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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:

Wins:

  • 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:

Wins:

  • 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.

Thoughts?

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:

Defense:

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.

Conclusion:

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.

GO BEARS!

My reasons for concern

What do you want first, the good news or the bad news?

That wasn’t really a question, but just a way to do introduce that this is the first of a pair of posts, the first about our issues going into this year, and the second being the reasons to be optimistic. Since I’d like to finish on a positive note, let’s start with the bad:

  • True Freshman QB: The history of true freshmen quarterbacks is littered with highly touted, highly ranked recruits who’s last moment looking good is when trotting onto the field before the first snap. After that, it’s all downhill, the young man often permanently scarred going through such a painful season, never to recover, never to be heard from again except in cautionary tales by bloggers who’ve been around for a while. And while I’ve got some reason for optimism (for another post), there’s no denying that Jared Goff is battling odds that are stacked heavily against him.
  • The injuries seems to be piling up early: Every team sustains injuries during fall practice, but it feels like the body count is a bit high at this point. The result is that you’re going to see a lot of new and young faces on Saturday. RS Freshmen Steven Moore starting at Right Tackle (Ouch!) with Bill Tyndall out, Hardy Nickerson at middle linebacker with Nick Forbes not healthy yet, and Damariay Drew at strong safety if Avery Sabastian can’t play on Saturday. And that doesn’t cover the lesser player injuries.
  • Young offensive line: As mentioned above, there will be a RS Freshman offensive linemen starting on Saturday who we didn’t expect, but in addition to that, we’ve got another RS Freshman on the right side (guard Matt Cochran). While the left side looks stronger with Tagaloa and Rigsbee, they’re both only sophomores and our lone upper-classman, Adcock at center, hasn’t exactly impressed me (yet). If there’s good news, 2014, and 2015 in particular, look very strong with a lot of experience. But this year there’s going to be a lot of growing pains.
  • New systems don’t take hold over night: I’ve been doing my best to understand the pros and cons of Dykes’ offensive system and I’ve still got a lot to learn. But one thing I know for sure is that this system is about as different as one can get from Tedford’s system. There’s just no way they’re going to be operating at 100% efficiency, particularly in the 1st game. To pile on top of that, while I was pretty soft on the defensive change to the 4-3 in my earlier post, it would have been nice if the defense wasn’t going through an overhaul as well, at least for 2013.
  • The worst possible schedule for a young team: A young team does best when they ease into their schedule. If I could have dictated the schedule for this year, I would have played Colorado State to open the season, then our FCS team, then Maryland or Rutgers (or similar). After that I would want to see Colorado, then Arizona, then moving up to a tougher team like Oregon State and Washington, then a bit of relief with a game like WSU, then USC and Oregon, then the other one of UW and OSU, before wrapping up with Stanford. Or in way of summary, back-load, but don’t OVER back-load. Instead we get a ‘returning just about everyone from a 10-3 team’ Northwestern, #2 Ohio State and #3 Oregon in the 1st 4 games. After that, things look a lot better, but it sure would be nice to have gotten some easier games early.

That’s what on the top of my list anyway.

4-3 vs. 3-4

Of all of the things I heard over the off-season, the one that gave me the most “instinctual” heart-burn, it has been the decision to return to the 4-3 defense from the 3-4. I think we all remember recent history, but for those who don’t, or perhaps to lay out how I think recent history went:

Starting in 2005 or so, spread offenses started to become all the rage (because they were working). The big thing they did was find a way for smaller teams to work around big defensive lines by going around them. They started developing key plays like the read-option where they could isolate one defensive end and take him out of the equation (either way he guessed, the play went the other way).

And as I said, it worked… almost too well.

But of course defensive coordinators aren’t going to stand still and just take a beating. They started developing new ideas. One of the first was the “Bend But Don’t Break” strategy, which relied on lot of zone coverage and spreading out the defense a bit. It worked to some degree, particularly when they’d force the spread offenses into a big loss every once in a while, breaking their rhythm and into more traditional passing situations on 3rd down where the big defensive linemen could go for broke after the QB. But it only worked so well and it left the defense on the field a lot giving up a lot of small gains that would take their toll in the 4th quarter.

The next stage of development started in the 2008-2009 time frame. (And to give credit to our former coaching staff of which I dare not speak, they were on the leading edge of this.) Defenses realized that by taking a defensive lineman off the field and replacing him with a linebacker they got a number of positive effects. First of all, there was more speed on the field to cover more territory. But just as important (and often overlooked) was the gap assignments of the defense were no longer as predictable to the offense. As a result, things like the read-option trap for the defense end was no longer so clear. Who’s the appropriate guy to read? The DE or the 4th/outside linebacker? It could change on each play depending on alignment.

And this new strategy worked! Looking at the teams who had defensive success against the best spread teams, most of them were 3-4 teams. And while the games of cat and mouse continue to the day, the playing field feels a lot more balanced.

So this 4-3 thing has to be a disaster in the making, right?

Frankly, it might be… but I’m also not so sure until I watch them on the field.

The reality is the line between a 3-4 and a 4-3 has blurred. If you have your outside linebacker up on the line with his hand on the ground pre-snap, how much different is that than a 4-3? If you replied with “speed”, then when your outside linebackers in the old 3-4 become DE’s in your new 4-3, how different is THAT?

The more I think about it, I guess to some degree 4-3 vs. 3-4 isn’t all that important. But I do think there are some concepts that have been integrated into the modern 3-4 offenses that are very important to success in today’s Pac-12. So if you’re going to run a 4-3, you need to make sure you incorporate these things.

So this post was a long way of saying here’s what I’m looking for out of the defense when they take the field:

  • Do they occasionally drop linemen into coverage? One of the keys to the 3-4’s is that where the rush is coming from is very confusing to the QBs and the offensive linemen. You do that by bringing different linebackers at different times. And at some point, you bring so many linebackers that you need a lineman to get up out of his stance and cover the middle zone. This is even more true when 4 of your rushers (instead of 3) are “predictable rushers”.
  • Are the outside linebackers lining up fairly widely? Remember in 2011 when USC beat the ever-loving-crud out of us? (Yeah, I’ve mostly blocked it out too, but dig deep, it’s in there somewhere.) One of the things I remembered was part of how they beat us was by placing the outside linebackers extremely widely. Whenever we went sideways, which we liked to do a lot with Maynard and co. that year, it was a disaster. It seems like the 4-3’s that are successful place their outside linebackers pretty wide (although I don’t think it has to be as wide as USC did that night).
  • Where are the safeties playing? An alternative to the previous strategy is to bring the safeties up, on the outside. This has an upside of keeping the inside run support fairly strong with the outside linebackers able to collapse inside as needed. The downside of this strategy is that there are certain deeper passing routes that are harder to cover with the safeties out of their traditional positions. However, I think a fairly innovative defensive coordinator will be doing the same sort of “position swapping” (or maybe you could call it ‘creative zone coverages”) that we’re seeing today between the linemen and backers, but instead between the safeties and their fast linebackers. It’s something that will keep the QB REALLY off balance. (If I see this I’ll be very impressed, but will expect to see some growing pains.)
  • How dominant are our ‘true’ linemen? I think the #1 key to the 4-3 is that by putting 4 big bodies up on the line you have the potential to be very disruptive right off the snap. But that’s the thing… they NEED to be disruptive. You can’t have a stalemate on the line. Back in the pre-spread days, stalemates on the line were often OK because on running plays the stalemate resulted in a minimal gain and passing plays could often be contained by good secondary coverage. These days, if you’re going to have big bodies on the line, they’d better be disruptive right off the snap (and BTW, I think we have the personnel for this).

So, is the 4-3 bad? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s what I’ll be looking for to find out.

Can someone be both a A’s and Giants fan? Cal AND Stanford!?!

Peter Hartlaub of the SF Chronicle is a Giants fan, but went to the A’s game yesterday and considers himself a fan of both (yet primarily a Giants fan). He wrote an article about it:

The rules of regional sports are much more flexible to me.

My favorite teams are the Giants, 49ers and Cal. When their interests don’t intersect — which is about 95 percent of the time — I also want good things to happen to the A’s, Raiders and Stanford.

Frankly, I’m mostly with him for the pro Teams. I’m an A’s fan first, but I don’t dislike the Giants and will root for them when it doesn’t affect the A’s. Same with the 49’ers, when they’re not playing the Raiders.

But obviously it’s VERY different when it comes to Stanford. Only time I don’t root for the Pac-12 to win the Rose Bowl? When Stanford is in it. Only team I don’t root for to beat USC? Stanford.

So I asked myself, what is it that makes Stanford different? A few possibilities:

  • I’m a biggest fan of the Bears, thus the other team is less desirable: Perhaps this is a factor. My next team would be the A’s and it is the Giants who would be 2nd on my dislike list, if i had to rank them. But it’s so wholly different this doesn’t account for it.
  • Other Bears fans feel strongly, more so than the A’s or Raiders fans: Eh, not sure about this one. Raiders fans generally hate the 49’ers. A’s fans are not as bad. Nevertheless there might be a factor here.
  • They’re in the same league: Now this one makes a lot of sense. A’s and Giant’s are really competition for each other until the World Series (only happened once). Same for the Raiders and 49’ers (never happened). But Cal and Stanford play a meaningful game every year AND the other games we play affect each other too. This one seems like it makes a big difference.
  • College is different than pro: This makes a bit of sense too. One of the things I like about going to Cal football games is the sense of ownership is MUCH higher than the pro teams. Too many pro teams have left too many towns for pro-fans to not have just a tid-bit of distance from their favorite team. Pro teams are a business and fans are just part of the bottom line. Not so with college sports. Cal football isn’t going to relocate. The goal of the team is to build up the University. One that many of the fans went to. The level of commitment is unparalleled. Thus by corollary, fans of the other teams are further away and more adversarial.

Those last two reasons seem most accurate to me. What do you guys think?

The ‘off the rails’ post

I try very hard to keep an even keel about things. I go to Cal football games to enjoy myself. I can’t read the various message boards after the bad losses because the negativity is SSOOOOOO amazingly overwhelming that it just sucks the life out of me. While I also don’t want to be accused of being a ‘sunshine pumper’ I refuse to let this blog become a place of continuous and overwhelming negativity.

Thus I give you my ONE get-it-off-my-chest, airing my inner-demon, off-the-rails post:

Can anyone think of an example of such an epic collapse?

I’ve seen lots of coaches get fired over the last 10+ years of watching college football closely, but I can’t think of any examples of a coach with this long of a sustained run of bowl games (9 out of 10), who all of a sudden is at risk of a 1-win season.

It’s particularly galling considering that there are none of the excuses one might have for a weak year. The new QB, a ‘young team’, big injury problems, bad recruiting, etc… the Bears have none of those, at least to the degree that there’s any reason to put the blame on those things.

I feel like the 28 year-old stock-exchange traders in 2008

Remember those stories a couple years back about how there was a huge crop of stock traders, who had never seen a recession before, but because of the extended run-up, were surprisingly high up in their companies and making multi-million dollar decisions in an environment they had ZERO experience with?

That’s how I fee watching this collapse. Holmoe was something very different than this. The team was bad to start with, he never really got them moving forward, and you only give a coach so long to get the program moving in the right direction. I admit I was a bit surprised he fell to 1-10, but it wasn’t exactly a long fall from 3-8.

This has caught me off-guard. I’ve never seen a team quit. I’ve never seen such a regression. I’ve never seen a coach quit.

I’m not so sure I feel sorry for Tedford

Speaking of the coach quitting, I’m pretty appalled with Tedford right now. I still believe that he did something remarkable in Berkeley over his tenure and this will always be the house that Tedford built, but he’s quickly burning through any goodwill I had for him.

We’re not paying him 2.5 million a year for this sort of a lack of effort. I’m pretty sure that fabled cot of his hasn’t seen anyone lay down on it in a long time and is covered in dust, not blood and sweat.

I can have a lot of sympathy for a guy who’s giving it his all but just doesn’t have it in him. Heck, I still like Holmoe! I think it’s great he moved up to being an AD, a job he seems more suited to, and wish him the best at BYU. He was a sub-par football head coach but he is a very nice guy by all accounts.

But I have NO SYMPATHY for someone who’s not trying, particularly when they’re collecting a big salary. Tedford looks to me like a guy who is just showing up to collect his big paycheck. I’m not so sure he’s a nice guy who wants to do it the right way anymore. His team’s APR scores don’t reflect that. His team’s on the field performance doesn’t reflect that. They reflect a lazy man who doesn’t really care and is bilking donors for millions of dollars.

This team could REALLY go 1-11

If they put up the sort of effort they did today, particularly considering the two most winnable games are on the road, it’s not unreasonable to think this team goes 1-11. Utah and WSU will be licking their chops looking for their own meager victories to save them from the dreaded basement.

Considering the talent on this team, that’s disgusting.

ASU isn’t very good

I keep reading in various places that we lost to a pretty good ASU team. I call

BS!

ASU wasn’t very good. ASU fans should be worried sick that the ridiculous performance the Bears put up today managed to get to 17-20 4th quarter score. ASU wasn’t very good. It’s part of why the loss was so appalling.

Keenan Allen is part of the problem

Is he really as good as we all talk about him being? The guy is dropping passes. The guy has the worst traction on the field EVERY WEEK, worse than any other player on either team. I’m not so sure he runs very crisp routes. He’s not getting that open (not nearly as much as the other receivers that Maynard is ignoring). Yeah, there’s no doubt he’s still fast and big and doesn’t go down easy, breaking through arm tackles, but is he really that good?

I don’t think so.

And yeah, I know he was sick yesterday. I’m basing this on his body of work for the season, not yesterday alone.

The Faustian bargain that sank Tedford

Speaking of which, I think the package deal that got Tedford Keenan Allen, may just have been the moment where he lost his mojo and eventually his job. It’s ironic that it was for a wide-receiver, as the last time he had ‘team chemistry’ problems, 2007, it was a wide receiver (Desean Jackson) who was rumored to be at the center of it.

You get this feeling that a big part of the reason Tedford has lost this team, that they don’t seem to “get” what he’s trying to teach them, has to do with the fact that Maynard is under center. I still believe that Maynard has more potential than many give him credit for, but there are plenty of other QB’s on the roster with potential.

It just feels like part of the deal with Keenan Allen was that he had the right to insist on his brother as QB as long as he was close to as good as the rest. Tedford has never named a new starter at the end of Spring practice. Heck, did he ever do it with an established starter? Why all of a sudden with Maynard did he?

The whole situation reeks.

Sorry, there weren’t 51k people there today

There seems to be some disagreement as to how many people were at the game yesterday. Of course everyone agrees that the stated number is ticket sales, but many thought it didn’t look much more empty than previous 50k games.

But that was back when the stadium held 72k and the donor sections were packed to the gills, making the empty sections look emptier by comparison. With a half empty set of donor seats and only 63k capacity, that south endzone and the corners looked VERY empty. I wouldn’t be surprised if only 40k, heck maybe even 35k, were there.

The fans have been deciding on Tedford’s contract with their feet and it’s not pretty.

The whole situation is not pretty.

Can I make a suggestion?

Can we take a 4 game break from talking about how hot Tedford’s seat is?

I was thinking about how surprised I’ve been with how topsy-turvy the commenting has been on the other sites. There’s been very little moderation. Everything is either awesome and great or DOOOOOOMED! People are WAAAY over reacting to losses. People are saying we’re going to go 2-10, or “at best” 3-9, MAAYBE 4-8 with a miracle.

There just doesn’t seem to be any ability to take the bad games in stride and remember that all mediocre teams have good games and bad games and sometimes the best teams in the conference make mediocre teams look worse than they are. That’s what makes them the best.

Just to throw out a few of examples of that:

  • Cal lost to USC 30-9, right? So we’re doomed to 2-10… wait THIRTY!?! That was last year’s score… yet the team went 7-5.
  • Cal lost to Nevada 52-31, right? … OK, you’ve caught onto my game. :) But in 2010 after that loss the Bears still went 5-7. A disaster yes, but not 2-10.
  • Or how about that cross country trip against a ranked team, and lost 17-35? The Bears went 10-3 that season (2006).

And while there was wailing and gnashing of teeth after those losses, the overall outlook was never as bad as it has been this weekend. Why?

The only conclusion I could come to is that Tedford’s seat is getting hot. And I get it. We’re all sick of mediocrity and there’s little reason to believe at this point that Tedford will rise above it, particularly in the next year or two.

And part of that is it’s very hard to fire a coach who has been so beloved in the past. It takes a real act of will to cast him off. The way we emotionally accomplish that is by over-emphasizing our negative emotions to build up the strength to do it.

It will likely come to that at some point, perhaps at the end of this season, perhaps at the end of next season.

But I’d kinda like a chance to enjoy the games, between now and then. And if we can just all forget that Tedford is on the hot-seat for a few weeks, we might just be able to enjoy the games. I suggest 4 games, until after the Big Game. After the Big Game, Tedford will have either bought himself another season with lots of wins or his seat will be plenty hot and it’ll be time to have the REAL discussion on whether he gets fired.

In the mean time, we might be able to enjoy watching our mediocre Bears in what will likely be some close and exciting games. They may not win them all, but it’ll be exciting. Isn’t that why we watch the games, for some excitement and enjoyment?