Each year I do my best to predict the score of each game for the upcoming season. I take a great deal of pride in my predictions and give them an exhausting amount of thought. One the one hand, it’s hard not to boast about picking the exact score twice in the last two year (Oregon 2007 and Emerald Bowl 2008). But more importantly, if you look at my 2008 predictions, other than missing the Maryland loss, my only oversight was picking which of Oregon and Oregon State Cal would lose to. (OK, there’s the small matter of thinking 6-3 in the conference would get Cal into the Holiday bowl too.)
So, at the risk of boasting too much and being way too bold (too late!) here are my predictions for 2009:
Cal 31, Maryland 17:
Cal will get its revenge in Berkeley. Between the game starting at 10 PM Eastern time (could this game be going at 2 AM Eastern!?!) and the cold Berkeley fog rolling in, it’ll be just as much of a shocker as the muggy heat at 9 AM was to the Bears. But more importantly, the Bears will get their revenge by playing a solid game with the new and improved Kevin Riley under center.
Cal 45, E. Washington 10:
This game should be about as interesting as Sac State in 2005 or Portland State in 2006. The most interesting aspect of this game will be how many backups get how much playing time to get a sense in a real-time game environment just how deep this Cal team is.
Minnesota 13, Cal 27:
This game will play out just like the last Minnesota game. A one-sided Big-11 team will find out that Pac-10 defenses are just not going to be beat by a one-sided team. So forget everything you’ve heard about how good they are this year. They’ll be too one-dimensional to win. What might happen, and might just get a number of Bear fans nervous is that the Bear offense won’t be firing on all cylinders so far from home. However, it won’t be enough to lose.
Oregon 31, Cal 28:
If there’s one game on the schedule I feel least comfortable about, it’s this one. I’d almost like to put two scores, one were Cal wins somewhat handily because every reason one has to be suspicious about this Oregon team (problems on both sides of the line, secondary issues, new head coach, etc.) come true and one where those weakness are no big deal and Cal loses handily. I feel that it’s unlikely this game will be as close as the previous matchups have been, I’m just completely unsure who’s game it’s going to be. In the end, I’ll go with a close loss where the Autzen crowd does in the Bears. But if there’s one game where I’m most sure I’ll have different thoughts by game time, it’s this one.
Cal 24, USC 13:
Yet another game where I’m uncomfortable, but after just watching the ’07 edition and having the ’08 edition still in my mind, I’ve got to think this is the Bears year for finally bringing home the win in Berkeley. Between a crowd that’s going to be louder than these USC players have ever heard in Berkeley (similar to the 2006 Oregon game) and USC not firing on all cylinders without the defense to keep them in a game they’d otherwise be able to pull out, the Bears win in the shot heard round the Pac-10.
UCLA 20, Cal 38:
There are two games between which I’m going to pick a road loss for the Bears, UCLA and ASU. My gut says to go with UCLA because the Bears have had so much trouble in LA in the Tedford era where they’ve done fine, minus the 2007 debacle, in Sun Devil stadium. But I feel this is the year that Cal exercises the Rose Bowl/LA demon. UCLA has also been hit hard by the injury bug.
Cal 45, WSU 17:
WSU will be improved over 2008, but not THAT improved. Expect the Bears to run over them again in Berkeley.
ASU 31, Cal 27:
In my heart I just can’t believe I’m picking the Bears to lose this game. ASU should be bordering on terrible this year and I can’t see how the Bears lose this one. So consider this the wildcard road-game loss. And I just can’t see who else to pick. It’s not Washington and I don’t think it is UCLA. Stanford and Oregon don’t count because Oregon is too good to be a “letdown loss” and Stanford, well, the Big Game just defies the whole road game difficulty scenario.
Cal 38, OSU 20:
Yet another demon to be exercised in 2009 is the OSU monkey on our back (BTW, that’s another reason to pick Oregon to beat us, they view us as their monkey who’s been stiffling them). OSU just won’t have the talent this year and their defense that was the real key to their success won’t get it done. When one adds in that the fly-sweep mumbo-jumbo they over-used last year will no longer be novel in 2009 and OSU won’t stand a chance.
Cal 27, Arizona 17:
The Arizona defense is going to keep this game closer than it should be well into the 2nd half, but Cal is going to win this one easier than the score indicates. Cal only struggles with Arizona in the desert and I don’t see that changing this year with Tuitama gone, perhaps the most under-appreciated QB in the Pac-10 the last couple years.
Standford 20, Cal 45:
The Tin Bowl in Palo-Alto is only going to steal a Cal victim once. I call Stanford’s bluff that Luck is going to be a great QB right out the gate. He’ll be well exposed by the time Cal gets to game planning for this one and Riley with his nearly 2 full years of experience is not going to fall to a gimmicy Stanford defense. Cal has yet another Big Game romp, proving ’07 was just an exception.
Washington 24, Cal 28:
I think Washington is going to be vastly improved in 2009 and perhaps the most under appreciated team in the conference. I think they can give Cal a scare but can’t win the game. The only possible exception to that might be if Washington is 5-6 and needs the victory for a bowl appearance and Cal is already short of a Rose Bowl shot (like if Oregon only has 1 conference loss) and it’s looking too crowded for an at-large BCS berth. Probably not even then, but that would setup a scenario where the Bears might just not give it 100%.
So, is 7-2 in the conference going to do it for a Rose Bowl appearance? It’s going to be a tough call. Oregon probably has two losses in them, but they do get USC in Eugene. I think USC has two losses in them too, so it just may come down to a 3-way tie between Cal, USC and Oregon where we’ve each beat each other once. As such, whoever has lost to the best team in the conference will be the deal breaker (see my recap on how the Rose Bowl tie-breaker works). With Cal losing to ASU, I doubt that eliminates Cal, but who USC and Oregon lose to also effect the final outcome, (if Oregon loses to the higher team, their out and Cal wins the head-to-head over USC but the opposite is true if USC loses to the higher team) it’s a very tough call.
I’m going to say Oregon loses the Civil War whereas USC loses to Arizona, putting Cal in the Rose Bowl because OSU is the best of those 3 teams, record wise.
What does everyone think?