Cal Football and anything that relates

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.

Injury bug hits Bears

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Ugh… are we doomed to the same fate as last year?

Football: Tough day for Bears, who lose Nathan Broussard, Jeffrey Coprich, Quentin Tartabull to serious injury

There will always be injuries, so one shouldn’t get too worked up about any single one… but THREE in one day?

I think this team has enough talent and after last year has enough experience to win a few games it shouldn’t. But that won’t be the case if the injury bug hits us again. 2 or 3 more of the level of Broussard and Coprich (who’s a bit of an under-performer) could be trouble.

Cal schedules 2 more home-and-aways

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Personally, I really like seeing the Bears scheduling lots of great home-and-away non-conference games. So I was excited to see that two more have been added, North Carolina and TCU.

These are two fine teams to schedule. There’s a risk in going too big name with a Florida or an Oklahoma. And while I’m up for one of those on occasion, I’d sure like to see the program on better footing before we add some of those to the schedule.

One minor note, I’ve long had the impression that we tend to travel before getting to play at home for these home and away. To answer that conclusively, I decided to look at recent history (home and away’s that started in 2000 or later):

Away first:

  1. Illinois (2000,2001 and 2003,2005)
  2. Michigan State (2002,2008)
  3. Tennessee (2006,2007)
  4. Maryland (2008,2009
  5. Nevada (2010,2012)
  6. Ohio State (2012,2013)
  7. Texas (projected 2015 and 2016)
  8. North Carolina (projected 2017 and 2018)

Home first:

  1. Utah (2000,2003)
  2. New Mexico State (2004,2005)
  3. Air Force (2002,2004)
  4. Colorado State (2007,2008)
  5. Southern Miss (2003,2004)
  6. Minnesota (2006,2009
  7. Louisiana Tech (2007,
  8. Colorado (2010,2011)
  9. Northwestern (2013,2014)
  10. BYU (2014, 2017 projected)
  11. San Diego State (projected 2015 and 2016)
  12. TCU (projected 2020 and 2021)

(updated: 8/14 @ 4:10p… moved Northwestern to home first… oops!)

So in actuality, we get the home first slightly more than we don’t. However, if one looks at the list it is clear why I’d think the opposite. All of the big name schools are on the top and all of the schools lower on the totem pole are on the bottom. I guess it’s just more proof of how Cal is a significant player in college football (BCS level) and so gets to have the 1st game versus lower tier schools, but not elite status, so we’ve got travel 1st if we’re playing an elite school.

Cal could start 5-0

(Written by Ken Crawford)

I know that’s “crazy talk” but it’s not as much as one thinks once one looks at the schedule.

Do this exercise, rank from most likely to beat to least likely to beat all the teams we play. This is what I’d come up with:

  1. Stanford: Cal is not built to beat this sort of team
  2. Oregon: For obvious reasons
  3. USC: Has always had Cal’s number and the game is in LA
  4. UCLA: Would be higher if the game was in LA, but Cal seems to have good luck against UCLA in Berkeley (not that it’s likely Cal wins this one).
  5. Washington: #3 team in the north (who tends to have Cal’s number).
  6. Oregon State: #4 team in the north
  7. Washington State: #5 in the north but appears to be on the rise and game is in Pullman where Cal tends to struggle.
  8. Arizona: Cal played them close last year and they’re #4 in the south, but game is in Tucson this year.
  9. Northwestern: Cal played them competitively last year and they’re not that good.
  10. BYU: Getting worse as an independent
  11. Colorado: Game is at home this year and they’re picked #6 in south.
  12. Sac. State: Easiest game by far.

Of course one could quibble about some of the ordering, but it would be hard to debate the general grouping (won’t beat Stanford, OU, USC, UCLA and UW; OSU and WSU are beatable but we’re underdogs; UA, Northwestern, BYU and Colorado are more beatable; and Sac State better be a gimmie.). And I think most would agree that while we probably don’t beat all of them, each of the bottom 6 teams are vulnerable and Cal has a shot at them.

Well, the 1st 5 games of the season are against those bottom 6, minus BYU. And if you’re not up for 5-0, the likely hardest one, a trip to WSU, is the 5th game, so 4-0 is not out of the question.

And it’s important to NEVER forget that key thing in football: momentum. Let’s say Cal goes and beats Northwestern. Then they come home and beat Sac State. Think about how much more confident that team is going into Arizona, particularly if UA loses to Nevada the week before. So Cal plays the game they couldn’t finish off in 2013 and are now 3-0 with Colorado coming to town, who could be as bad off as 1-3 at that point (more likely 2-2). So again, Cal wins, and they’re 4-0 heading to Pullman, a team that has two very losable non-conference games and Oregon before going to Utah, a game they could easily lose, so they could be 1-4 (but more likely 3-2). Who says the Bears won’t have the confidence to go win that one at that point? And when you’re 5-0, all of a sudden those games nobody thought you could win feel a lot more winnable.

What’s scary to me is it all seems predicated on going to Chicago and beating Northwestern. The Bears had better win that one, or rebound REALLY quickly and beat two of Colorado, Arizona and WSU (in addition to beating Sac State).

Because if they don’t, the rest of the schedule is full of those teams we don’t have a shot at… until we get to BYU at the end of the season.

Back in business for 2014

(Written by Ken Crawford)

Another year is upon us with fall camp starting on Monday and I’ll be back to regular posting at least a few times a week between now and when the Bears wrap up their Rose Bowl winning season on 1/1/15 (ahhh… wouldn’t that be nice… OK back to reality).

Of course, commenting requires info/stuff to comment on and to that end, it’s nice to see how many practices are open to the public this fall, although I wish it was back-loaded instead of front-loaded. (see here for details.) Unfortunately I’ll be lucky to make even one of them… although I might be able to get one in. Nevertheless my data will mostly be limited to what I read from others.

Speaking more broadly about the upcoming season, I think what I’ve been working through in the off-season in my mind is how to set my expectations appropriately. What do I reasonably want from this season?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • First and foremost I want to see something that is for the betterment of the student athletes. When they look back on this 10, 20, even 50 years down the road, they validly look at their time at Cal as something they’re glad they had in their life.
  • Second, I want to have an enjoyable time watching and thinking about Cal football, with my family, particularly with my sons. Saturday’s in Strawberry Canyon can be a great joy.
  • Third, I want to see a strong effort on the field. I want to see a team that has little to regret when the game is over. If they lose, it was a noble effort. If they win, it’s something we can all be proud of.
  • Finally, I want to see a team that gives me hope for the future. I want to see a team that is improving and that’s there’s reason to believe at some point in the not too distant future I can have more specific goals for the team than the above.

I very specifically don’t have a win total I’m shooting for nor specific games I want them to win. But I’m pretty sure that all the above goals won’t be met without at least a few wins and far more competitive games than we had last season.

Any thoughts on those goals?

(More specific posts on various units, predictions and projections to come.)

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