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Archive for August, 2014


Post Northwestern Sunday Morning thoughts

Nice for the Bears to have a win under their belt. It was all the way back in 2011 the last time the Bears were 1-0. Here is a lists of pros and cons to take from the game:

Pros:

  • A win! Let’s start with the basics. No matter what transpired, what matters at the end of the day is who won.
  • Goff looked good. He had a few misthrows, but overall he made good decisions, and was fairly accurate with the ball.
  • Running backs were significantly improved. I liked the toughness and resiliency of both Mohammed and Lasco. They both did a good job of getting the few yards they could even when the play didn’t go as planned. They also were pretty good at sneaking through small holes.
  • The OL was significantly improved in pass-protection. Goff left the game with his jersey the same color as when it started. He was sacked just twice (and if I remember right, one was not totally the OL’s fault).
  • Rubenzer! Boy was that a surprise. Sure doesn’t look like they’re too concerned with his redshirt. However, for this schtick to be compelling moving forward, Rubenzer is going to have to prove he can throw the ball consistently without mind-numbing interceptions. Otherwise the defense won’t respect the pass and his running lanes will be far and few between.
  • Interceptions. Nice to see the Bears looking for the ball and actually intercepting it twice.
  • Special teams. I’m very comforted by the fact that there’s very little to talk about on this front. That’s a big improvement from the past.
  • Run defense. There’s room for improvement, but overall I was happy with the run defense.

Cons:

  • I don’t think Northwestern is very good. They seemed to find their groove for about 10 minutes in the 2nd half, but overall this was a distracted, poorly conditioned, poorly focused team. They had a TON of dropped passes and other stupid miscues that we shouldn’t expect from future opponents.
  • The run blocking left something to be desired. It’s improved from last year but not by a ton. This was particularly true in plays where they OL had to run. They were horrible at blocking in stretch plays and screens. But 114 yards on 45 runs is not very inspiring and I put most of the blame for that on the OL.
  • Pass defense was also a spot that needed to improve and I was less than impressed. They were SIGNIFICANTLY helped by the dropped passes. They’re going to have to improve before we get into the Pac-12 schedule.
  • Play-calling. I wasn’t that impressed. I liked that we were gutsy at times but I feel some bad calls were made. Cal was twice at the 34 yard line and didn’t try the field goal (that’s only a 51 yarder). Supposedly Langford has a big leg. And there were other moments I was scratching my head at the choice of calls. As the game wore on there was a lack of balance and the ball was too much put in the air.
  • Penalties. The refs called a loose game so there weren’t a ton, but Cal was hit with a few that reflect poorly on the players. I suspect with a tighter called game we’d have been more frustrated here.
  • Refs. This doesn’t fall on the Bears, but Northwestern was holding ALL OVER THE PLACE and it was never called. There were some really blatant ones too. Dykes had every right to be besides himself that play were Cal got called for defensive holding when there was such a blatant OL hold that wasn’t called on the same play.
  • Pass rush. Perhaps the holding disguised some good pass rush, but over all I was hoping for more improvement here. For the most part our rush was neutralized all day.

What do you think went well and/or poorly?

Live-blog of Northwestern game

OK, are you ready for some football? I know I am!

Click the post title to see the live-blogging content. Or click here.

Northwestern game preview

The first thing one sees when one digs in to what is happening at Northwestern is a distracted team, full of controversy. They’re of course the epicenter of the players rights movement, where the players sued for the right to unionize. That’s been a big story all summer and one can’t help but think that it affected their focus and cohesion as a team (coaches included). The 2nd headline on the site I visit for news is “Union talk fades as Northwestern begins”. One thing I’ve grown quite confident about is that if the headline is “Team not distracted by X” you can take it to the bank that they’re distracted.

But it doesn’t end there. First their starting running back is suspended for 2 games for breaking team rules. Then he decides he wants to be closer to home and transfers to Texas A&M. Then their leading receiver from 2013 went down with a season ending knee injury.

This is NOT a team that is coming into the season firing on all cylinders.

So we have a Cal team that could have won the game last year had their true freshman not thrown 3 key interceptions in the 2nd half of the game, and a Northwestern team that appears to be reeling. Plus, last year Northwestern was ranked 22nd and was coming to Berkeley with a lot of confidence. They don’t come into this season with any high expectations.

How much more evidence do I need that this game should go the Bears way?

Well, apparently I need more than that. My gut just can’t shake the idea that the Bears aren’t as good as they need to be. As much as I want the offensive line and the secondary to make the big leap the team needs them to make, what I’m hearing so far isn’t giving me comfort, particularly on the road where offensive lines can struggle with crowd noise. In my mind there’s almost a “they protest too much” factor. I just keeping hearing over and over how improved they are. At some point one can’t help wonder why they’re working so hard to sell us on the idea.

Speaking broadly, my gut is the defense loses this one for the Bears, giving up too many big plays and the exact wrong moments (like last year). The offense, while strong enough to score some points, will not be as mistake prone as last year’s game, but will still be far too one-dimensional to control the game. We’ll see our fair share of points, but not enough to make up for the defensive mistakes and it being an away game takes it’s toll late in the game. As a result, the Bears can’t put together the drives they need to win at the end.

Here’s hoping I’m wrong… Final score: Cal 34, Northwestern 38

Game by game prediction

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…

@Northwestern:
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

Sacramento State:
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

@Arizona:
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

Colorado:
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

@Washington State:
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

Washington:
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

UCLA:
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

Oregon:
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

@Oregon State:
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

@USC:
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

Big Game:
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

BYU:
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?

Review of each defensive position group

Continuing on with the position group review, now focusing on the defense…

Defensive line:
All things considered, last year the defensive line wasn’t as bad as it seemed. It would have been useful if they could have put more pressure on the QB in passing situations to take some heat off the secondary, but overall they were serviceable… and in last year’s defense serviceable is as good as you’re going to get. Two big names that were out last year are back: Brennan Scarlett and Mustafa Jalil. Will these two be the difference between a defensive line that managed to hold its own most of the time and one that will be disruptive at the point of attack? There’s definitely reason to hope that will be the case and it is MUCH needed. Outside of Scarlett and Jalil, there appears to be enough depth that even with some injuries the unit shouldn’t fall below serviceable.

Linebackers:
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m skeptical of the 4-3 as Cal’s base defense. In the Pac-12 you need the versatility that the 3-4 provides. Heck, even the NFL is moving towards the 3-4 after decades of thinking you couldn’t plug the running lanes sufficiently with a 3-4. For the 4-3 to be successful you need 3 VERY rangy linebackers, particularly on the outside (although the middle linebacker needs to be able rangy too as he gets abandoned by the outside linebackers a lot as they’re covering their large area of turf). To that end, I’m most concerned on the strong side. Raymond Davison as a redshirt freshman is the best we’ve got? I frankly don’t know much about him, but I sure hope he’s got some speed. Looking at the other two positions, losing Broussard hurt, but Michael Barton and Hardy Nickerson have potential in the middle. Jalen Jefferson is our lone upper classman and from what I’ve seen so far, will be serviceable or better. Hopefully he can provide the leadership for this young group. Losing him would be a BIG loss because there’s not much behind him.

Secondary:
Make no mistake, this was the unit that was mostly responsible for the defense’s woes last year. They were has horrible as the offensive line. Nevertheless, I’m a lot more optimistic this year. The secondary is an experience heavy position and there just wasn’t any after the injuries took hold last year. We look pretty good at safety with Stefan McClure and Michael Lowe. It’s surprising that Sebastian is 3rd on the depth chart. I’ve always thought he had a lot of talent. Perhaps he’s not fully healthy yet. Corner is still where one raises an eyebrow. Cedric Dozier and Cameron Walker have some experience (although Walker was at safety), so it’s no surprise they make up 2 of the starting 3 (technically, Dozier is a backup, but we’ll be in the nickle a lot and he’s likely to get that role). The talented Darius Allensworth got the other corner position, so let’s hope he is as good as they say he is. Nevertheless things get pretty thin behind them. Literally everyone else on the depth chart is a Freshman. Notably absent from the depth chart Darius White who was hoped to come in as a transfer and challenge for playing time right away. We really can’t afford many injuries in the secondary again this year. Who is starting is barely sufficient.

One has to think based on the above things will be better than last year. I think a big key will be the defensive line, not based on their own merits, but based on the rest of the defense could use things getting disrupted right from the snap. It’s a lot easier to play corner when the QB is throwing wounded ducks up into the air as they’re falling to the ground.

Call me cautiously optimistic.

Depth chart released

As expected, the depth chart was released today. Some general thoughts about the offense to follow up on my previous post:

  • On the offensive line Rigsbee got moved back to his natural spot at right tackle and Chris Adcock, coming off of injury that kept him low on the depth chart at the end of spring, back at center. Otherwise the lineup is unchanged from the Spring. Matt Cochran, Brian Farley and Dominic Granado appear to be the ones who provide the key depth. If they live up to their hype that’s not bad depth to have.
  • Austin Hinder appears to have made a bit of a “late charge” in fall camp and is now an “OR” with Rubenzer for the backup QB spot. My gut is that Rubenzer is the true number 2, but there’s enough of a desire to hang on to his redshirt that Hinder may get some time. So when a backup is needed for a few plays in the 1st few games (where the redshirt can still be preserved) you’ll see Rubenzer. Once we get past that point, any short term replacement would go to Hinder. But if Goff goes down for a few games, then burning the redshirt will be a lot more tempting, until it’s the final few games of the season.
  • Khalfani Muhammad is the starting RB and I’m pretty happy about that. But expect to see plenty of Lasco.
  • Harper has slipped a bit amongst the WRs only getting an “or” for one of the 4 starting spots. Steven Anderson and Trevor Davis are the ones who have clearly impressed the staff and both got a starting spot alongside Treggs and Lawler.
  • I’ll cover the defensive groups separately in a combined position group/depth chart post shortly.

Review of each offensive position group

The depth chart for the season (really for Northwestern, but let’s not quibble over details) has not yet been released (we should expect it later today). However, we know enough that it’s time to review each position group.

Quarterback:
I appear to be more pessimistic here than others. Hasn’t anyone else ever heard of the Sophomore Slump? It sure doesn’t seem like it. More seriously, last year I found Goff to be less impressive than I hoped and not in a way that I have high hopes for him to be great anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a serviceable quarterback and at the end of the season I’m pretty confident Goff will not be the reason we’re shaking our heads in disgust. But I’m also not expecting him to be the reason we’re over-joyed. Also, since this is a position group analysis, one has to be pretty scared about the prospect of Goff going down. Hinder has been passed by a true freshman (Rubenzer) on the depth chart. Chances are there will be at least one game where Goff is not the primary QB under center. Let’s hope it’s going to be a game the Bears were most likely going to lose anyway.

Offensive line:
I might as well continue on to the next group I’m more pessimistic about than the norm. There’s been a lot of positive press about the improvement of the offensive line. Well, there HAD BETTER BE!?! That group was down-right horrible last year and costs us a win or two. What I want to know is how much of a curve is this improvement being judged on? My gut says they’re grading a bit too easy. There are some young guys I have some hope will impress (Matt Cochran, Dominic Granado, and Steven More) but the proven talent is small (Jordan Rigsbee and ???). Losing Okafor hurt and it’s troublesome that Adcock is so far down on the depth chart (and no, I’m not one of those who say “If random guy X beat known quantity Y, X must be really good”). So here’s hoping this group really has come together and the new talent impresses in a big way, because from my way of thinking, this is the unit the season’s success rides on.

Running backs:
Let’s switch gears to a group I’m very high on. While some have mixed feelings about the RBs, count me amongst those who think we’ve got two very talented guys in Lasco and Khalfani. They weren’t given a chance last year behind the OL. While the impression of them still rests on improved OL play, I think these two could hold their own as the backfield for almost all of the Pac-12 teams. If there’s one downside, it is that their backups are young, particularly now that Coprick is out. Let’s hope we don’t get bit by the injury bug here.

Wide receivers:
This is by far the strongest offensive group. Powe, Treggs, Harris, Lawler, Harper… all of them are very capable and have shown it on the field. Supposedly Davis and Anderson are looking really good too. If there’s one group the team could afford to have more than its usual share of injuries, this is it. In fact, one wonders why we haven’t considered moving a few of them over to the other side of the field to be a DB.

Tight Ends and Fullbacks:
Sorry, I just had to throw this in here. But we intentionally have no depth here (I guess technically we have 3 fullbacks on the roster, but you’d never know it) and frankly it’s something that just doesn’t sit right with me. There are times when you want extra bodies who can line up and put someone on their back on the field. I’ve got two reservations about the offensive scheme: 1. that it depends too much on up-tempo, something our opponents are figuring out how to neutralize. 2. That it eschews the TRUE power running game (or even just lining up that way and then throwing out of it). Thus I just can’t get over the lack of concern for having any talent in this area by the coaching staff.

I am the voice of reason

Well, at least the 9th voice of reason: http://www.californiagoldenblogs.com/2014/8/25/6054941/cal-bears-football-predictions-sonny-dykes-jared-goff-sunshine-pumping

Every year CGB does a poll on the percentage likelihood Cal wins each game. It’s an interesting analysis, at least in compiling what the average Bear fan thinks. As part of it they list who most closely resembles the normative vote and call those people “the voice of reason”. Most years I’m in that top-10.

Really it would be more accurate to call us “group thinkers” as what it really says is our opinions reflect the average of Cal fans… but you won’t hear me complaining. :)

Regular season is upon us

It’s hard to believe, but this is now the regular season. Practices get into their regular season flow this week and all emphasis will be on beating this week’s opponent.

I’ll have a few more pre-season posts, but wanted to give you my in-season blogging plan. Expect these posts each week:

  • Pre-game prediction post with exact score
  • Post-game wrap-up post
  • OTRH podcast for all home games (except Sac State and UCLA, which I sadly won’t be attending) including the Oregon game (which is technically a home game.
  • Live blogging all road games (except Oregon State which I won’t get to watch live)
  • At least one “thoughts of the week” post

Great post over at CGB regarding strength of schedule

I recently read this article over at CGB: Mythbusting: How the Pac-12’s 9-Game Conference Schedule Actually Hurts Its Teams’ Strength of Schedule Ratings.

It’s basic premise is that the supposed thing that gets better when you have extra conference games (strength of schedule) actually gets worse, at least when using the standard NCAA strength of schedule formula (so this wouldn’t affect the complex computer algorithm based strength of schedule metrics).

The reason is because the NCAA formula only cares about opponents records (and their opponents records). In an open loop system, that might work, but in a closed conference, since you impose your own loses on each other, every extra game you add, worsens the conferences overall strength of schedule.

Said another way, if there were no non-conference games and we played a full round robin, the strength of schedule of the conference would always be the same (0.5). Since a good strength of schedule number is higher than that (0.7 is very strong), every conference game you add moves you closer to 0.5 as a conference.

In any case, great and enlightening analysis by Berkelium97 over at CGB.

Preseason ranking methodology

I’ve written about this before, but the whole “I’m ranking this team lower because they have a tough schedule” thing really bugs me and Ted Miller recently brought it up in his mailbag post:

Paul from San Carlos, California, writes: Indulge a pet peeve: Those who downgrade a team in rankings for having a tough schedule. Rankings should be solely about which team is better. Which team has the easiest path to a good record should play no role.

Ted Miller: Fair point. So do we need a distinction?

Are we making predictions with rankings? If so, then schedule plays a role. If you were looking for a reason to worry about UCLA, schedule would be a good place to start. Conversely then, I’d rate Iowa a top-15 team.

Or are we ranking teams only based on how good we believe they are? If so, that methodology shouldn’t consider the schedule ahead, arduous or easy.

That said, most folks who do top-25 rankings based on their perception of how good a team is and what it has accomplished wouldn’t take their list to Vegas and use it religiously. Sometimes a team “deserves” a ranking, even if you wouldn’t bet your hard earned money that it would beat a team you rank a few notches lower.

Here’s what I think Ted Miller misses (most people do frankly): The only reason this is an issue is because everybody knows that the end of season rankings overly penalize losses and don’t look at qualitative factors. They don’t think about it directly, but it’s true. What they’re saying is, they’re expected that this “tough schedule” team to lose a couple not because they’re not good but because of their tough schedule, and they just know that at the end of the season the rankings won’t take that into account, so they’ll be ranked lower than they should.

That’s why it’s doubly infuriating to me. It appears there are two things that determine the end of season ranking: Initial seeding (if you started #1 and you don’t lose, you’ll end #1) and number of loses.

So if the end of season ranking is going to over emphasize number of loses, it’s quite a double whammy to also lower their initial seeding (aka their preseason ranking). If anything we should be giving them a bump at the beginning of the season.

Of course the real solution is to have the end of the season ranking appropriately reflect strength of schedule, but until then, let’s not further cripple teams with tough schedules by ranking them lower to start the season.

Injury bug hits Bears

Ugh… are we doomed to the same fate as last year?

Football: Tough day for Bears, who lose Nathan Broussard, Jeffrey Coprich, Quentin Tartabull to serious injury

There will always be injuries, so one shouldn’t get too worked up about any single one… but THREE in one day?

I think this team has enough talent and after last year has enough experience to win a few games it shouldn’t. But that won’t be the case if the injury bug hits us again. 2 or 3 more of the level of Broussard and Coprich (who’s a bit of an under-performer) could be trouble.

Cal schedules 2 more home-and-aways

Personally, I really like seeing the Bears scheduling lots of great home-and-away non-conference games. So I was excited to see that two more have been added, North Carolina and TCU.

These are two fine teams to schedule. There’s a risk in going too big name with a Florida or an Oklahoma. And while I’m up for one of those on occasion, I’d sure like to see the program on better footing before we add some of those to the schedule.

One minor note, I’ve long had the impression that we tend to travel before getting to play at home for these home and away. To answer that conclusively, I decided to look at recent history (home and away’s that started in 2000 or later):

Away first:

  1. Illinois (2000,2001 and 2003,2005)
  2. Michigan State (2002,2008)
  3. Tennessee (2006,2007)
  4. Maryland (2008,2009
  5. Nevada (2010,2012)
  6. Ohio State (2012,2013)
  7. Texas (projected 2015 and 2016)
  8. North Carolina (projected 2017 and 2018)

Home first:

  1. Utah (2000,2003)
  2. New Mexico State (2004,2005)
  3. Air Force (2002,2004)
  4. Colorado State (2007,2008)
  5. Southern Miss (2003,2004)
  6. Minnesota (2006,2009
  7. Louisiana Tech (2007,
  8. Colorado (2010,2011)
  9. Northwestern (2013,2014)
  10. BYU (2014, 2017 projected)
  11. San Diego State (projected 2015 and 2016)
  12. TCU (projected 2020 and 2021)

(updated: 8/14 @ 4:10p… moved Northwestern to home first… oops!)

So in actuality, we get the home first slightly more than we don’t. However, if one looks at the list it is clear why I’d think the opposite. All of the big name schools are on the top and all of the schools lower on the totem pole are on the bottom. I guess it’s just more proof of how Cal is a significant player in college football (BCS level) and so gets to have the 1st game versus lower tier schools, but not elite status, so we’ve got travel 1st if we’re playing an elite school.

Cal could start 5-0

I know that’s “crazy talk” but it’s not as much as one thinks once one looks at the schedule.

Do this exercise, rank from most likely to beat to least likely to beat all the teams we play. This is what I’d come up with:

  1. Stanford: Cal is not built to beat this sort of team
  2. Oregon: For obvious reasons
  3. USC: Has always had Cal’s number and the game is in LA
  4. UCLA: Would be higher if the game was in LA, but Cal seems to have good luck against UCLA in Berkeley (not that it’s likely Cal wins this one).
  5. Washington: #3 team in the north (who tends to have Cal’s number).
  6. Oregon State: #4 team in the north
  7. Washington State: #5 in the north but appears to be on the rise and game is in Pullman where Cal tends to struggle.
  8. Arizona: Cal played them close last year and they’re #4 in the south, but game is in Tucson this year.
  9. Northwestern: Cal played them competitively last year and they’re not that good.
  10. BYU: Getting worse as an independent
  11. Colorado: Game is at home this year and they’re picked #6 in south.
  12. Sac. State: Easiest game by far.

Of course one could quibble about some of the ordering, but it would be hard to debate the general grouping (won’t beat Stanford, OU, USC, UCLA and UW; OSU and WSU are beatable but we’re underdogs; UA, Northwestern, BYU and Colorado are more beatable; and Sac State better be a gimmie.). And I think most would agree that while we probably don’t beat all of them, each of the bottom 6 teams are vulnerable and Cal has a shot at them.

Well, the 1st 5 games of the season are against those bottom 6, minus BYU. And if you’re not up for 5-0, the likely hardest one, a trip to WSU, is the 5th game, so 4-0 is not out of the question.

And it’s important to NEVER forget that key thing in football: momentum. Let’s say Cal goes and beats Northwestern. Then they come home and beat Sac State. Think about how much more confident that team is going into Arizona, particularly if UA loses to Nevada the week before. So Cal plays the game they couldn’t finish off in 2013 and are now 3-0 with Colorado coming to town, who could be as bad off as 1-3 at that point (more likely 2-2). So again, Cal wins, and they’re 4-0 heading to Pullman, a team that has two very losable non-conference games and Oregon before going to Utah, a game they could easily lose, so they could be 1-4 (but more likely 3-2). Who says the Bears won’t have the confidence to go win that one at that point? And when you’re 5-0, all of a sudden those games nobody thought you could win feel a lot more winnable.

What’s scary to me is it all seems predicated on going to Chicago and beating Northwestern. The Bears had better win that one, or rebound REALLY quickly and beat two of Colorado, Arizona and WSU (in addition to beating Sac State).

Because if they don’t, the rest of the schedule is full of those teams we don’t have a shot at… until we get to BYU at the end of the season.

Back in business for 2014

Another year is upon us with fall camp starting on Monday and I’ll be back to regular posting at least a few times a week between now and when the Bears wrap up their Rose Bowl winning season on 1/1/15 (ahhh… wouldn’t that be nice… OK back to reality).

Of course, commenting requires info/stuff to comment on and to that end, it’s nice to see how many practices are open to the public this fall, although I wish it was back-loaded instead of front-loaded. (see here for details.) Unfortunately I’ll be lucky to make even one of them… although I might be able to get one in. Nevertheless my data will mostly be limited to what I read from others.

Speaking more broadly about the upcoming season, I think what I’ve been working through in the off-season in my mind is how to set my expectations appropriately. What do I reasonably want from this season?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • First and foremost I want to see something that is for the betterment of the student athletes. When they look back on this 10, 20, even 50 years down the road, they validly look at their time at Cal as something they’re glad they had in their life.
  • Second, I want to have an enjoyable time watching and thinking about Cal football, with my family, particularly with my sons. Saturday’s in Strawberry Canyon can be a great joy.
  • Third, I want to see a strong effort on the field. I want to see a team that has little to regret when the game is over. If they lose, it was a noble effort. If they win, it’s something we can all be proud of.
  • Finally, I want to see a team that gives me hope for the future. I want to see a team that is improving and that’s there’s reason to believe at some point in the not too distant future I can have more specific goals for the team than the above.

I very specifically don’t have a win total I’m shooting for nor specific games I want them to win. But I’m pretty sure that all the above goals won’t be met without at least a few wins and far more competitive games than we had last season.

Any thoughts on those goals?

(More specific posts on various units, predictions and projections to come.)