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Worst loss since analysis

OK, I’ve done my thorough analysis and have the results for you.

Here’s the criteria for the magnitude of a loss (from most important to least):

  1. Disproportion of outcome vs. expectations.  In other words, getting blown out when you were expecting a loss isn’t nearly as bad as getting blown out when one is expecting a big win.
  2. Objective difference in records or ranking.  The lower the team is versus where Cal, is the worse it is.
  3. Implications on bowl eligibility or positioning, or ranking
  4. What it seems to indicate about the program’s state
  5. Actual score differential, with emphasis on low Cal scores
  6. Games one attended are worse (I realize this criteria makes it more subjective, but frankly there’s no avoiding that)
  7. Home games losses are worse

Working backwards in time:

  • 2017 28 – 44 loss @Colorado: This was a hard one to take, and it officially put Cal in doubt of making a bowl.  It also hurt because they had just lost to WSU who Cal had beat 37-3 just a few weeks earlier.  However, Colorado and Cal were both middle of the conference teams and Cal only lost by 16 points on the road.  Bad, but not 2018 UCLA bad.
  • 2017 7 – 38 loss @ Washington: Point differential is similar, but on the road to an undefeated UW squad doesn’t match 0-5 UCLA at home.
  • 2017 24 – 45 loss @ Oregon: This one hurts a lot in part because Oregon was without their starting QB for half the game and the Bears still couldn’t claw back in it.  But objectively, the road game and Oregon’s historical quality make it fall short.  Another bad, but not 2018 UCLA bad.
  • 2016 21 – 56 loss @ WSU: WSU was pretty good that year and the game was on the road.
  • 2016 27 – 66 loss vs. UW: Another good team.  This one really hurt because it was the turning point when we knew the Cal defense was never going to be any good under Dykes.  But still, that UW team was too good to match 0-5 UCLA, despite both games being at home.
  • 2016 24 – 45 loss @ USC: I think we’re all too numb to losses in the LA Coliseum to be too affected by a loss like this anymore.  Side note #1: Anyone as foolish as me and thinking of going to the USC game in LA this year?  #2: That’s 3 games in a row in 2016 that made the list.  Ouch!
  • 2015 28 – 44 loss @ Oregon: This one hurt because Oregon wasn’t very good this year and it was a relatively good year for the Bears.  But a 16 point loss on the road just doesn’t cut it here.
  • 2014 7 – 31 vs. UW: I don’t remember much about this game other than it was a letdown after a few close games that preceded it.  Overall the Bears were on an upward trajectory and it wasn’t hard to accept this loss as part of the growing pains.
  • Ignoring all of 2013: We knew the cupboard was bare and it was going to take Dykes time to rebuild.
  • 2012 14 – 62 @ OSU: This seems like a real contender to be the one.  It ended Tedford’s career at Cal after all.  But OSU was 7-2 going into that game.  If this was the 2018 Beavers, then it probably would be the previous worst loss.
  • 2012 17 – 59 vs. Oregon: The wheels had fallen off the bus on the Tedford era by this game.  Oregon was an exceptionally good team.  It stung, but not like last Saturday.
  • 2012 27 – 49 @Utah: Another real contender.  I had the misfortune of going to this game.  I was so angry after the game I put $137 on a table, took a picture of it and said it was for the Fire Tedford fund.  Cal was 3-5 entering the game against a 2-5 Utah that was relatively new to the conference.  Cal had an outside shot at bowl eligibility with a weak UW team immediately after that game.  It would then just take an upset over either Oregon or OSU to get to bowl eligibility.  Instead Cal didn’t win again in 2012 and Tedford was fired.  This one scores high on criteria 1, 3, 4, and 6 with partial points for 2.  While I think a strong argument could be made for this game, let’s keep going and see what we can find.
  • 2011 14 – 31 @UCLA: I remember how much this game hurt.  Luckily the Bears finished strong down the stretch.  There’s no arguing that UCLA team was worse than the 2018 team and the margin was far closer.
  • 2011 9 – 30 vs. USC: Another game that would have really hurt if we weren’t so used to getting our butts kicked by USC.
  • 2011 15 – 43 @Oregon: Another stinker, and at a time hope was re-building after 2010, but Oregon was the Pac-12 champs that year and thus it doesn’t compare.
  • 2010 13 – 16 vs. UW: Sometimes it’s not just about the score.  Last game in the old Memorial stadium and a win would have made the Bears bowl eligible.  UW was mediocre.  And it all came down to 4th and goal at the 1 and all Cal had to do was stop it.  Somehow the Bears let them run up the middle for a score.  UGH!  But, as much as this one still sticks with me, the score was too close to really be a contender.
  • 2010 14 – 48 @ USC: This was one of those USC games that got Cal fans very used to losing big to USC.
  • 2009 10 – 42 @ UW:  Another real contender.  Cal was 8-3 and lost HUGE to 4-7 UW.  To make matters worse, this was my last game as a Cal reporter and I got food poisoning at the game.  I was throwing up all night.  The flight home was horrible (I went with the don’t eat anything so there’s nothing to throw up on the flight strategy).  Yeah, this was a really bad one.  It came on the back of two really uplifting wins over Arizona and Stanford (the Bears last Big Game win).  It also pushed the Bears WAY down the bowl priority list and they ended up in the Poinsettia as opposed to the Sun or Holiday.  Yup, definitely one worth considering as worse.  Scores high on criteria 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, with partial points on 4.  But a few more games back there’s one that tops it.
  • 2009 3 – 30 vs. USC: USC beat downs are so boring at this point.  However, if the Bears hadn’t lost big at Oregon the week before this game would be a contender.  There were very high hopes entering 2009 and to lose this bad to USC early in the season was very disappointing.
  • 2009 3 – 42 @ Oregon: And this is where it ends for me.  This was the game that was worse that 2018 UCLA.  Oregon had lost to Boise St., and barely beat Purdue and pre-Pac-12 Utah.  They were very weak this year (or so we thought).  Cal was undefeated and back to it’s powerhouse Tedford self (or so we thought).  I was there.  And it was one of the most soul crushing experiences of my football watching life.  The Bears were beat so badly that sites like CGB were in full melt-down mode (like this week).  I remember that Danzig (I think that’s who made it) who was known for making highlight YouTube videos every week made a video that was merely a minute and a half of Oregon cheerleaders.  Not a single play of the game.  This one fits criteria 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and partial points for 2 (OK, Oregon wasn’t considered top end, but they weren’t 0-5 either).

So there you have it, in my opinion, the UCLA game was the worst game since 2009 Oregon, where 2012 Utah and 2009 UW are the possible other contenders.

Worst loss since…

Fill in the blank.  Last nights loss to UCLA was the worst loss since ___________

(I’ll add my thoughts in the comments after I get a few replies)

The optimist’s way to look at stupid mistakes

Probably the easiest thing to improve on is the number of stupid mistakes.  It comes with caveats (the additional thinking robs the team of a little execution speed), but overall, the school of hard knocks is pretty efficient at teaching things.

So when you’ve got a team that played a pretty even game against an upper-tier conference team, minus a bunch of stupid mistakes and significantly outplayed a lower-tier conference team, minus a bunch of stupid mistakes, then you’ve got a team that’s not as far as one tends to think from success.  Although UCLA scares me as they seem to finally be turning a corner and the road scares me even when it is Oregon State, I think Cal has proven they not only have the talent to beat both those teams, they have the talent to go toe-to-toe with the better teams.  I’d say both WSU and Colorado are games that I’d have optimism about a win if Cal can clean up the mistakes.  I’d also argue that wins over USC and Stanford are not out of the question, again assuming Cal can clean up the mistakes.  USC would be even more true if it weren’t for the difficulty of going into the Coliseum, in my opinion the toughest place to go play.

So hope is not lost, the team just needs to clean up its stupid mistakes.

Advice: After a loss like that, do something unrelated

After cursing all that I could think of throughout that debacle of a game I took a deep breath, went into the other room and proceeded to have a great afternoon with the family playing board games and cooking some burgers and dogs on the grill.

Sometimes the best solution to a tough loss is to do something else.

EXACTLY 10 years later

Anybody know what happened 10 years to the day before Friday’s upset win over Washington State?

If you guessed the #2 ranked Bears lost to Oregon State on the infamous Kevin Riley scramble that cost the Bears a shot that the game tying field goal… you’re right!

That game was a *HUGE* inflection point in Cal football.  Before that moment, the Tedford era had been one of constant ascendancy.  Every year the team got better, with a slight interlude in 2005.  Going into that game, the Bears were poised not only to go to their first Rose Bowl in nearly 50 years (at the time) but also felt like real national title contenders, not just that year, but into the future.

Yet, after Tedford threw down his play card and his headset, the team was never again the same.  There were moments in 2008 and 2009 that suggested the team might find some of it’s former glory, but they were mirages.  The team continued down and down and down, eventually resulting in a 3-9 effort in 2012 that lost Teford his job and the 2013 season where the Bears were back to a one win season for the first time since 2001, the year before Tedford was hired.  The cupboard was bare and there wasn’t much reason to hope.

But exactly 10 years later the Bears did something remarkable, something they’ve never done before: Beat a top-10 team by 30+ points.

Perhaps it is just false optimism, but why do I feel today that this event, exactly 10 years to the day after that terrible moment, could be another inflection point for the program, but this one in a much more positive direction?

Boy does the loss to OSU hurt!

It’s looking less and less likely the Bears can win both of their last two games.  And if they don’t, they don’t make a bowl game nor get the MUCH needed extra practices that go with a bowl game.  Looking back over the season, the loss to OSU stands out as a massive disaster.  The Beavers ONLY conference win is against Cal.  And it’s not like they haven’t played other weak teams, they lost handily to a VERY weak UCLA team (Cal’s best hope at a win before the season’s end) just last week.

I guess the Bears got a win against Utah that each week becomes more and more of  a head-scratcher, but ignoring that, MAN does that loss to Oregon State hurt!

Cal theme of the week: Tired

All the videos of team interviews I’ve seen indicate this is a tired team.  These very close games, including overtime in the last two, are taking their toll.  Add to that the short week, and the Bears will be on the wrong side of exhausted on Thursday night.  I didn’t think the Bears had much of a shot at USC ever since USC switched their QB, but the exhaustion will likely lead to an ugly game, the worst of the season.

(Full preview to come tomorrow)

Thoughts on last week’s games

I had meant to get to this on Tuesday or Wednesday, but the week has got away from me…

The most scary result from last weekend has to be Michigan 63, Hawaii 3.  Ouch!  That doesn’t speak well for Cal’s 51-31 victory over Hawaii.  Now, of course, Hawaii had a very hard week, having to travel from Australia to Hawaii to Michigan and somewhere in there they had to prepare for Michigan.  If you’re looking for a sliver lining, that’s about all you’ve got, and it’s not a lot to hold onto.

If that’s scary as for what it says about the whole upcoming season, two other results are at least somewhat scary for the upcoming couple of games.  In the somewhat troubling category is the 31-0 victory SDSU had over New Hampshire.  While the ’31’ doesn’t say much considering the opponent, the ‘0’ almost always says something.  SDSU’s defense is no slouch, even if the shutout only comes against a weak FCS team.

But the truly terrifying result is the 50-47 Texas victory over Notre Dame.  There’s no doubt that Texas is markedly improved on offense.  The only way the Bears will win that game is if they can win a shootout, as there’s no way Cal’s defense is as good as Notre Dame’s.  The good news is that perhaps the Texas defense is susceptible to giving up a lot of points themselves.

Looking forward to the conference games, the Pac-12 doesn’t look all that formidable and suggests there will be room for Cal to win a number of games:

  • ASU didn’t look bad in their victory over Northern Arizona, but who wouldn’t?
  • Utah looks very formidable on defense, shutting out Southern Utah.  One must fear that this year’s Utah game will be a bit like last years game, but if Cal can get the offense rolling, it’s a winnable game.
  • Oregon State actually handled themselves well against Minnesota in a loss.  They probably won’t be as much as a pushover as we’d hope but still very beatable
  • Oregon looked almost as mediocre as Cal did in their 53-28 victory over UC Davis.  This could be the year against them.
  • USC had the conferences largest faceplant, but it was against Alabama.  Nevertheless, this team is very beatable.
  • It’s hard to know if Washington is the real deal, but their victory over Rutgers probably helps their resume enough to propose that they might be pretty good.  Let’s wait a couple more games before we write that in stone though.
  • WSU showed they are just as beatable as last year in losing a shootout to Eastern Washington.  Somebody needs to tell them they’re allowed to practice before their 1st game.
  • Stanford looked like their old self.  Frustratingly hard to beat for such a vanilla offense.  The defense gives them so many opportunities to win the game.
  • UCLA played a suspect, but still upper-half power-5 conference team (Texas A&M) pretty close, but again, demonstrated they’re vulnerable to a good team.

So to sum that all up, lots of vulnerable teams if Cal can get its act together and play some defense.  If Cal can show me something more inspiring on Saturday than they did in Australia, I might be willing to be pretty optimistic about our chances in the conference.

Random Monday morning thoughts

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.

Unbalanced schedules could hurt Bears

With the collapse of Oregon, the Pac-12 North appears to be a battle between Cal and Stanford.  While it’s not guaranteed, as Cal could lose some games they shouldn’t based on what we know so far, at this point any results-based analysis suggests it should come down to the Bears and the Cardinal.

Thus the question becomes, what will it take for the Bears to finish ahead of Stanford?

The simplest answer of course is the Bears need to beat Stanford in the Big Game and then do no more than 1 game worse in the rest of conference play than the Cardinal.  So, if Cal beats Stanford, we can afford to lose one game to someone else that Stanford does not.  Cal could lose to USC even though Stanford beat them and still be OK.

But here’s where it could get unfair…

Stanford doesn’t have to play Utah.  They get to play Colorado instead.  There goes our one-game buffer, as one has to expect Stanford to beat lowly Colorado.  But to make matters even worse, the other swap isn’t exactly fair either.  Stanford gets Arizona, whereas Cal gets ASU.

So, for those of you Old Blues out there, here’s your worst case scenario:

Cal runs the table in the conference, including beating Stanford, and beats every team that Stanford beats, but Cal still loses the division, because Cal loses to ASU in the final game of the season (in addition to already losing to Utah) whereas Stanford beats up on Colorado and Arizona.

Wouldn’t that stink?

19 point favorite?

The point-spread for the Cal vs. WSU game this weekend is up to 19 points.

What are they crazy?  Who would give that many points?

If I was a betting man with no loyalty, I’d be taking WSU in a heart-beat.  Do people not remember that WSU should have won the game last year if it weren’t for a field goal kicker who couldn’t line himself up correctly on the right hash mark?

Just insane.

WARNING: Pink is a shade of Red!

Am I the ONLY one who realizes that pink is a shade of red?  Thus, there should be NO pink Cal gear.  The cheerleaders should never wear pink.  The team should never wear pink.  And there sure as heck shouldn’t be a day where we’re all supposed to wear pink to the game like this official Cal page suggests for the WSU game (a team that also happens to be red).

Is a strong run game a good thing?

Anybody who’s watched a fair amount of football knows how important the run game is.  You generally can count me among its strongest proponents.  So I was happy to read this BearTalk post about how the Bears intend to run better this year.  That is until I got to this perplexing line:

they ran for just 103 yards per game against their first six FBS foes, then hiked that to an average of nearly 184 yards over the final five games.

That sounds good to the untrained observer.  How can improvement over the course of the year be bad, right?  But for those of us who actually remember how last season went, the Bears went 3-3 in their first 6 FBS games but only 1-4 in their last 5.  Sure seems like running more resulted in more losing.

So then I dug into it on a per-game basis.  Perhaps hiding in the above numbers was some clarity:


  • Northwestern: 114
  • Colorado: 127
  • Washington State: 62
  • Oregon State: 269

Close Loses

  • Arizona: 193
  • UCLA: 56
  • BYU: 173

Larger loses:

  • Washington: 64
  • Oregon: 193
  • USC: 105
  • Stanford: 179

Uh, not really.  The Bears won and lost close running for 62 and 56 yards, their lowest two totals of the season and lost big with their 2nd highest total of 193 (Oregon).  They also lost close with the exact same number of yards (Arizona).

There’s not much way around it statistically.  The Bears ability to win last year had very little to do with their ability to run (at least statistically).  It’s far more tied to whether they could pass:


  • Northwestern: 300
  • Colorado: 458
  • Washington State: 527
  • Oregon State: 277

Close Loses

  • Arizona: 380
  • UCLA: 310
  • BYU: 393

Larger loses:

  • Washington: 304
  • Oregon: 367
  • USC: 279
  • Stanford: 231

If the Bears passed for more than 310 or so, they gave themselves a good shot to win (OSU being the outlier).  However in the 4 large loses, they only got over that number once and 2 or their 3 worst passing performances were in that bucket.

So maybe for this offense, it’s just not keyed on the run game.


Thus endth a disappointing season

Two things for me defined both the BYU game and the season:

  1. The defense is H.O.R.R.I.B.L.E…  Early and mid-season, while complaining occasionally about scheme issues, I frequently held out hope of improvement throughout the season.  There were things I saw early in the Arizona game, the Washington game, even the Oregon game, that gave me reason to hope.  But when the team is getting repeatedly burned for long touchdowns in the 4th quarter of the final game of the season it is time to face facts.  The defense is horrible.
  2. Dykes in game management and halftime adjustments leave something to be desired.  The Bears came out the tunnel in the 2nd half acting like they had a big lead and were trying to run out the clock.  Even after BYU evened the score, they continued to run the offense as if running out the clock with the running game was the order of the day.  Only when the Bears trailed did they revert to 1st half form.  Add to that mistakes like misuse of timeouts on the final drive and I find myself more and more frustrated with the coaching staffs in-game decisions.

I could rehash the entire season at this point to prove how the above two trends are what turned this team from somewhere around 8-4 into 5-7 (Arizona, UCLA, BYU on the top of the flopping list), but I think it is pretty obvious to all who have been watching.

Instead, here’s the big question for us “lifers” as we head into the off-season:  Will any of this change in the years to come?

I’ll take them one at a time:


There are 3 things that affect defensive performance: The scheme, the coaching, and the talent of the players.  There’s been some valid concern that the talent on the defensive side of the ball has been lacking.  And while I won’t completely dismiss that as an issue, the longer the season has wore on, the less I think that’s the fundamental issue here.  It’s not like the guys aren’t fast enough, or strong enough, or big enough on the lines.  While they may not be the biggest and fastest and the strongest, they’re enough of those things not to be the worst defense in the country.  Talent wise they should be a middle of the conference defense.

However, sometimes when people talk about “not having the players” they mean something else.  “They’re young” can mean two things: they haven’t physically developed yet and they haven’t been “coached up” to be good at the collegiate level.  Thus really, to some degree not  having the players is about coaching over multiple seasons.

And here’s the rub: If the coaching staff doesn’t know how to develop the talent, they’ll never improve.  It’s not like it’s some osmosis process that has them develop.  It’s coaching.  And I’m beginning to have my doubts about the quality of the defensive coaching.  By this point in the season, I don’t care HOW young they all are, I don’t expect them to have the massive errors on defense we saw yesterday.

(However, I’m willing to admit that these things are difficult to read and what we saw Saturday may be indicative of something other than poor coaching)

Which brings us to the thing I’ve been complaining about all season: The defensive scheme.  Frankly, it stinks on ice.  The players were put in positions where they were downright guaranteed to fail.  However, I must say that the schemes I saw Saturday were the best I’ve seen all season.  They did a much better combination of press coverage and soft coverage.  They did a better job of using the outside linebackers to both provide passing protection, particularly just off the line of scrimmage, while keeping them in a place where they could help with run support.  And while I still think Cal would be better suited with a 3-4, what I saw yesterday was a vast improvement.

And of course that’s the game where the Bears got torched down the field worse than they have all season.

That’s all a long way of saying perhaps the crummy scheme they’ve been using was necessary to cover up some pretty glaring holes.  Perhaps the coaching staff had no choice but to play a scheme that gave up too much underneath and left the defense vulnerable in a myriad of small ways, while preventing them from being vulnerable in too many big ways.

So in the end, I’ve got reasons for concern and reasons for hope on defense.  They are young, and perhaps with another year to be coached up, if indeed this staff is capable of it, they’ll be a lot better.  Perhaps the scheme will improve as the defense matures.  But I’m not willing to go too much further than “perhaps”.

In-game management:

One of the disadvantages of coaching a rebuilding team is that you don’t have a lot of time to work on the little things.  They’ve got so many big things to work on that there’s just not much time for little things like on-side kicks, scenario planning like what to do with no-time outs and 1st and goal with less than 30 seconds left.  So to some degree, I have hope that some of the boneheaded things that hurt the team this year will be worked out as the team moves further up the rebuilding curve.

That also applies to things like timeout management where the coach burns timeouts that he otherwise wouldn’t because he’s doing coaching during the game that a mature team wouldn’t need.  Actually, it applies very broadly because mid-game the coaching staff is distracted on the sideline, working on things on the sideline, that take their attention away from the field.

So I’ve got more reason for hope here than most do.  I think Dykes will get better as time goes on.  I think he’s learning (at least I hope so).  The in-game mistakes he’s made have been very inconsistent.  In this case, that’s a good thing.  If he was making the same mistakes over and over, then we’d know he wasn’t learning from his mistakes.


So overall my thought is that while I sure wish the team was further along the growth curve, the analytical side of me realizes that just because progress is going slower than I’d hoped, doesn’t mean the team isn’t going to continue to grow.  It may stall at some point, perhaps even next season, but I’m not ready to sound the alarm that this is the best we’re going to be.

At this point my biggest concern is how it affects recruiting.  You only have so long you can sell the story that this is a new staff and the team will be getting better.  It really would have helped for this team to be 7-5.  It would have made a much more compelling case to our potential recruits.  Because if Dykes can’t improve recruiting, it won’t matter how good of a coach he is, he just won’t have the players to get it done.

Here’s hoping that 5-7 after a 1-11 season is just enough to keep that train moving in the right direction.

A look at a time not far from now

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.

Heard Sandy speak last night

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

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

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

Here are some highlights from her talk:

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

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

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

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

Perhaps the most ridiculous comparison yet

Avi over at CGB suggests that it takes time to build a program. Completely agree there.

What I can’t even come close to agreeing to is his examples of how it takes time:

“It took Chip Kelly just over two years to turn Oregon into an uncatchable spaceship.” Says Avi. But in his first year as head coach, he went 11-2, losing only his first game and the Rose Bowl. In his 2nd year, he went undefeated until losing in the BCS championship game. Perhaps he was referring to his time as OC, but in both seasons he improved over the prior season.

“Harbaugh had two losing seasons in Palo Alto…” Yes, but considering that they were 4-8 and then 5-7 after going 1-11 before his arrival, that’s a pretty big improvement.

“Saban got embarrassed by Louisiana Monroe and got creamed by Utah on a national stage.” Er, but that ‘national stage’ was the Sugar Bowl… hard to call that a “takes time to build” example.

He also mentions Urban Meyer, Chris Peterson, Mike Leach at Texas Tech and Art Briles at Baylor, the last two probably being the best examples of the group, but in whole, few of them saw their programs actually take a meaningful step backwards in their first season, which is what we’re seeing so far in Berkeley with Dykes.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the argument. Sometimes it does take a step back to get moving in the right direction. I just couldn’t help but think these were some of the worst examples.

One point I’m now willing to concede

The injury bug that has affected the Bears defense is truly amazing and baffling at the same time. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not on the Bears, not on any team in the Pac-8/10/12, not on any team I’ve ever even tangentially watched. It completely defies the odds and averages.

And yes, it is affecting the ability of the defense to put together a competent unit. I will finally concede that point. It doesn’t fully excuse the problems the defense has (the defensive line doesn’t get a pass here). But it is a factor, one that I’ve been dismissing in the past.

I don’t like to think this way, but it’s so bad that it has me thinking up all kinds of conspiracy theories. Did the Tedford regime have them taking “supplements” that since they’re now off them they’re injury prone? Does the Dykes regime have them taking something that makes them injury prone? What about the workout programs? What about the practice schedules/philosophies? There’s got to be something!?! Right?

As I said, it’s not wise to let the brain go down those roads, but I’m having a hard time stopping myself.

It’s just too bizarre to not have stupid thoughts trying to explain.

My prediction for the next 5 years

After Saturday’s beat down in Berkeley, I had a vision, a vision that must be shared.

The Bears are going to get better next year. Significantly better.

Year 2 of the Berkeley conversion will result in a far higher level of execution as Dykes and company are able to focus more on execution than on scheme implementation. This young team will be a lot more mature and seasoned. Goff will be significantly improved and will lose the jitters of a Freshman who’s made a couple too many mistakes. The injury plague that has inexplicably gripped this team will not last forever. The Bears will give us early hope that 2014 will include a bowl game.

And while this trend might even extend into year three with so many of today’s young players still on the team, that will be the end of it. Our hope that the trajectory of improvements seen in 2014 continue into the future will find themselves dashed in 2015 and 2016.

Simply put, Dykes won’t win enough games, particularly the critically important ones. Even though massively improved from this year’s 2-10 effort, we likely won’t go to a bowl game, or if we do it’ll be such a low one that nobody of note cares. The recruiting situation will get much worse. We will go back to half empty stadiums full of die-hard Bear fans only.

What good will and program momentum Tedford initially built will slide into a distant memory. The program will return to its steady state position for the last 60 years, lots of 4-8 seasons with just enough home wins and the occasional big upset that keeps the die-hards around.

In between the 2015 and 2016 seasions, Sandy Barbour will be let go because the financial plan built on an assumption of success will go from troublesome to a disaster as season ticket sales plummet. particularly in the ESP sections. The new AD will fire Dykes after the next season, with a year left on his contract. The new AD will be faced with the very difficult decision of who to hire for a massive rebuilding project and probably have very limited funds to do so.

The result will be to go back to the playbook that resulted in hiring Tedford: hire a young coordinator with no head coaching experience from a newly successful BCS conference (NOT mid-major) school. He would like to get somebody with a more polished resume, but both the lack of cash and the lack of intangibles to lure someone like that will prevent it.

And in year 5 we start over again.

(Either that, or I’m reading my Crystal Ball upside down again, like I apparently did in the WSU preview.)

My reasons for hope

Now that we’ve got the depressing stuff out of the way, here is why I have optimism:

  • There’s lot’s of talent on this team: When most struggling teams get a new coach, one of the first things the pundits do is try to tamper optimism. “Turn arounds take time.” And they point at teams like WSU and Colorado or even ones that have shown success like Kansas State, South Carolina, Michigan State or even Dykes’ previous school LA Tech, all of which took at least a couple years before the wins started coming. But one of the things they overlook is part of what takes time is gathering talent. If one goes looking for teams that had a down turn but had lots of talent, one often sees very quick turn arounds. UCLA and ASU last year are examples of that. Frankly, our beloved Cal benefited from that when Tedford took over. For all of Holmoe’s problems, one thing he did pretty well is identify under-appreciated talent and also convincing at least a few recruits that “shouldn’t have” come to Cal that Berkeley was the place to be (such as Boller). In any case, this year’s Cal team more fits the 2002 Bears or the 2012 UCLA team than it does the Colorado or WSU mold.
  • Jared Goff looks like the real deal: Both from seeing high school footage and seeing snippets from practice, it sure looks like he’s the real deal. The only negative I hear about him is that he doesn’t have “a cannon” of an arm. If that’s all they have against him, I’m pretty excited. Most high school QB’s that have “a cannon” end up sucking in college. They have problems developing touch, bouncing balls off receivers hands and unable to drop a ball into a small window. They learned in high school they could make up for all sins by rocketing it in there and that just doesn’t work at the next level. In contrast, those without that crutch in high school actually tend to learn better fundamentals, better quick decision making and seem better at anticipating how things are going to develop. Plus, when your early-enrolling QB is throwing the least INTs in practice of all the QBs and is the only one who can somewhat consistently throw a ball in the garbage can (it’s a drill they do), that’s an exciting/promising sign. This team is stocked with elite 11 QBs and if the new guy is outplaying them, he’s got to be pretty good.
  • Sonny Dykes’ system looks pretty leading edge without being gimmicky: There have been a lot of different offensive systems in college football that have come and go. Some worked for a few years. Some worked for a long time, but were eventually dismissed. Still others changed the game forever and even new systems integrate what was innovative from the original. I think it is a challenge when a new system comes along to tell what you’re looking at. Is it a gimmick that will be ‘solved’ in a few years? Or does it have some staying power? Yet with that caveat aside, when I look at what I’ve seen from this system it sure feels to me like the next logical step in what the Air-Raid spread (as opposed to the read-option spread) promises, and integrates some of the best ideas that came from the read-option spread (pace of play in particular). Said another way, Cal won’t be running the same plays that the conference has seen from Oregon or even WSU. As WSU has shown, running plays that the conference now has experience defending, but at a novice level, doesn’t work well. We’re not going to out-Oregon, Oregon. And the good news is that it doesn’t look like we’re trying to. It looks like we’re running a system that forces the defense to make tough choices and be reactive in lose-lose situations. It also looks like at the same time that it isn’t overly complicated and is tailored to college players who have to go to school in other things besides the huge playbook.
  • The game won’t be over before halftime: One of the things that truly frustrated me about the end of the Tedford years was that there was ZERO ability to recover from a slow start to a game. Tedford always talked about how important it was to “start strong”. The reason was we were doomed if we ever got 2 scores down. That team just had so little ability to come back from a deficit. The clock would look like it was smoking it ran down so fast in the 2nd half, with both the opposition trying to run down the clock and Tedford’s offense poorly built to conserve it. Dykes’ system is the polar opposite. If I have one piece of advice worth listening to, it is this: If you’re the type who likes to leave early, don’t! You’re going to miss some wild endings under the new regime.
  • Tedford’s “cursed games” are no more:In the middle of the schedule there’s a stretch of games that, for those of us accustomed to the patterns of the Tedford years, scare the crud out of us. UCLA in LA? Just about un-winnable, right? Oregon State in Berkeley? That’s where all of Cal disasters start, right Riley? UW in Washington? That where dreams go to die, or is it freeze? We’re DOOOOOMED! The problem with that sort of thinking is that it overlooks that the particulars of how Tedford ran things were what made those trends. For most teams, Oregon State wasn’t nearly the hurdle it was to us. Plenty of teams didn’t seem to collapse whenever inside the confines of the Rose Bowl stadium nor when making a trip to Husky stadium. We need to purge from our mind the patterns of Tedford. Thus, there are more winnable games in the middle of the schedule than people think.
  • After a tough start, Cal will be battle tested for a strong conference run: There’s no doubt that 3 of the first 4 games are a real challenge. But after that Cal gets WSU at home, a very winnable game, before entering the stretch I mention above. I think UCLA takes a step back this year and Washington doesn’t make the jump to elite status (and hopefully that will have sunk in on their team by the time we get to them). So, if one wants to take the positive road, if Cal can pull the upset over Northwestern on Saturday, something we’ve got a shot at (the Pac-12 always does well against the usually one-dimensional B10), we’ll be 2-2 after the opening stretch. With a strong performance, Cal could win all of the next 5, but let’s say they drop one to UCLA/UW/OSU. The team would be 6-3 and have a lot of confidence going into the final tough stretch. While I still hold out hope that the early games will bear fruit in November against USC and Stanford and we could pull at least one upset, even if they don’t, I won’t be unhappy with 7-5 with a win against Colorado in between those two tough games.

In summary, looking at both this post and the prior one, I say the glass is half full.