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Hawaii game prediction

(Written by kencraw)

We’re less than 36 hours away from the start of another exciting season of Cal Football!

First up is the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (boy does that strike fear in their opponents…  Rainbows!?! Run for your life!) in a unique neutral site location: Sydney, Australia.

There are very few people who are giving Hawaii a chance to win the game, the Bears have to give 20 points on the betting line, and you won’t find me taking the ultra-pessimistic route.  Quite the opposite, I’m probably more optimistic than most about the outcome.  I expect Cal to win this one easily.

In these sorts of games, the way the smaller school from a lesser conference wins against a power-5 conference school is by having some combination of a weakness to exploit and/or a means to blunt the strength of their opponent.  Cal’s biggest weakness is its passing defense, with a decimated secondary and linebacker corps.  Hawaii will be starting a QB with limited experience and is generally a stronger running team than passing team.  So they don’t really have the means to exploit Cal’s weakness.

As for Cal’s strength, it will be its passing game.  Hawaii is switching to a high-risk attacking defense.  While that *may* result in blowing up the Cal offense on occasion, I suspect it will also mean that Cal will have a fair number of big plays as well.  I can’t imagine that Hawaii will be able to blunt Cal’s offensive onslaught.  And I’d think that even if Cal was starting one of their inexperienced QBs.  But with Webb behind center, a man who’s picked up more than a few blitz packages in his collegiate career, I doubly can’t imagine this working out well for Hawaii.

So expect to see Cal win big.

That said, within these sorts of games, there can still be a lot of interesting things to watch, that will give insight into how the season will unfold.  Here’s a list of things to watch:

  1. Is Webb as advertised?  I generally tend to believe Webb was a key off-season acquisition and will make a sizeable difference in the outcome of this season.  But sometimes these things take a life of their own and they’re not nearly as true as the consensus believes (just look at the ridiculous expectations for UW this year…).  It will be very comforting if we see Webb come out of the gate strong.
  2. Can Cal force Hawaii to be one-dimensional, relying on their throwing game?  If Cal can shut down Hawaii’s rushing attack, that will bode well for the future.
  3. How well does Cal pick up Hawaii’s blitz packages?  Call me crazy, but I’m not buying the hype around the Cal offensive line.  They were moving from weak towards mediocre last year, but a great deal of that was having a QB who was exceptional at operating behind inconsistent line play.  That hid a LOT of their weaknesses.  It will be interesting to see how clean Webb’s jersey is at the end of the game.
  4. How well can Cal grind out the clock as the game wears on using its running game?  Last year, the inconsistency of the running game was a significant liability.  (BTW, to bolster point #2, I think the running game inconsistency was far more indicative of the quality of the offensive line than Goff’s ability to make them look OK.)  This year Cal is going to need to take some pressure off the defense by holding on to the ball and grinding out the clock when appropriate.  I think this factor alone could result in a 2 to 3 game swing in the final record of the team.  While Hawaii isn’t the most daunting test, it might show us something.  If Cal struggles with consistent running against Hawaii, be very, very worried about the rest of the season.
  5. Just how bad is the secondary?  This can be a tougher one to judge.  Dykes has been claiming the defense has much better depth than in the past and he expects far more consistent play this season even with the troubling number of starters lost.  Friday night will be the teams first chance to prove to us that the depth argument holds water.

No matter what happens with the above items, expect Cal to win big, with a few big Hawaii plays being their only glimmer of hope.  Final score: Cal 48, Hawaii 23.

Random Monday morning thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Things that have been bouncing around in my head that are not worthy of a post by themselves:

  • A reminder to everyone thinking about the Cal/Texas rematch: Cal could have still won last years game even if Texas had made the extra point.  Not only would the game still have only been tied, there was still 1:11 on the clock when Cal got the ball back.  Cal had already had 3 touchdown drives shorter than 1:11 in the game and the Texas defense was pretty tired at that point.  It’s reasonable to think that Cal would have won the game in regulation, to say nothing of the coin-flip likelihood that Cal could have won in overtime.  I say this because there’s this wide misconception that the ONLY reason Cal won was because of the missed extra point.
  • I’ve been trying to understand the math behind why a neutral site game is more profitable to Cal and it finally hit me: It’s because the revenue sharing for the Pac-12 TV contract has no incentive to host non-conference games.  If Cal had 3 road games for it’s non-conference slate, the money it would get from the TV contract would be the same as if it had all 3 games at home.  So, effectively, what these 3rd party games do is effectively rob a game from the TV contract and then create a new separate TV contract for the single game, where the TV revenue is not split between the 12 teams, but instead only split between the two participating teams.  And since the TV money is WAAAAY more than the ticket sales (particularly for a weak non-conference game), it’s a no-brainer why the money works out for Cal.  (That said, I wonder what it costs the conference?)
  • A bit of an off-topic statement: but medal counting at the Olympics really gets under my skin because there’s so much apples vs. oranges going on.  In some cases it’s that a college’s medal counts are per person (so having 3 people on the water polo team counts for 3 medals) vs. a countries being per event (so a whole team of water polo players get one medal).  In other cases it’s the fact that certain sports (swimming and track and field in particular) have lots of medals to win where-as others allow for only one metal per Olympics and then calling the one with lots of medals “the greatest”.  It’s just a bunch of false comparisons and over stated rhetoric.
  • Nevertheless, way to go Cal by being among the top colleges represented at the Olympics, no matter what metric one uses.
  • Back to football, I’m starting to really worry about the back-side of the defense.  Between the attrition at linebacker last off-season and now losing Drew in the secondary, Cal better be ready to score a lot of points if it hopes to win games.

New Memorial Stadium bag policy

(Written by kencraw)

Have you guys seen this:

http://events.calbears.com/nl/jsp/m.jsp?c=4049bf4658f4402714

(Cal has gone the way of the NFL and will now only allow clear bags in the stadium)

I’m getting really sick of these ever increasing “security” measures.  If they’re looking for a way to get me to stop being a season ticket holder, this is their best path.  I can take losing (I sat through the Holmoe years), but what I can’t take is being treated like a criminal.

So I decided to write a letter to the athletic director.  Here it is in full:

I was recently called about my season tickets and during that conversation was told about the new bag policy at Memorial Stadium. I was also sent an e-mail about the policy as well.  I have a number of objections:

1. First and foremost, every time we get one of these announcements they are made LOOONNG after we’ve purchased our season tickets.  I find it cowardly that the athletic department does not announce these changes when we’re buying our tickets, when we actually have an opportunity to push back with the one thing that matters: our dollars.  To that end, it is not surprising that no refunds were being offered on my tickets when they called me.  As I’m sure the athletic department well knows, part of what compels people to buy tickets is a certain level of comfort.  That is why padded seats or bench backs and the like cost more than the bleachers.  Refusing to disclose ways in which you plan to reduce our comfort at games when we buy our tickets is deceptive and lacks integrity.

2. More importantly, shame on whoever decided to advertise this as a necessary security measure.  All bags are checked as we enter the stadium and have been for years.  How will making the bag clear meaningfully change anything?  Can someone not roll a sweatshirt or some other acceptable item around something they’re trying to conceal?  Unless everything in the bag must be clear, that the outer layer of fabric must be clear is of little security value. Inspection and/or pass-through detectors remain the only meaningful way to screen bags.

3.  It is further coercive to tie this policy change to “recent world events” as if what has happened in Europe sporadically over the course of the year has any connection to what might happen in Memorial Stadium.  It is a manipulative ploy to pretend that this policy change is justified on the basis of these events, none of which have happened in a stadium.  It is disgraceful that this University that prides itself on critical thinking and innovation would stoop to such a poorly thought out policy that does little to increase security while causing meaningful discomfort to the fans who fund the stadium and the team, and then use a smoke screen of unrelated events to justify it.

4. Make no mistake, it is a significant reduction in comfort for us fans.  I’ve always brought a small soft-walled insulated cooler with soda and water.  That’s always been allowed up until now.  It brings me great comfort to have cold beverage of my choice throughout the game that I don’t have to pay $5 for.  This new policy effectively bans me from doing that.  Also, preventing me from keeping my camera and binoculars in a protective bag could cost me hundreds of dollars if they were accidentally dropped without the above mentioned bag’s padding.    Additionally, although you allow seat pads, if someone wants one with a back, they must rent them (even MORE cost to us fans who like to be comfortable) as it is no longer acceptable to bring them in.  Then there’s the inconvenience to my wife to dump out her purse every other Saturday and put only a few of those items in a “clutch bag”.  Not to mention that it seems every year I must buy a couple new bags to meet whatever new arcane requirements have been implemented.  Let there be no mistake.  The cumulative effect of the new restrictions every year has notably and significantly reduced my family’s comfort and increased our cost of being Cal football season ticket holders.  And for what?  As points 2 and 3 make clear.  The security benefits are trivial.

5. In fact, it is even worse than that, as the bag policy actually makes my family less safe.  Although it’s not a further reduction in bag size from last year, the continued reduction in bag size over the years means it is a lot harder for me to carry sweatshirts and snacks for the whole family in a sizeable backpack that leaves both my hands free for my four kids so they don’t wander off.  Now I must split that up into multiple small bags leaving me far more encumbered and unable to protect my children on the busy streets of Berkeley.  I ask you: what is more statistically likely, that my young child will get hit by a car or my family will be harmed in a terrorist event?  Anyone with even a elementary understanding of mortality statistics knows how infrequent terrorist attacks are.

6. Finally, any comparison to the NFL is anecdotal and a complete misunderstanding of the fans.  Many of us come to Cal football because we enjoy the traditionally more relaxed, less restrictive, more family friendly (and bringing bags with stuff for the kids is a significant portion of that) environment that has separated college football from pro football.  It is notable that there is no mention of the far more lax policies of Major League Baseball as compared to the NFL.

To summarize, this announcement is cowardly timed, shamefully advertised, disgracefully justified and costly to my family’s comfort, while actually putting them more in harms way than in the past.  All things considered it will take a lot more than “The NFL is just as bad” to convince me of the wisdom of this ridiculous policy.

I respectfully request that this policy be reversed immediately.

Ken Crawford
Season ticket holder since 1999

I encourage all of you to do likewise and e-mail the athletic director at: athletic.director@berkeley.edu

Back for another year

(Written by kencraw)

Fall practice started yesterday.  From the off-season news and the reports from yesterday, it’s looking a lot like 2015: Offense should be productive with an experienced QB (David Webb) and young WR’s but defense may struggle mightily unless they can fill the holes among their young talent.  There’s reason to hope the Bears could be much better than 2015 (better O-Line, reasons to believe defense will not be as susceptible to the big momentum-deflating plays), but there’s also reason to fear it will be a season with lots of promise, yet too much of a  frustrating inability to put all the pieces together consistently, game after game.

In any case, I’ll be doing my usual thing: Game predictions, post-game posts, podcasts for games I go to, and random musings.  Any particular requests for content this year?

Go Bears!

It’s official: Goff to turn pro

(Written by kencraw)

Well, the Goff era is officially over.  He will be missed.

This will be an interesting test for the Cal coaching staff.  How well will the system work without someone of Goff’s caliber?

Bowl game thoughts

(Written by kencraw)

Well that was fun!  Some post-game thoughts:

  • The way the defense performed makes me think good things about the coaching staff.  Even on the 1st drive the defense looked reasonably prepared.  They would have stopped the drive for a field-goal attempt if it hadn’t been for the phantom facemask penalty.  As the game wore on, they got better and better.  Every time Air Force made an adjustment, it would work for a short while, but the Bears would adjust and shut it down again.
  • As the season has wore on, I’ve been less and less impressed with the receivers.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re still reasonably good.  It’s more that I used to think they were awesome and now think they’re just good.  Powe in particular didn’t impress me early in the game.  He just didn’t look like he cared all that much.  Maybe these guys are affected by the cold?  I dunno.  Whatever it is, the number of dropped balls has been disappointing for a supposedly elite group.
  • The offensive line looked good today against a smaller defensive group.  That last drive to seal the game was something we’ve never seen before from a Dykes team.  Air Force knew Cal as going to run the ball to grind out the clock and they couldn’t stop it.  Considering the opponent one has to take that performance with a grain of salt, but it’s a step in the right direction.
  • Something the announcers picked up on starting in the ASU game and was repeated yesterday was how good Goff is against pressure.  I wholeheartedly agree.  I think the key to the Cal offense without Goff is whether the new QB can be trained to know his quick pass opportunities when the opponent brings a blitz and has the guts to deliver those passes with the heat bearing down on him.  The offensive line doesn’t look to have the talent to take care of blitzing all on its own.
  • While we’re on the topic of Goff leaving, put me in the camp of thinking he is more likely to stay than most people think.  If you made me bet with even odds, I’d bet on him leaving.  But somewhere around 2.5-to-1 I’d consider betting on him staying.  Goff loves it at Cal.  I think he sees the potential for a better run next year.  I’m not sure how close he is to getting his degree by the end of next year, but that could be the deciding factor.
  • Back to the game, I still think Mohammad is our most under-appreciated running back.  It seems he’s the #2 back right now behind Tre Watson, who I must admit is starting to impress me and I think is the back of the future, but Mohammad deserved the #1 spot yesterday.
  • On a more light hearted topic, unless Tony Franklin likes the crazy professor look, I think he should wear hats more often like he did yesterday.  He looked darned right respectable.  Normally he reminds me of Bill Murray in the movie Kingpin:

    Sure, he doesn’t have the comb over, but it just looks worse and worse as the game wears on:
  • I was happy with the linebacker play considering how many we were missing yesterday.  It makes me feel a lot better about the future of the defense.  While I’ve still got my fears about how many guys we’re losing on defense, it seems that the linebacker core of 2016 might be an area they can build around.
  • Overall, a reasonably strong performance in a mediocre bowl against a reasonably challenging mid-major opponent.  The Bears came to play and were the superior team.

Go Bears!

$2.825M

(Written by kencraw)

Well, it’s a bit more than my suggested $2.75M, but in the range of reasonableness, if at the very top of it.  Personally I would have rather seen that last $75K go to the assistants.  The reason is that I think Dykes will do very well if he has the defensive assistant coaches needed to field a good defense.  Just like with head coaches, getting and keeping good assistant coaches requires paying them well.

The other interesting clause is the automatic 1-year extension for every 7-5 season with a 980 APR.  At first I thought this was the 4-year APR, which would mean any extension would be unlikely to kick in for a few years.  While we’re expecting a high score this year (997), the previous 4 years are 946, 969, 923, with the 923 falling off next year, hamper his ability to make 980.  Even if the team scored a perfect 1000 next year, that would only be a 4-year APR of 978.  But, it’s the single year numbers he will be graded on, so there’s a good chance, Dykes can get an automatic 1-year extension most years if he can keep his current level of on the field performance.

5-7 teams in bowl games a HUGE disgrace to NCAA

(Written by kencraw)

I didn’t realize this until today, but apparently the NCAA ended up three teams short for the number of bowl slots out there.  Because commitments have been made, the NCAA felt compelled to allow three 5-7 teams to participate in bowls.

There’s no other way to say this:  SHAME ON YOU NCAA!

There should never, never, never, NEVER be a situation where teams with losing records go to bowl games.  I’ll concede that I’m on the picky side of things in that I think it should be restricted to 7-5 teams.  But I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in thinking that 6-6 is as absolutely low as it should go.

The NCAA should have never allowed the number of bowls they’ve allowed.  They should nix at least two games next year  (which removes 4 teams) and should analyze the scenarios to see what the minimum number of 6-6 teams that should be expected in any season to see if any more need to be eliminated.

This is an absolute disgrace.

Air Force will be a test of defensive coaching

(Written by kencraw)

Air Force is an easy team to beat if you have time to prepare for their triple option offense.  Their systems is quirky and effective, but their personnel is vastly undersized on the lines due to the limitations of being a service academy. That’s why the best time to play them is either the 1st game of the season or a bowl game.  The team has the time to prepare for the triple option, neutralizing their advantage.  Without that advantage, they’re much easier to beat.

The last time Cal played them, in the Armed Forces bowl in 2007, for the 1st 20 minutes of the game it looked like the defense hadn’t spent a minute preparing for the triple option.  Frankly, it was one of my greatest disappointments in the Tedford era as far as my trust in the coaching staff.  But eventually, the team figured out how to defend it and Kevin Riley led a dramatic comeback, and the Bears won.

We’re about to find out how good the current defensive coaching staff is.

Unlike other games where all the issues that make up a good defense are mixed together: talent, effort, maturity, scheme, coaching, in this game, since the way to beat the triple option is pretty well known and it’s not an issue of talent, we can know that the result will come from effort (a result of good coaching), maturity and coaching.  And since this team has plenty of upper classmen, it means the defensive result is pretty much entirely about coaching.

It will be interesting to see.

How much should Cal do to keep Dykes?

(Written by kencraw)

Dykes is rumored to have interviewed for three different jobs: Missouri (although they announced someone else recently), South Carolina and Virginia.  It’s unclear if Dykes really wants out of if he’s just trying to get Cal to offer better terms than what they offered, specifically more money and a longer more guaranteed extension.

So the question becomes, how much should Cal offer to keep Dykes?

My thinking is that his salary should be upped to about $2.75M, but that he should only be extended 2 years (so 4 years total from now) with it getting reasonably cheap for the Bears to let him go after 2017.  I’m OK with Cal having to give a fairly large sum after next year.  With the amount of talent leaving (particularly if Goff leaves) and how the schedule is shaping up, it’s reasonable to expect Cal to take a bit of a step back next year.  Thus it’s reasonable for Dykes to insist his contract protects him from a one-year blip.

What do you guys think?  (Answer in the comments and respond to the poll on the sidebar)

Who are we rooting for in the title game?

(Written by kencraw)

Let’s see, if Stanford wins, our arch-rival gets another trip to the Rose Bowl and with luck a trip to the playoff.  That’s bad.

But at the same time, if Stanford gets into the playoff (somewhat of a long shot) and the Rose Bowl takes Oregon (I would expect it), we likely get to go to a better bowl, perhaps even the Foster Farms at Levi Stadium.  That’s good.

As for USC, when do we ever want them dominant in the league?  They get enough of the best recruits as it is.

So are we rooting for the Spoiled Children/Evil Empire or are we rooting for the Trees?

ASU OTRH Podcast

(Written by kencraw)

Here’s the year’s final installment of the On The Road Home podcast.  Thinking over what I said, I probably was a bit too harsh on the offensive line.  They did a VERY good job of pass protection against a difficult blitzing ASU defense.  Where my mind was as I was recording this was the lack of a consistent run game, something that has plagued the team all year.

Since I don’t see myself going to the bowl game, this will be the last installment of the 2015 season.  I’m always interested to hear if people enjoy them, so consider this post your opportunity to say you’d like me to keep doing this in future seasons or if you couldn’t care less.

Forgetting why we were down 24-3?

(Written by kencraw)

I don’t know why this has to be my 1st post-ASU post.  I mean, I’m ecstatic with the win and really think the Bears showed a lot of heart, determination and resolve last night.  Way to go, right?

But it’s not what is on my top of mind this morning.  Perhaps it is because all of the articles and blog posts I’m reading don’t even mention it other than to set the stage for the comeback.  Perhaps it is because I fear what happens if it becomes a pattern.  Perhaps it is because I fear it is already a pattern (UCLA?).  Whatever the reason, I’m a bit stuck on… why was this team down 3-24 to ASU?

There have been a few too many moments this season where I just don’t get why the team was unable to execute.  Why was the offense so good against Oregon for a 10-0 lead, but then pathetic for the rest of the game?  What happened to the offense against UCLA?  Why did it take a quarter for the offense to get humming against OSU?  Why was Cal unable to execute in the redzone against Stanford?

It all leaves me a little bit uneasy.

So as I reflect on ASU, I’m happy.  I’m thankful for the strong effort, for the never-say-die attitude.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that in the back of my mind I’m worried about why this team was ever down 3-24 to ASU.

Thus endeth the negative post-ASU posts.  More joy to come…

ASU Preview

(Written by kencraw)

ASU is a perplexing team, maybe even as perplexing as Cal.  It becomes most notable when looking at how ASU faired against common competition:

When Cal was hanging tough with USC, ASU was getting the crud kicked out of it.  While on the other side of LA, ASU absolutely destroyed UCLA while Cal was licking its wounds before halftime.  They held closer against Oregon than Cal did, but lost handily to WSU while Cal won that one.  We both beat Washington by a small margin.  And to finish off the list Cal held closer to Utah than ASU did.

So if we ignore the LA teams, the results favor the Bears.  If we include USC, it looks even a little better for the Bears.  But UCLA throws that all into turmoil.  (Maybe it’s UCLA who is the wildcard here?)

And unlike Oregon, Stanford or WSU, for whom we have a narrative to explain the discrepancies, it’s much harder to give one to ASU besides perhaps inconsistency.

Thus when I visualize this match-up, I see both the potential for a big Cal win and a disaster of a game that sends the program reeling.  ASU has potential.  One shouldn’t too quickly discount their performance at UCLA as an anomaly.  ASU can play that good.

What ASU needs to have that sort of a dominating performance is to get pressure with their defensive line.  Until last week’s victory over Arizona, the most points ASU had allowed in a winning effort was 23.  They won by being disruptive all game long and allowing their offense the time to find it’s rhythm and be productive.

I believe Cal would do better today in a shootout than a defensive struggle.

I also think Cal has the defensive chops to slow ASU.  There’s nothing particularly scary about their passing game (although it’s not bad either).  The key to ASU is traditional balance. I see more of USC and Washington in them than I see UCLA or Oregon.

So the question becomes, can the Cal offense be efficient and productive against ASU?  I think so.  I think Cal has enough different ways to deal with defensive line pressure to defuse that threat.  I also think Goff has turned a bit of a corner the last couple weeks and is focusing on taking what the defense is giving him, something that was lacking from Utah through Oregon.

The end result is that I see a game where Cal marches down the field, nibbling away.  Lots of dump-off pass plays, screens, QB scrambles, quick hitches and the such.  They’ll end up getting the defense tired.  So while I expect a close score through the 1st half, I see Cal extending the lead in the 2nd half.  I see the Cal defense overall doing a reasonably good job, but there’s also going to be a few too many plays (or even a drive or two) that will drive us nuts.  One or two of those scores will make it appear that the potential win could be in trouble.

But in the end, Cal will control enough of the game to win by a couple scores.

Cal finishes 7-5: Bears 37, Sun worshippers 23

Big Game OTRH podcast

(Written by kencraw)

Here’s another thrilling installment of the On The Road Home podcast:

 

Frustrated with my fellow Cal fans today

(Written by kencraw)

I’ll have my OTRH podcast up tomorrow morning, but I wanted to make a comment in the mean time:

GET A HOLD OF YOURSELVES!?!

I’m frustrated too, but what I’m seeing on the various Cal sites today is bothersome to me.  Dykes made reasonable calls taking the points instead of going for it on 4th down.  At the end of the game, yeah, they were surrender punts and kickoffs, but guess what, the game was ALREADY surrendered at that point.  (Anybody here really think Cal was going to recover two consecutive onside kicks and score 2 TD’s with 1:50 left?)

My point is overall Dykes was reasonably aggressive.  He went for it on 4th down a handful of well chosen times.  Those 9 points made it so Cal was within a score in the 4th quarter.  Yes, Cal would have had a much better shot at winning had a couple of those field-goals been touchdowns, but that should be blamed on bad catches, bad throws, or if someone would like to put in the effort to prove it, bad play calls on 1st through 3rd down.

Cal needed two things Saturday: Better redzone execution and a defense that could hold a tough rushing team for 4 quarters.

Dykes lack of aggressive play-calling wasn’t the problem.

Big Game preview

(Written by kencraw)

This might just be the most important game of Sonny Dykes coaching career.  The Bears need to prove they can beat  the better teams in the conference, even if it is just occasionally.  A win over a struggling ASU isn’t going to cut it for that, so Stanford is the last chance of the season.  It’s put up or shut-up time.

The good news for the Bears is there are reasons for optimism.

As the previous post showed, the common opponent analysis suggests the difference in quality between the teams isn’t has high as their current records would suggest.  The unbalanced Pac-12 south schedule doesn’t allow a fair comparison.  While Stanford was off beating up on Colorado and Arizona, two of the three worst teams in the conference, Cal instead had to play Utah.  In contrast, in the Pac-12 north where the teams played an identical set of teams, they have the same record (3-1).

The second reason is that if one looks at where Cal has struggled, UCLA and Oregon, it is against teams the emphasize speed over power.  Against the better teams that emphasize power, Cal has held their own.  I remain convinced that if Goff hadn’t felt the pressure of trying to carry the whole team on his back against Utah, he wouldn’t have thrown 5 picks and Cal would have won the game.  As for USC, Cal had a shot to win in the 4th quarter, and I think we’ll see later today how good a resurgent USC team is when they play Oregon.  After all, they haven’t lost a conference game since the coaching change happened.

So here’s the blueprint for how to win this game:

  1. The offense needs to have a mantra today: “Take what the defense is giving you.”  The team does not need to score 50 points.  30 will likely do.  They don’t need to be successful on every drive.  While it would be wise to *occasionally* take the shots down field to get some extra “free” points and to keep the defense honest, the key to victory for the offense is to be opportunistic and not let a few stalled drives get inside their psyche.
  2. The defense needs to be VERY physical at the line of scrimmage while biasing towards stopping the run.  I think they have it in them.  They showed it against Utah and to a lesser degree against USC.  Make Hogan beat Cal with his arm.

If they do that, I think they have a 50/50 shot of winning, if not slightly better than that.

The big question is, will they?  And here’s thinking that they don’t. (Sorry to say)  I very much fear we’re going to see Jekyll and Hyde at quarterback, flippant at some times, and desperate at others.  There will be flashes of Goff’s brilliance, but I don’t think it will be consistent.

On defense, we’re going to see them be just barely not good enough.   There’s going to be a lot of long frustrating drives where the Bears appear to have it stopped every 3rd of 4th set of downs, but somehow Stanford keeps chugging along and getting 1st downs when they should have been stopped.

This will have the effect of shortening the game and reducing the number of chances for the Cal offense to find its rhythm.

Thus what I expect to see is a game where Cal appears to have a shot, where they remain in tantalizingly close striking distance, but are never able to put together enough drives, particularly at the crucial times, to win.

Bears lose a frustrating one: Cal 20, Trees 27

Common opponent comparison for Big Game

(Written by kencraw)

(Sorry for my lack of posting this week.  I only got to watch snippets of the OSU game due to connectivity problems and this week has been so busy I haven’t been able to do the re-watch.  I wanted to complete the re-watch before commenting, but that’s just not going to happen.)

As I predicted, the most important game as a precursor to the Big Game was in Palo Alto, not in Berkeley.  Cal decisively beat OSU to gain bowl eligibility, but who can say what that really means?  Cal was expected to win big over a weak OSU team and they did.

But in Palo Alto we found out two things:

  1. Stanford is vulnerable.  They can be beat.
  2. Oregon is really a very different team than they were in the early to mid-season and that Cal lost to them is not so much about Cal being weak but instead about how much better Oregon has gotten.

Now the question becomes, how do we judge the Big Game?  To that end, let’s do a common opponent analysis:

Washington State:

  • Cal won small
  • Stanford won even smaller, needing a missed field goal by WSU at the end to hold on
  • Conclusion: WSU is much better than we thought early and this turns out to be Cal’s best win of the season.  It suggests against an offense like Cal’s, Stanford can be beat, although it won’t be easy.

Washington:

  • Cal won small
  • Stanford won medium
  • Conclusion: Stanford was better positioned to win a grind it out power game, so it made it easy for Stanford to win.  Not much to learn from this common opponent other than to say Cal was able to be competitive against a power team.

UCLA

  • Cal lost big
  • Stanford won big
  • Conclusion: Without a doubt, the most troubling common opponent of the season.  If you want to be optimistic you can chock this up to Cal having their worst performance of the year.

USC

  • Cal lost small
  • Stanford won medium
  • Conclusion: Definitely a game in Stanford’s favor, but Cal played competitively against another power team and kept it close.  Nevertheless, if one ignores UCLA, this becomes the most troubling common opponent.

Oregon

  • Cal lost medium-large
  • Stanford lost small
  • Conclusion #1: It turns out that Oregon is playing the best football late in the season in the North and Cal’s loss doesn’t look so bad.
  • Conclusion #2: The teams Cal has been most vulnerable to are the fast spread teams, like Oregon and UCLA, and not the power teams, like USC, Utah, and Washington.

Oregon State:

  • Cal won big
  • Stanford won big
  • Conclusion: Not much to take from this one.  OSU just isn’t very good and isn’t a good test for either team.

And that’s it.  Because of the way the scheduling work, Cal and Stanford will only ever have USC and UCLA as common south opponents in the same season.

So what’s the overall conclusion?

It says that Stanford is the better team, but by less than one would expect, particularly when you look at how Cal does against power teams (and when judging Cal against Stanford, we need to be more concerned with power than speed).  If you’re willing to chock up the UCLA game to a horrid Cal performance and suggest it is not a good comparison point for the Big Game, the margin of Stanford’s edge gets surprisingly small.

Thus, I think this game is going to be a lot closer than people think.

Expect a full preview post tomorrow.

The most telling game this weekend isn’t in Berkeley

(Written by kencraw)

Although there is a possibility that the Bears continue their free-fall and lose to Oregon State, it’s not a high probability.  And no matter what the score is, assuming the Bears win, it will be hard to learn much about the Bears from the game.

More telling will be what happens across the bay.

The way I see things, Cal has only had two really bad games.  UCLA and Oregon.  Other than that it has lost close games with too many mistakes to pretty good teams.  At this point I’m willing to chock the UCLA loss up to a bad effort and poor preparation.

But the Oregon game really hurts if Oregon is as mediocre as we all fear.

The best possible thing to happen for the Bears outlook is to find out that Oregon is “back”, that they turned a massive corner in the last few weeks with the return of a healthy Vernon Adams and the rest of the team starting to click.  Then the Bears just happened to hit Oregon at the wrong time and their preparation was hindered by not having enough film on the resurgent version of the Ducks.

But the only way the above logic would make sense is if the Ducks go into Stanford Stadium on Saturday and stick it to Stanford.  That’s the best proof that the Ducks are “back” and for real.  Then all of a sudden, finishing the seasons with a few more wins won’t seem so unlikely.  Then Stanford will be more beatable, and ASU, who’s record (minus UCLA) in the conference is less impressive than the Bears, looks manageable with a strong performance in Berkeley.

But if Oregon gets dominated by Stanford, it’s hard to imagine the Bears getting a 7th win without a huge improvement.

(One more piece of good news: The Bears are done traveling.  They’ll stay in the Bay Area for the rest of the season.  Don’t under-estimate how much impact traveling has, particularly as the season wears on.  I’ve done a couple seasons of going to every game, and it really wears on you.  ASU is not going to be happy coming to Berkeley on Thanksgiving weekend.)

Oregon State tickets for sale

(Written by kencraw)

Can’t make it to the Oregon State game this weekend, so I’m selling my tickets on eBay:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/-/252165271009?