. He was sacked just twice (and if I remember right, one was not totally the OL’s fault).
  • Rubenzer! Boy was that a surprise. Sure doesn’t look like they’re too concerned with his redshirt. However, for this schtick to be compelling moving forward, Rubenzer is going to have to prove he can throw the ball consistently without mind-numbing interceptions. Otherwise the defense won’t respect the pass and his running lanes will be far and few between.
  • Interceptions. Nice to see the Bears looking for the ball and actually intercepting it twice.
  • Special teams. I’m very comforted by the fact that there’s very little to talk about on this front. That’s a big improvement from the past.
  • Run defense. There’s room for improvement, but overall I was happy with the run defense.

Cons:

  • I don’t think Northwestern is very good. They seemed to find their groove for about 10 minutes in the 2nd half, but overall this was a distracted, poorly conditioned, poorly focused team. They had a TON of dropped passes and other stupid miscues that we shouldn’t expect from future opponents.
  • The run blocking left something to be desired. It’s improved from last year but not by a ton. This was particularly true in plays where they OL had to run. They were horrible at blocking in stretch plays and screens. But 114 yards on 45 runs is not very inspiring and I put most of the blame for that on the OL.
  • Pass defense was also a spot that needed to improve and I was less than impressed. They were SIGNIFICANTLY helped by the dropped passes. They’re going to have to improve before we get into the Pac-12 schedule.
  • Play-calling. I wasn’t that impressed. I liked that we were gutsy at times but I feel some bad calls were made. Cal was twice at the 34 yard line and didn’t try the field goal (that’s only a 51 yarder). Supposedly Langford has a big leg. And there were other moments I was scratching my head at the choice of calls. As the game wore on there was a lack of balance and the ball was too much put in the air.
  • Penalties. The refs called a loose game so there weren’t a ton, but Cal was hit with a few that reflect poorly on the players. I suspect with a tighter called game we’d have been more frustrated here.
  • Refs. This doesn’t fall on the Bears, but Northwestern was holding ALL OVER THE PLACE and it was never called. There were some really blatant ones too. Dykes had every right to be besides himself that play were Cal got called for defensive holding when there was such a blatant OL hold that wasn’t called on the same play.
  • Pass rush. Perhaps the holding disguised some good pass rush, but over all I was hoping for more improvement here. For the most part our rush was neutralized all day.

What do you think went well and/or poorly?

Live-blog of Northwestern game

(Written by Ken Crawford)

OK, are you ready for some football? I know I am!

Click the post title to see the live-blogging content. Or click here.

Northwestern game preview

(Written by Ken Crawford)

The first thing one sees when one digs in to what is happening at Northwestern is a distracted team, full of controversy. They’re of course the epicenter of the players rights movement, where the players sued for the right to unionize. That’s been a big story all summer and one can’t help but think that it affected their focus and cohesion as a team (coaches included). The 2nd headline on the site I visit for news is “Union talk fades as Northwestern begins”. One thing I’ve grown quite confident about is that if the headline is “Team not distracted by X” you can take it to the bank that they’re distracted.

But it doesn’t end there. First their starting running back is suspended for 2 games for breaking team rules. Then he decides he wants to be closer to home and transfers to Texas A&M. Then their leading receiver from 2013 went down with a season ending knee injury.

This is NOT a team that is coming into the season firing on all cylinders.

So we have a Cal team that could have won the game last year had their true freshman not thrown 3 key interceptions in the 2nd half of the game, and a Northwestern team that appears to be reeling. Plus, last year Northwestern was ranked 22nd and was coming to Berkeley with a lot of confidence. They don’t come into this season with any high expectations.

How much more evidence do I need that this game should go the Bears way?

Well, apparently I need more than that. My gut just can’t shake the idea that the Bears aren’t as good as they need to be. As much as I want the offensive line and the secondary to make the big leap the team needs them to make, what I’m hearing so far isn’t giving me comfort, particularly on the road where offensive lines can struggle with crowd noise. In my mind there’s almost a “they protest too much” factor. I just keeping hearing over and over how improved they are. At some point one can’t help wonder why they’re working so hard to sell us on the idea.

Speaking broadly, my gut is the defense loses this one for the Bears, giving up too many big plays and the exact wrong moments (like last year). The offense, while strong enough to score some points, will not be as mistake prone as last year’s game, but will still be far too one-dimensional to control the game. We’ll see our fair share of points, but not enough to make up for the defensive mistakes and it being an away game takes it’s toll late in the game. As a result, the Bears can’t put together the drives they need to win at the end.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong… Final score: Cal 34, Northwestern 38

Game by game prediction

(Written by Ken Crawford)

It’s that time where I stick my neck out on the line and predict the final score of each game of the season. I used to be pretty good at this, but starting with the 2012 season I’ve had too much optimism. We’ll see where I sit this year…

@Northwestern:
We all saw Cal lose to a very beatable Northwestern team last year. For those who forget, the Bears were only trailing by a field goal midway through the 4th quarter when Goff threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. The Bears got a field-goal back to pull within a TD but when Goff threw yet another interception on the first play of their next possession, Cal’s tired defense couldn’t stop Northwestern from rushing down the field and scoring another TD and sealing the game. If Goff hadn’t thrown those two INTs, the game very likely would have turned out differently. One has to think that Goff won’t be making those sorts of mistakes (he wasn’t making them later in the season) this year. I also believe that Cal’s offensive line won’t leave the Bears so one dimensional as last year. I firmly believe that this year’s Bears would win last year’s game. The question is whether Northwestern is better than last year and/or whether the home-field advantage will play a role. For the answer to that, you’ll have to wait until my Northwestern preview post on Friday. Final Score: TBA

Sacramento State:
Not that much to say here. Yes, Cal struggled a bit versus Portland State last year. And yes, Sac State has a penchant for upsetting FBS teams (2012 over Colorado, 2011 over Oregon State). But Sac State has not been the team it was a few years ago (they lost to Montana and Cal Poly last year) and the FBS teams they beat were very vulnerable. Plus Cal won’t be taking anyone for granted. Cal goes up big early and wins easily. Final score: Cal 48 – Sac State 10

@Arizona:
Man I wish this game was in Berkeley. I’d be pretty confident of the Bears chances in this one if the game was in Strawberry Canyon. Arizona looks very vulnerable this year. They just picked a starting QB on Monday (a RS freshman) and are without their star RB Ka’Deem Carey (it looks like “RB by committee” is the order of the day). Rodriguez has been vocal in not being pleased with how his team is practicing this fall. And this is from the team the Bears should have beat last year at home. But Arizona also has a penchant for playing MUCH stronger at home. The Zona Zoo is not to be under estimated. The last 3 times Cal has gone into Tucson it arrived as a favorite and came home a frustrated loser (2010, 2008, 2006). (We didn’t play Arizona 2011 and 2012.) And it’s not just Cal. Lots of Pac-12 teams have seen a seemingly strong season get ripped apart with an upset in the desert. Plus Arizona should be 3-0 at that point with their weak non-conference schedule. Nevertheless, I’m going to go with the fundamentals, particularly the rebuilding Arizona team factor. The Cal defense will look good in this one and the offense will take a step back from the prior two games, but will get enough possessions to put up the points needed to win. Final Score: Cal 34 – Arizona 24

Colorado:
Don’t under estimate Colorado. People look at Colorado the same way they look at Cal. And if we’re foolish enough to believe the Bears can change, we’d better give Colorado the same respect. They’re in year 2 of a rebuilding effort under a new coach, just like Cal. It should be noted their new coach is someone who many think should be pacing the sidelines in Berkeley not Boulder. Point being, they could be much improved this year. And lets not forget how things turned out in Boulder last year. The Bears didn’t just get beat, it bordered on a beat-down. However, I think the inverse of Arizona proves true here. Colorado is a tough place to go play. The altitude throws the passing game off and all but the very best conditioned teams suffer. Remember that Cal whipped Colorado 52-7 at home in 2010 but needed overtime in 2011 to win in Boulder. Combine that with my belief that the Bears will improve equally if not more than Colorado this year, and Cal notches their (at least) third win in a game where neither offense looks all that impressive. Final score: Cal 27 – Colorado 23

@Washington State:
I really want to have good things to say about this game. But I think Washington State will be the surprise of the north this year, perhaps as high as 3rd place (yes, ahead of both OSU and UW). And bad things happen when Cal travels north to the frozen potato patch (although if there’s good news, it won’t be frozen yet on the 1st weekend of October). Plus, after watching last year’s game, it’s clear Dykes is powerless against his mentor. Even though the Bears will be sitting on a lot of confidence with the wins they’ve accumulated thus far, they come crashing (and I do mean crashing) down to earth in this one. Final score: Cal 13 – WSU 31

Washington:
I firmly believe the Bears will have one game this season that will be a significant upset. They’re hungry, they’ll take any win they can get and there will be teams that overlook them. (and even though this isn’t going to be what makes it happen, it’s worth noting that a big upset is critical for momentum of the program.) I think the two most likely teams for this to happen with are UW and UCLA. Speaking of UW, call me unconvinced about this team. They’ve got a new coach, one who had great success at Boise State. But there’s a LOOONG lineage of BSU coaches that tried to take their talents to the Pac and failed miserably. Plus, it’s not like the team was on a great trajectory last year. They’re most impressive win was a beat-down of Oregon State on the road. The did a great job of recruiting for the last few years, so there’s talent there, but I’m just not convinced they’re as good as people think. Don’t get me wrong, I expect the Bears to be looking up at them in the standings at the end of the year, but I think the Bears might just shock them. I’m calling it now, the Bears steal one in Berkeley. Final score: Cal 38 – UW 35

UCLA:
Do you know the last time UCLA beat Cal in Berkeley? I’ll give you a clue… I was kid-less, single and without a college degree. 1998. Stinking NINETEEN ninety-eight. For this reason alone I’d love to pick this as Cal’s upset of the year. And if I’m looking for reasons (beyond UCLA not traveling to Berkeley well) why this is the game, we’re the “letdown game” after they play Oregon the prior week. But this UCLA team is for real and frankly I think they’re still upset about losing to us in 2012. They definitely showed no mercy last year. Plus, UCLA is one of a few teams that will eat our 4-3 alive. The only reason Cal won in 2012 was because Pendergast’s 3-4 was finely tuned to contain the UCLA system. Cal will sadly be just as out classed as last year. Final score: Cal 17 – UCLA 38

Oregon:
In 2009, one of the guys who does/did video highlights of Cal games was so disgusted with Cal’s performance that his highlights was every second the TV crew showed the Oregon cheerleaders. This may be another year for that sort of “let’s not try to strain at gnats but turn to sarcasm” video. In homage to that sort of thinking, that’s all I have to say about that. Final score: Cal 16 – Oregon 48

@Oregon State:
If the Bears are as much improved as we’re hoping, this will be the measuring stick game. Oregon State will be good but not great. It is Mannion’s senior season and there’s a number of pieces on this OSU team that look like they’re coming together. There’s a good chance they are 5-2 (losses to Stanford and USC) and could even have pulled off an upset themselves. Nevertheless, this will be a beatable team. If Cal can make the trip to Corvallis and make a strong showing, even in a loss, there’s reason for hope from the Bears. Unfortunately, I think this game has “moral victory” written all over it just because OSU has too much mature talent. (I see them as much weaker next year.) Expect this one to be a classic Pac-12 shootout but one that the Bears don’t end up with the ball at the end. Final Score: Cal 38 – Oregon State 42

@USC:
Nothing good ever happens in the LA Coliseum. Luckily our losing streak there doesn’t quite go back as far as UCLA’s Berkeley streak (we won in 2000). But ever since then, even when the Bears have been close to USC’s equal, they just haven’t been able to get it done. And this year, Cal is no where close to USC’s equal. The Bears best hope is that USC is a talented but not very deep team because of their sanctions. Don’t be surprised to see them struggle a bit down the stretch if the injury bug hits them a bit harder than usual. But even with that, I don’t see the Bears winning this one. They might have a decent showing, and there might be a moment early in the game where there’s hope for a miracle, but by the end of the game, the better team will be clear. Final score: Cal 20 – USC 34

Big Game:
The safe pick here is of course to pick a loss. And I think it’s even safer at the end of the season. A lot of people seem to be overlooking how much Stanford has to replace in the trenches (and in the trenches is where Stanford wins its games). I could see them losing an early game they should win. But by this point in the season I expect to see a Stanford team that is firing on all cylinders. There is always the “anything can happen in the Big Game” factor, but that’s been less and less true in recent years. Unfortunately, the brutal stretch for the Bears continue and they can’t get the offense moving. Final score: Cal 10 – Stanford 27

BYU:
The Bears finish the season with a Thanksgiving weekend game against BYU at home. Thankfully the brutal stretch that started with Washington is over (hopefully with an upset in there somewhere). Last year BYU had some pretty big wins: Texas, Boise State and Georgia Tech. They also played some good teams reasonably tough, albeit in a loss: Notre Dame and Wisconsin. Personally I think too many Bear fans are prematurely putting this game in the win column. I see two important psychological factors in this game. 1. BYU will have a good record due to loading up on cupcakes. 2. Cal having just finished a brutal streak. This will be a big test of Dykes motivational skills. Can he get the team back up to play a strong game, particularly if bowl eligibility is out of the mix? Frankly, I’m not too confident about that. So while on paper I think the Bears can beat BYU, I’m going to call this a loss but I reserve the right to change my mind, particularly if Cal has 5 wins going into this one. Final score: Cal 31 – BYU 34

Pac-12 championship game:
I only put this because if you go to the official Cal website it has it on the schedule. Yeah… I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say we won’t be playing in that. The scandal of course is why isn’t the new playoff game and national championship game on the schedule too. This is an outrage! How DARE they assume we don’t make the championship game!?!

What does everyone think? Too optimistic?

Review of each defensive position group

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Continuing on with the position group review, now focusing on the defense…

Defensive line:
All things considered, last year the defensive line wasn’t as bad as it seemed. It would have been useful if they could have put more pressure on the QB in passing situations to take some heat off the secondary, but overall they were serviceable… and in last year’s defense serviceable is as good as you’re going to get. Two big names that were out last year are back: Brennan Scarlett and Mustafa Jalil. Will these two be the difference between a defensive line that managed to hold its own most of the time and one that will be disruptive at the point of attack? There’s definitely reason to hope that will be the case and it is MUCH needed. Outside of Scarlett and Jalil, there appears to be enough depth that even with some injuries the unit shouldn’t fall below serviceable.

Linebackers:
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m skeptical of the 4-3 as Cal’s base defense. In the Pac-12 you need the versatility that the 3-4 provides. Heck, even the NFL is moving towards the 3-4 after decades of thinking you couldn’t plug the running lanes sufficiently with a 3-4. For the 4-3 to be successful you need 3 VERY rangy linebackers, particularly on the outside (although the middle linebacker needs to be able rangy too as he gets abandoned by the outside linebackers a lot as they’re covering their large area of turf). To that end, I’m most concerned on the strong side. Raymond Davison as a redshirt freshman is the best we’ve got? I frankly don’t know much about him, but I sure hope he’s got some speed. Looking at the other two positions, losing Broussard hurt, but Michael Barton and Hardy Nickerson have potential in the middle. Jalen Jefferson is our lone upper classman and from what I’ve seen so far, will be serviceable or better. Hopefully he can provide the leadership for this young group. Losing him would be a BIG loss because there’s not much behind him.

Secondary:
Make no mistake, this was the unit that was mostly responsible for the defense’s woes last year. They were has horrible as the offensive line. Nevertheless, I’m a lot more optimistic this year. The secondary is an experience heavy position and there just wasn’t any after the injuries took hold last year. We look pretty good at safety with Stefan McClure and Michael Lowe. It’s surprising that Sebastian is 3rd on the depth chart. I’ve always thought he had a lot of talent. Perhaps he’s not fully healthy yet. Corner is still where one raises an eyebrow. Cedric Dozier and Cameron Walker have some experience (although Walker was at safety), so it’s no surprise they make up 2 of the starting 3 (technically, Dozier is a backup, but we’ll be in the nickle a lot and he’s likely to get that role). The talented Darius Allensworth got the other corner position, so let’s hope he is as good as they say he is. Nevertheless things get pretty thin behind them. Literally everyone else on the depth chart is a Freshman. Notably absent from the depth chart Darius White who was hoped to come in as a transfer and challenge for playing time right away. We really can’t afford many injuries in the secondary again this year. Who is starting is barely sufficient.

One has to think based on the above things will be better than last year. I think a big key will be the defensive line, not based on their own merits, but based on the rest of the defense could use things getting disrupted right from the snap. It’s a lot easier to play corner when the QB is throwing wounded ducks up into the air as they’re falling to the ground.

Call me cautiously optimistic.

Depth chart released

(Written by Ken Crawford)

As expected, the depth chart was released today. Some general thoughts about the offense to follow up on my previous post:

  • On the offensive line Rigsbee got moved back to his natural spot at right tackle and Chris Adcock, coming off of injury that kept him low on the depth chart at the end of spring, back at center. Otherwise the lineup is unchanged from the Spring. Matt Cochran, Brian Farley and Dominic Granado appear to be the ones who provide the key depth. If they live up to their hype that’s not bad depth to have.
  • Austin Hinder appears to have made a bit of a “late charge” in fall camp and is now an “OR” with Rubenzer for the backup QB spot. My gut is that Rubenzer is the true number 2, but there’s enough of a desire to hang on to his redshirt that Hinder may get some time. So when a backup is needed for a few plays in the 1st few games (where the redshirt can still be preserved) you’ll see Rubenzer. Once we get past that point, any short term replacement would go to Hinder. But if Goff goes down for a few games, then burning the redshirt will be a lot more tempting, until it’s the final few games of the season.
  • Khalfani Muhammad is the starting RB and I’m pretty happy about that. But expect to see plenty of Lasco.
  • Harper has slipped a bit amongst the WRs only getting an “or” for one of the 4 starting spots. Steven Anderson and Trevor Davis are the ones who have clearly impressed the staff and both got a starting spot alongside Treggs and Lawler.
  • I’ll cover the defensive groups separately in a combined position group/depth chart post shortly.

Review of each offensive position group

(Written by Ken Crawford)

The depth chart for the season (really for Northwestern, but let’s not quibble over details) has not yet been released (we should expect it later today). However, we know enough that it’s time to review each position group.

Quarterback:
I appear to be more pessimistic here than others. Hasn’t anyone else ever heard of the Sophomore Slump? It sure doesn’t seem like it. More seriously, last year I found Goff to be less impressive than I hoped and not in a way that I have high hopes for him to be great anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a serviceable quarterback and at the end of the season I’m pretty confident Goff will not be the reason we’re shaking our heads in disgust. But I’m also not expecting him to be the reason we’re over-joyed. Also, since this is a position group analysis, one has to be pretty scared about the prospect of Goff going down. Hinder has been passed by a true freshman (Rubenzer) on the depth chart. Chances are there will be at least one game where Goff is not the primary QB under center. Let’s hope it’s going to be a game the Bears were most likely going to lose anyway.

Offensive line:
I might as well continue on to the next group I’m more pessimistic about than the norm. There’s been a lot of positive press about the improvement of the offensive line. Well, there HAD BETTER BE!?! That group was down-right horrible last year and costs us a win or two. What I want to know is how much of a curve is this improvement being judged on? My gut says they’re grading a bit too easy. There are some young guys I have some hope will impress (Matt Cochran, Dominic Granado, and Steven More) but the proven talent is small (Jordan Rigsbee and ???). Losing Okafor hurt and it’s troublesome that Adcock is so far down on the depth chart (and no, I’m not one of those who say “If random guy X beat known quantity Y, X must be really good”). So here’s hoping this group really has come together and the new talent impresses in a big way, because from my way of thinking, this is the unit the season’s success rides on.

Running backs:
Let’s switch gears to a group I’m very high on. While some have mixed feelings about the RBs, count me amongst those who think we’ve got two very talented guys in Lasco and Khalfani. They weren’t given a chance last year behind the OL. While the impression of them still rests on improved OL play, I think these two could hold their own as the backfield for almost all of the Pac-12 teams. If there’s one downside, it is that their backups are young, particularly now that Coprick is out. Let’s hope we don’t get bit by the injury bug here.

Wide receivers:
This is by far the strongest offensive group. Powe, Treggs, Harris, Lawler, Harper… all of them are very capable and have shown it on the field. Supposedly Davis and Anderson are looking really good too. If there’s one group the team could afford to have more than its usual share of injuries, this is it. In fact, one wonders why we haven’t considered moving a few of them over to the other side of the field to be a DB.

Tight Ends and Fullbacks:
Sorry, I just had to throw this in here. But we intentionally have no depth here (I guess technically we have 3 fullbacks on the roster, but you’d never know it) and frankly it’s something that just doesn’t sit right with me. There are times when you want extra bodies who can line up and put someone on their back on the field. I’ve got two reservations about the offensive scheme: 1. that it depends too much on up-tempo, something our opponents are figuring out how to neutralize. 2. That it eschews the TRUE power running game (or even just lining up that way and then throwing out of it). Thus I just can’t get over the lack of concern for having any talent in this area by the coaching staff.

I am the voice of reason

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Well, at least the 9th voice of reason: http://www.californiagoldenblogs.com/2014/8/25/6054941/cal-bears-football-predictions-sonny-dykes-jared-goff-sunshine-pumping

Every year CGB does a poll on the percentage likelihood Cal wins each game. It’s an interesting analysis, at least in compiling what the average Bear fan thinks. As part of it they list who most closely resembles the normative vote and call those people “the voice of reason”. Most years I’m in that top-10.

Really it would be more accurate to call us “group thinkers” as what it really says is our opinions reflect the average of Cal fans… but you won’t hear me complaining. :)

Regular season is upon us

(Written by Ken Crawford)

It’s hard to believe, but this is now the regular season. Practices get into their regular season flow this week and all emphasis will be on beating this week’s opponent.

I’ll have a few more pre-season posts, but wanted to give you my in-season blogging plan. Expect these posts each week:

  • Pre-game prediction post with exact score
  • Post-game wrap-up post
  • OTRH podcast for all home games (except Sac State and UCLA, which I sadly won’t be attending) including the Oregon game (which is technically a home game.
  • Live blogging all road games (except Oregon State which I won’t get to watch live)
  • At least one “thoughts of the week” post

Great post over at CGB regarding strength of schedule

(Written by Ken Crawford)

I recently read this article over at CGB: Mythbusting: How the Pac-12′s 9-Game Conference Schedule Actually Hurts Its Teams’ Strength of Schedule Ratings.

It’s basic premise is that the supposed thing that gets better when you have extra conference games (strength of schedule) actually gets worse, at least when using the standard NCAA strength of schedule formula (so this wouldn’t affect the complex computer algorithm based strength of schedule metrics).

The reason is because the NCAA formula only cares about opponents records (and their opponents records). In an open loop system, that might work, but in a closed conference, since you impose your own loses on each other, every extra game you add, worsens the conferences overall strength of schedule.

Said another way, if there were no non-conference games and we played a full round robin, the strength of schedule of the conference would always be the same (0.5). Since a good strength of schedule number is higher than that (0.7 is very strong), every conference game you add moves you closer to 0.5 as a conference.

In any case, great and enlightening analysis by Berkelium97 over at CGB.

Preseason ranking methodology

(Written by Ken Crawford)

I’ve written about this before, but the whole “I’m ranking this team lower because they have a tough schedule” thing really bugs me and Ted Miller recently brought it up in his mailbag post:

Paul from San Carlos, California, writes: Indulge a pet peeve: Those who downgrade a team in rankings for having a tough schedule. Rankings should be solely about which team is better. Which team has the easiest path to a good record should play no role.

Ted Miller: Fair point. So do we need a distinction?

Are we making predictions with rankings? If so, then schedule plays a role. If you were looking for a reason to worry about UCLA, schedule would be a good place to start. Conversely then, I’d rate Iowa a top-15 team.

Or are we ranking teams only based on how good we believe they are? If so, that methodology shouldn’t consider the schedule ahead, arduous or easy.

That said, most folks who do top-25 rankings based on their perception of how good a team is and what it has accomplished wouldn’t take their list to Vegas and use it religiously. Sometimes a team “deserves” a ranking, even if you wouldn’t bet your hard earned money that it would beat a team you rank a few notches lower.

Here’s what I think Ted Miller misses (most people do frankly): The only reason this is an issue is because everybody knows that the end of season rankings overly penalize losses and don’t look at qualitative factors. They don’t think about it directly, but it’s true. What they’re saying is, they’re expected that this “tough schedule” team to lose a couple not because they’re not good but because of their tough schedule, and they just know that at the end of the season the rankings won’t take that into account, so they’ll be ranked lower than they should.

That’s why it’s doubly infuriating to me. It appears there are two things that determine the end of season ranking: Initial seeding (if you started #1 and you don’t lose, you’ll end #1) and number of loses.

So if the end of season ranking is going to over emphasize number of loses, it’s quite a double whammy to also lower their initial seeding (aka their preseason ranking). If anything we should be giving them a bump at the beginning of the season.

Of course the real solution is to have the end of the season ranking appropriately reflect strength of schedule, but until then, let’s not further cripple teams with tough schedules by ranking them lower to start the season.