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End of regular season thoughts

What an up and down season, huh?

  • Start with 4 wins and get ranked
  • Lose 4 straight after Garbers goes down, including two games that still stick in the craw (ASU and OSU).
  • Finally break the losing streak versus WSU (phew!)
  • Only to get exposed for lack of defensive backfield size/talent against USC
  • But manage to hobble together a couple of shakey wins against 2 mediocre teams (Stanford and UCLA)

In the end it’s a season of “what ifs”:

  • What if Garbers hadn’t gotten injured?
  • What if we were on the Colorado/Arizona cycle instead of the far superior Utah/ASU cycle?

But 7-5 is what I expected in my pre-season game-by-game prediction post, but the wins were a bit different. I expected losses to UW and UCLA and wins over ASU and OSU. And in some sense, I feel pretty good about that pre-season prediction.

So the question becomes should we be happy about the wins and losses?

One metric I like to look at is how many games went “wrong” based on finishing record. In that sense, it went as it should have. All the better teams (Utah, Oregon, USC) beat Cal and all the worse teams (WSU, Standford, UCLA) lost to Cal. Of the teams we tied in conference (UW, ASU, and OSU), we went 1-2. Particularly when one accommodates where Garbers was missing, it’s hard to criticize that 1-2.

(Also worth noting is my level of upset-ness about the OSU loss was wrong. Turns out OSU was much better than I thought.)

In the end I think it comes down to this: The program seems to be headed in the right direction overall and its biggest problem was that there wasn’t any depth at QB. While that’s a little disappointing in year 3, there are worse crimes. There is potential in Branch… he’s just young. Plus, if Bowers had stuck around there would have been more depth.

Considering the team is still young and we’re only losing a couple of important players (obviously Weaver being the most notable), there’s reason to hope that 2020 could be a break-through season if a few chips fall the right way.

Go Bears!

2019 Reasons to be concerned

It’s all well and good to focus on the positives before the season starts. God knows that we’ll have plenty of time to focus on the negatives starting tomorrow afternoon. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to properly set expectations so that when things start to not look as good as our most wildly optimistic thoughts, we’re not so surprised (or is the right word angry?).

Here are my thoughts about things to be concerned about:

  • Pick-6’s may not come so easy this year: Of the Bears 7 wins, 3 can pretty directly be attributed to pick-6’s or INTs: UW, Colorado (got a 14 point head start on 2 pick 6’s), and USC. As much as the defense deserves a lot of credit for those points, there’s an element of chance and randomness there. It wouldn’t have taken much for Cal to lose a couple of those games last year and end a disappointing 5-7. It’s not hard to imagine the team doesn’t have such good luck in that department this year.
  • Garbers improvement may not be as advertised: While there’s definitely reason for hope here, the last couple games of the season aren’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the idea that Garbers was getting better. And if he wasn’t improving over the course of the season, why are we so confident he got better over the off-season?
  • The tough games are on the road: This is the inverse of the optimistic ‘Most of the most winnable games are at home’ point. If we’re hoping for a Cal team that gets to 8-4 or better, they’re going to need to beat some pretty good teams. And most of those games are on the road: Oregon, Washington, Utah and Stanford top that list. And depending on what you think of UCLA after their loss last night, add UCLA to that list (remember that one is at the end of the season). Plus, I’d feel a lot better about Ole Miss at home and more confident about ASU if they weren’t coming home from a road trip to Ole Miss before the short week for that Friday night game.
  • The nose guard position: On the surface, it seems in good shape… Luc Bequette was one of our best defensive linemen last year. But he’s been moved from outside at end to the nose guard. The pre-fall camp hopeful starter Maldonado is injured and Fuimaono has been missing for unclear reasons. When the team’s only depth behind a player who had to be moved to that position is guys who’ve never played a snap of college football, it’s a little concerning.
  • Depth in general is a bit weak: There are some positions the team seem to have a lot of options: QB (ironically), RB, and DE are the most likely to survive injuries. But after that it gets a bit more troubling… ILB and OLB may not be too bad if you account for moving people around based on injuries, but if you just look at the depth chart, it gets thin pretty quick. The same could be said about CB and Safety. Past that, it gets pretty dicey. The offensive line, the wide receivers, and tight end as well as the previously mentioned nose guard position, could all be one injury away from being a real problem.
  • Weak offenses lead to thin margins of error: Perhaps this is a more general way to say my first point. But as we saw last year against Arizona, WSU and could imagine for UW and USC, it only takes a couple of pretty minor mistakes to turn the game the wrong way when the offense doesn’t score a lot of points. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a defense.
  • ASU and Utah are much better than UA and CU: Odd years are when Cal switches which pair of Pac-12 south teams it plays in addition to USC and UCLA. Without a doubt, both ASU and Utah are better than both UA and Colorado. And the Bears only went 1-1 against UA and CU last year. It’s going to be pretty challenging for the team to beat ASU and Utah this year.
  • Year 2 for break-out units tend to be tough: When a team has an offense that explodes, it takes a while for opponents to figure out how to defend it. But make no mistake, one of the coaching staff’s biggest jobs in the off-season is to analyze last year’s game film for ways to improve the following year. That’s why in year 2 of a newly improved unit, there’s often a step back. In our case, the unit in question in the defense. I’m sure every Pac-12 offensive coach spent a fair amount of their time pouring over Cal game film for weaknesses they might be able to exploit. Opposing QB’s now have a season’s worth of game film to review so they won’t be as surprised by the team’s creative coverage schemes. All of this brings up the very real possibility that the exact same defensive performance as last year, might not go quite as well the 2nd time around.

Do I have you sufficiently scared yet? Just in case I haven’t done my job yet, let’s walk through the season with a pessimistic outlook:

I won’t go completely doomsday and predict a UC Davis upset, but as you’ll see when I get to my game preview, they’re a lot more dangerous than many think. The same goes for N. Texas. But for sure, losing to UW is a very real possibility. So let’s say the Bears start out 2-1.

From here there’s a bunch of trouble. On the road into SEC territory, potentially early in the day? (game time is not yet set) That could easily be a loss even though it is a weaker Ole Miss. And if that happens, it’s not hard to imagine a loss to ASU after the short week for the Friday night game. And things don’t get better the following week headed to Eugene to lose to Oregon.

Thus the Bears would stumble into their bye week on a 3-game losing streak and 2-4 overall. The Bears should pick up a win against Oregon State at home after the bye.

Yet after that, there’s not a single game the Bears should feel safe about. Heading to Utah is always trouble. WSU is always a tough game and the same goes for USC. (Don’t let winning one game after 14 years of futility get to your head.) Let’s be nice and suggest the Bears win 1 of those 3.

That brings the team’s record to 4-6, needing to win both games against Stanford and UCLA. And if we were being optimists, we could hope for 2 wins to get to bowl eligibility. Sadly, this is the pessimists view and that suggests we lose to Stanford (who continues to have Cal’s numbers, year after year) and at that point, now eliminated from bowl eligibility, Cal has a tough time bringing the needed intensity to UCLA on the road on Thanksgiving weekend and drops the final game.

Final record 4-8 for the pessimistic view, with 3-9 not being completely out of the realm of possibility of you’re embracing the ‘Old Blue’ inside you.

2019 Reasons for Optimism

Another Cal season is upon us. And if you read the various Cal sites, there’s lots of reasons to be optimistic. In fact, I think a couple of weeks ago it officially crossed the threshold from optimism to delusion. But, that doesn’t mean that hiding inside the delusion aren’t some real reasons for optimism. Here’s what they are as I see them:

  • The defense should be good again: …perhaps even great. While there are a couple more concerning points (but I’ll get to those in another post) it is not unreasonable to think that the 2019 defense has the potential to match or even exceed the 2018 version.
  • Good defense leads to close games: Last year Cal gave up more than 24 points only twice: Oregon and UCLA. And wouldn’t you know it, those were the only two games Cal fans walked away dejected. Why? Because even if you’re offense is inept (there, I said it, OK?) it doesn’t take but a couple of lucky breaks to score a couple touchdowns. And once the team has done that, you’re always in striking distance of a last second win.
  • The QB situation should be better: There’s no getting around that last year was rough at QB. The presumptive 2nd year starter (Bowers) for whatever reason was quickly on the sideline leaving us with two untested QB’s fighting it out. One was potentially explosive, but as it turned out, also frequently disastrous. The other was steady but a bit uninspiring at times. Mr. Steady is back for season #2. Now he’s got 2/3rds of a season of experience under his belt plus a full off-season as the presumptive starter. One has to expect Garbers to be better in 2019.
  • There’s a lot more talent at WR: (Note the word “more”… particularly when compared to the late season injury plagued unit that is most fresh in our minds). There’s a lot of youth in this group, but youth has rarely been a huge problem at WR. It’s more about talent and work ethic. Between the set of backups from last year who might be ready to contribute and the freshmen and transfers, there should be enough speed and talent here to keep opposing defenses more honest than 2018. That’ll help the run game too.
  • Most of the most winnable games are at home: This can be a tough one because it can be said in both a positive and negative way, but I’ll save the negative way for another post. The positive way to say it that if you have the easy games at home, the floor for the team is higher. In other words, if all the supposed easy games are on the road, the team (in the worst case scenario) is a lot more likely to be at risk of a 2-win season. Said another way, it’s much easier to lose teams that the team shouldn’t lose to on the road. By having those teams at home, the floor is higher. There’s 3 nearly guaranteed wins at home (UC-Davis, N. Texas and Oregon State) and another 3 that are very winnable (WSU, USC and ASU). Win those games and Cal goes bowling even if they strike out on the road.
  • Year 3 of programs tend to be the break out year: If you look at most programs that are on a building trend, year 3 is where it most frequently comes together. Last year the defense got there a bit ahead of schedule. But we’ve reached the point where Wilcox and staff have a team that is mostly of their making and they’ve had a chance to fully put in place what they want to do.

So what does my optimistic scenario look like? I think this team could open the season 5-0. UC Davis, a rebuilding UW, N. Texas, a weaker than normal Ole Miss, and ASU at home. There’s no reason to think (when being optimistic) that the Bears couldn’t win all those games.

At that point, yet again we’ll get ESPN GameDay, but yet again it will be on the road, for the Oregon game. I think we’re in delusion mode if we think Cal wins that game. Sure, crazy things happen, but I’d like my optimism to have at least some semblance of reality.

The final 6 games have 3 that really concern me (@Utah, @Stanford and @UCLA) and 2 that I think are reasonably winnable (WSU and USC) and one that should be a win (OSU). Because things are never as ‘by the book’ as we’d think, my realistic optimistic prediction is they win one of those 3 scary ones, but also lose 1 of the pretty winnable ones.

The result is optimism points to an 8-4 team, with an upside to 9-3 and if you squint just the right way, 10-2 isn’t inconceivable. Anything beyond that (well probably even the 10-2 should be included) is pretty delusional.

End of season thoughts

A handful of random thoughts now that the season was over:

  • Cheez-it bowl?  I liked the name a lot better when it was the Copper bowl or the Insight Bowl.  Nevertheless, I’m happy to see the Bears in a bowl game.  I think the outcome will be pretty important for the trajectory of the program.  8-5 looks a lot better than 7-6 and beating another Power 5 school in a year where the Pac-12 was pretty lowly regarded (not without cause) will be to Cal’s benefit.
  • When I look back at the season, I see a combination of both missed opportunities and a lot of good luck.  The missed opportunities start with Arizona.  I’m still not sure how the Bears lost that game, although I think it starts with the Bears forcing a turnover that somehow became a forward pass to Arizona’s benefit.  Add in the McIlwain experiment gone wrong, and it’s so disappointing Cal lost that game.  Then of course there is WSU, the other most obvious case of the McIlwain experiment sinking the Bears.  That’s two games that it would have been REALLY nice to have in the win column and there’s every reason to think that a couple of bounces/mistakes goes the Bears way.
  • At the same time, don’t forget how many times the Bears got just enough bounces to their benefit.  The USC win had a few.  What if Weaver ends up 3 yards short of the endzone against UW?  What if Colorado doesn’t spot Cal 14 points?  (Admittedly those interceptions are a combination of good defense and opponent mistakes.)  The season was a lot closer to being a big failure than we want to admit.  Cal lost 2 games (Arizona and UCLA) that based on how they finished, Cal can’t afford to lose to if they want to be a bowl eligible team on a regular basis.
  • Then there is the big question: Should Cal fire Baldwin and find a new OC.  I’ve thought about this a lot and my final conclusion is ‘no’.  I don’t feel very confident about that ‘no’, because Cal hides a lot of player information (most notably injury information).  But if we assume that Bowers was injured in week 1 and it really was the plan for him to be the 2018 starter, then it’s hard to look at Baldwin and say he should be fired.  As much as I was frustrated with the offense, there were enough things that broke the wrong way injury wise that one can be sure that Baldwin needs to be fired.  He deserves a chance at redemption next year.  He has enough history of HUGE offensive success at EWU as head coach that he deserves another shot.  Plus, one of the things that this team is building is a good culture.  I think having a former head coach as a coordinator is part of what is making that work.
  • But it is important to finish with the positives, because overall this season was a good one.  Wins over both USC and the eventual conference champion (UW) are hard to argue with.  The only think that kept it from far exceeding our expectations was the Big Game loss.  But a trip to a bowl game was the goal, and the team cleared that hurdle with a game to spare.

Sunday morning ‘what idiot?’ thoughts

Some random post-Colorado victory thoughts, not so much about the game itself, but tangential:

  • What idiot is it who thought that spotting the ball where the QB initiates the slide will increase safety?  It’s going to decrease safety.  Garbers (and others) will eventually figure out they have to push things much further to get the first down.  They’re going to have to risk a major collision, perhaps going head first, to get that extra yard or two they used to get by leaping into their slide.
  • Who was the idiot who started playing ‘4th quarter blowout songs’ in the 2nd quarter over the stadium PA system?  Sweet Caroline in the 2nd quarter?  Are you freaking kidding me!?!  I think a significant part of the reason Cal played so soft in the 3rd quarter was because the environment around them was telling them the game was already over.
  • How can Berkeley still be so idiotic that Scenic Avenue has never been repaved?  That road is an absolute disaster and has been for as long as I can remember.  The patches have their own patches and the the potholes are developing their own potholes.  I can’t think of a worse street in Berkeley, and that’s saying something.
  • What idiot hasn’t figured out that it is time for Lee Grosscup to retire from the radio post-game show?  I’m generally pretty tolerant of former Cal greats being announcers, but Grosscup needs to figure out where John Madden has retired to and go join him.  He’s staining his otherwise great legacy.

Not sure why I’m full of ‘what idiot?’ thoughts this morning… perhaps it’s because that game was an odd combination of joyful and highly disconcerting.  (That performance is *NOT* going to cut it against Stanford.)

13th man

(Another ridiculously late post, but this one closes my USC thoughts.  I probably wouldn’t have posted it at all had it not been for wanting to get the podcast published and I figured if I could still do that, there was room for one more ridiculously late post…)

Everyone knows the ’12th man’ on a football team is the crowd in the stands.  But perhaps there should be a ’13th man’ as well: The band.

To this end, USC probably is one of the best bands in this regard.  Their highly repetitive, frustratingly banal set of 3 songs is often a point of snearing by opposing fans (the lady next to me at the game 2 weeks ago was obsessed on the topic).  I must admit, the USC band really gets on my nerves.

But that’s the point.  It can really get inside one’s head.  And if it can get in our heads, don’t you think it affects the players too, just the way the crowd can?  And unlike the Stanford band that is only worth snearing at during their ridiculous halftime performance (their in-game antics although similarly as juvenile are of little consequence and get little attention from either fans or players), the USC band is constantly prattling on throughout the game, doing it’s “magic”.

And in this regard, the Cal band deserves some recognition for their performance at USC.  Not once throughout the entire game (sans pre-game and halftime shows) did the Cal band let the USC band play uninterrupted.  Whenever the USC band would start up, the Cal band would get up and play.  They were fearless.  They were relentless.  They were NOT going to let the USC band dictate the sound environment of the game.

Well done Cal band.  Well done!

Sunday morning ‘outside the lines’ thoughts

‘Outside the lines’ meaning not explicitly about last night’s football game:

  • The highlights from last night’s game, both from Pac12Net and from Fox stink!  They just have no idea how to make a highlight reel for a 12-10 game with only 2 turnovers.  The only thing they know how to put in a highlight reel is scoring plays and turnovers.  Really, there were a bunch of great plays that weren’t that, but none of them make the highlights.
  • Seven-FORTY-FIVE!?!  Cal’s next game (@WSU) starts at 7:45!?!  This is past getting ridiculous.  7:30 was the when we reached ridiculous.  We complained when there were too many games at 7 PM.  The solution?  Move more games to 7:30 PM and now SEVEN STINKING FORTY FIVE!?!
  • Berkeley in the fall is a great place to watch a football game in the afternoon.  The temp at kickoff was in the high 60’s and sunny.  It was a glorious day even before Weaver’s interception.
  • Speaking of Weaver, a family favorite movie is UHF and we can’t help but think of this scene when we hear his name:
  • ARE YOU READY WEAVER!
  • FYI, there will be a OTRH podcast posted at some point (i.e. I recorded one on the way home last night)

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:

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?