It’s that time where I stick my neck out on the line and predict the final score of each game of the season. I used to be pretty good at this, but starting with the 2012 season I’ve had too much optimism. We’ll see where I sit this year…
We all saw Cal lose to a very beatable Northwestern team last year. For those who forget, the Bears were only trailing by a field goal midway through the 4th quarter when Goff threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. The Bears got a field-goal back to pull within a TD but when Goff threw yet another interception on the first play of their next possession, Cal’s tired defense couldn’t stop Northwestern from rushing down the field and scoring another TD and sealing the game. If Goff hadn’t thrown those two INTs, the game very likely would have turned out differently. One has to think that Goff won’t be making those sorts of mistakes (he wasn’t making them later in the season) this year. I also believe that Cal’s offensive line won’t leave the Bears so one dimensional as last year. I firmly believe that this year’s Bears would win last year’s game. The question is whether Northwestern is better than last year and/or whether the home-field advantage will play a role. For the answer to that, you’ll have to wait until my Northwestern preview post on Friday. Final Score: TBA
Not that much to say here. Yes, Cal struggled a bit versus Portland State last year. And yes, Sac State has a penchant for upsetting FBS teams (2012 over Colorado, 2011 over Oregon State). But Sac State has not been the team it was a few years ago (they lost to Montana and Cal Poly last year) and the FBS teams they beat were very vulnerable. Plus Cal won’t be taking anyone for granted. Cal goes up big early and wins easily. Final score: Cal 48 – Sac State 10
Man I wish this game was in Berkeley. I’d be pretty confident of the Bears chances in this one if the game was in Strawberry Canyon. Arizona looks very vulnerable this year. They just picked a starting QB on Monday (a RS freshman) and are without their star RB Ka’Deem Carey (it looks like “RB by committee” is the order of the day). Rodriguez has been vocal in not being pleased with how his team is practicing this fall. And this is from the team the Bears should have beat last year at home. But Arizona also has a penchant for playing MUCH stronger at home. The Zona Zoo is not to be under estimated. The last 3 times Cal has gone into Tucson it arrived as a favorite and came home a frustrated loser (2010, 2008, 2006). (We didn’t play Arizona 2011 and 2012.) And it’s not just Cal. Lots of Pac-12 teams have seen a seemingly strong season get ripped apart with an upset in the desert. Plus Arizona should be 3-0 at that point with their weak non-conference schedule. Nevertheless, I’m going to go with the fundamentals, particularly the rebuilding Arizona team factor. The Cal defense will look good in this one and the offense will take a step back from the prior two games, but will get enough possessions to put up the points needed to win. Final Score: Cal 34 – Arizona 24
Don’t under estimate Colorado. People look at Colorado the same way they look at Cal. And if we’re foolish enough to believe the Bears can change, we’d better give Colorado the same respect. They’re in year 2 of a rebuilding effort under a new coach, just like Cal. It should be noted their new coach is someone who many think should be pacing the sidelines in Berkeley not Boulder. Point being, they could be much improved this year. And lets not forget how things turned out in Boulder last year. The Bears didn’t just get beat, it bordered on a beat-down. However, I think the inverse of Arizona proves true here. Colorado is a tough place to go play. The altitude throws the passing game off and all but the very best conditioned teams suffer. Remember that Cal whipped Colorado 52-7 at home in 2010 but needed overtime in 2011 to win in Boulder. Combine that with my belief that the Bears will improve equally if not more than Colorado this year, and Cal notches their (at least) third win in a game where neither offense looks all that impressive. Final score: Cal 27 – Colorado 23
I really want to have good things to say about this game. But I think Washington State will be the surprise of the north this year, perhaps as high as 3rd place (yes, ahead of both OSU and UW). And bad things happen when Cal travels north to the frozen potato patch (although if there’s good news, it won’t be frozen yet on the 1st weekend of October). Plus, after watching last year’s game, it’s clear Dykes is powerless against his mentor. Even though the Bears will be sitting on a lot of confidence with the wins they’ve accumulated thus far, they come crashing (and I do mean crashing) down to earth in this one. Final score: Cal 13 – WSU 31
I firmly believe the Bears will have one game this season that will be a significant upset. They’re hungry, they’ll take any win they can get and there will be teams that overlook them. (and even though this isn’t going to be what makes it happen, it’s worth noting that a big upset is critical for momentum of the program.) I think the two most likely teams for this to happen with are UW and UCLA. Speaking of UW, call me unconvinced about this team. They’ve got a new coach, one who had great success at Boise State. But there’s a LOOONG lineage of BSU coaches that tried to take their talents to the Pac and failed miserably. Plus, it’s not like the team was on a great trajectory last year. They’re most impressive win was a beat-down of Oregon State on the road. The did a great job of recruiting for the last few years, so there’s talent there, but I’m just not convinced they’re as good as people think. Don’t get me wrong, I expect the Bears to be looking up at them in the standings at the end of the year, but I think the Bears might just shock them. I’m calling it now, the Bears steal one in Berkeley. Final score: Cal 38 – UW 35
Do you know the last time UCLA beat Cal in Berkeley? I’ll give you a clue… I was kid-less, single and without a college degree. 1998. Stinking NINETEEN ninety-eight. For this reason alone I’d love to pick this as Cal’s upset of the year. And if I’m looking for reasons (beyond UCLA not traveling to Berkeley well) why this is the game, we’re the “letdown game” after they play Oregon the prior week. But this UCLA team is for real and frankly I think they’re still upset about losing to us in 2012. They definitely showed no mercy last year. Plus, UCLA is one of a few teams that will eat our 4-3 alive. The only reason Cal won in 2012 was because Pendergast’s 3-4 was finely tuned to contain the UCLA system. Cal will sadly be just as out classed as last year. Final score: Cal 17 – UCLA 38
In 2009, one of the guys who does/did video highlights of Cal games was so disgusted with Cal’s performance that his highlights was every second the TV crew showed the Oregon cheerleaders. This may be another year for that sort of “let’s not try to strain at gnats but turn to sarcasm” video. In homage to that sort of thinking, that’s all I have to say about that. Final score: Cal 16 – Oregon 48
If the Bears are as much improved as we’re hoping, this will be the measuring stick game. Oregon State will be good but not great. It is Mannion’s senior season and there’s a number of pieces on this OSU team that look like they’re coming together. There’s a good chance they are 5-2 (losses to Stanford and USC) and could even have pulled off an upset themselves. Nevertheless, this will be a beatable team. If Cal can make the trip to Corvallis and make a strong showing, even in a loss, there’s reason for hope from the Bears. Unfortunately, I think this game has “moral victory” written all over it just because OSU has too much mature talent. (I see them as much weaker next year.) Expect this one to be a classic Pac-12 shootout but one that the Bears don’t end up with the ball at the end. Final Score: Cal 38 – Oregon State 42
Nothing good ever happens in the LA Coliseum. Luckily our losing streak there doesn’t quite go back as far as UCLA’s Berkeley streak (we won in 2000). But ever since then, even when the Bears have been close to USC’s equal, they just haven’t been able to get it done. And this year, Cal is no where close to USC’s equal. The Bears best hope is that USC is a talented but not very deep team because of their sanctions. Don’t be surprised to see them struggle a bit down the stretch if the injury bug hits them a bit harder than usual. But even with that, I don’t see the Bears winning this one. They might have a decent showing, and there might be a moment early in the game where there’s hope for a miracle, but by the end of the game, the better team will be clear. Final score: Cal 20 – USC 34
The safe pick here is of course to pick a loss. And I think it’s even safer at the end of the season. A lot of people seem to be overlooking how much Stanford has to replace in the trenches (and in the trenches is where Stanford wins its games). I could see them losing an early game they should win. But by this point in the season I expect to see a Stanford team that is firing on all cylinders. There is always the “anything can happen in the Big Game” factor, but that’s been less and less true in recent years. Unfortunately, the brutal stretch for the Bears continue and they can’t get the offense moving. Final score: Cal 10 – Stanford 27
The Bears finish the season with a Thanksgiving weekend game against BYU at home. Thankfully the brutal stretch that started with Washington is over (hopefully with an upset in there somewhere). Last year BYU had some pretty big wins: Texas, Boise State and Georgia Tech. They also played some good teams reasonably tough, albeit in a loss: Notre Dame and Wisconsin. Personally I think too many Bear fans are prematurely putting this game in the win column. I see two important psychological factors in this game. 1. BYU will have a good record due to loading up on cupcakes. 2. Cal having just finished a brutal streak. This will be a big test of Dykes motivational skills. Can he get the team back up to play a strong game, particularly if bowl eligibility is out of the mix? Frankly, I’m not too confident about that. So while on paper I think the Bears can beat BYU, I’m going to call this a loss but I reserve the right to change my mind, particularly if Cal has 5 wins going into this one. Final score: Cal 31 – BYU 34
Pac-12 championship game:
I only put this because if you go to the official Cal website it has it on the schedule. Yeah… I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say we won’t be playing in that. The scandal of course is why isn’t the new playoff game and national championship game on the schedule too. This is an outrage! How DARE they assume we don’t make the championship game!?!
What does everyone think? Too optimistic?