(Written by Ken Crawford)
Each year I do my best to predict the score of each game for the upcoming season after Spring Practice wraps up. This year it has taken me a long time to decide how to go about it because there are more question marks about the team than any year since the beginning of the Tedford era. To resolve that, Iâ€™ve had to make a couple of assumptions:
The #1 assumption is regarding the quarterback. I really have no idea who is going to start. The way I have resolved this is to assume a â€œlevel of playâ€ out of the quarterback. The level I have assumed is the play of Longshore pre-injury in 2007 and Riley in the bowl game. I believe these two levels of play to be about the same. There is a significant mobility difference, but since Tedford tends not to modify his game-plan for who is at QB, I suspect the difference will be minimal in the end.
The #2 assumption is that the running back situation is going to be about the same as with Forsett in the backfield. In many ways I believe this is selling the team short as the combination of Best, Vereen, Slocum and perhaps Deboskie will likely result in a 1-2 punch (if not 1-2-3 punch) that is stronger than what Forsett provided. In the end I think it balances out because I may be over-selling the quarterback situation.
The rest of the teamâ€™s starters are predictable enough that my job is to figure out not who will start but how those starters will perform against a bunch of teams that are themselves in flux.
Cal 41, Michigan State 27:
On paper, MSU looks to be a formidable opponent. Early pre-season polls have them ranked in the high teens to low twenties. The offense is also experience laden with senior quarterback, Brian Hoyer, in this third season starting under center, a senior running back coming off a nearly 1500 yard season and over 2700 yards in his career as well as an offensive line with 3 seniors and 2 juniors. On defense MSU doesnâ€™t look quite as strong up front but will have a formidable secondary with all four spots manned by players with lots of experience. All of that aside, my gut says that this is a well over-appreciated team because of their noble effort, albeit a loss, in their bowl game versus Boston College. The team was 7-6 overall last year and 3-5 in a VERY weak Big 10. Call me an optimist if you wish but Cal will keep the MSU running game in check and that will be all that is needed to ensure a win with the offense clicking early.
WSU 13, Cal 35:
If for some miraculous reason WSU is able to pull the upset against Oklahoma State in their opening game, this game may not be the walk in the park I expect it to be. With a new head coach a big upset can fuel a team to play above its pay-grade. Since I donâ€™t expect that upset to occur, I donâ€™t expect this game to be a tough one and the Wougs will go down easy.
Maryland 10, Cal 45:
Maryland is a very young team going into 2008. Their presumptive starter at quarterback has never taken a snap. Their running back has only one year of experience under his belt and it wasnâ€™t a very good one. The rest of the roster is full of freshmen and sophomores and the occasional inexperienced junior. Considering the team just snuck into a bowl game at 6-6 with their experienced roster last year and couldnâ€™t pull off the victory despite Oregon State spotting them 14 points in the 1st quarter, I donâ€™t think there is much to fear from Maryland, despite the fact they will enter the game undefeated after beating up on two patsies.
Cal 26, Colorado State 13:
If the Bears had not squeaked by versus Colorado State last year I would say that this game would have the potential to be a letdown game. Colorado State had a rough year last year, losing their first six games (including a 28-34 loss to Cal) before playing .500 ball to finish out the season 3-9. However, the team lost very little of its now â€˜school of hard knocksâ€™ battle tested squad and looks quite experienced coming into this season. Colorado State could themselves be undefeated if they can pull the opening week upset against Colorado before playing two patsies of their own. Nevertheless, the Bears wonâ€™t forget what happened last year and will be ready to show the home crowd why we have reason to be excited about 2008, even though the end score reflects a dirty, drag â€˜em out victory.
Cal 30, Arizona State 24:
ASU will be fresh off having their teeth knocked out of their heads versus the highly regarded Georgia Bulldogs when they come to Berkeley. Nevertheless, theyâ€™ll still be 3-1 after beating up on two patsies and Stanford (who needs a whole different word for their weakness). The pundits are pretty high on ASU mostly because Rudy Carpenter is back under center and their experience on the offensive line. What is forgotten is just how much talent ASU lost to graduation, particularly on defense. Expect Cal to be out for blood against this finesse team and romp to an early lead before the resolve of ASU under Erickson tightens the score.
Arizona 27, Cal 21:
Normally I would say that Cal getting Arizona before November is a good thing. However, I think this is the year that Arizona breaks through from sub-mediocrity to enter the game versus Cal 4-2, losing only to UCLA and one of Washington and Stanford. Arizona will be desperate to get back on track versus the Bears to put them only one game from bowl eligibility before getting to the meat of their schedule. As much as I hate to say it, this is Calâ€™s letdown game on the road and the 5-0 curse continues. Itâ€™ll feel eerily like 2006 where it looks like the wildcats are going to go down early before clawing back into it in the 2nd half and taking the lead late in the game.
Cal 49, UCLA 27:
The quarterback situation at UCLA is one that should make every legitimate college football fan feel sorry for UCLA. How many QB injuries can one team sustain? There will be even more reason to feel sorry for them after their brutal schedule to open the season where they could enter the game as low as 2-5, although they could be as high as 4-3. Nevertheless, Cal wonâ€™t let a repeat of 2007 occur particularly with this game at home and the home win streak in this series will grow to 10.
Cal 20, Oregon 23:
Hereâ€™s a sure betting tip for all you gamblers out there: NEVER take the over for the Cal-Oregon game. This game is always lower scoring than everyone expects. If this game was early in the season I would expect Cal to win and win easily. By this point however, the inexperience that Oregon will have had early in the season, particularly at the skill positions, will be long gone and Oregon will be clicking on all cylinders. If the Bears can win this game it would set them up for the key showdown with USC the following week. Alas, the very experienced Oregon defense will stifle the Cal offense and Oregon wins this one in one that comes down to the wire yet again.
USC 27, Cal 20:
My gut says that USC will lose another uncharacteristic Pac-10 game in 2008. Iâ€™m guessing it is either Arizona or Washington because I donâ€™t think WSU has it in them and Oregon and ASU wouldnâ€™t qualify as â€˜uncharacteristicâ€™. Nevertheless, the one loss in conference play will ensure that this game is for all the marbles yet again and yet again the USC defense will be the deciding factor. Sorry Bear fans, no Rose Bowl in 2008.
OSU 13, Cal 41:
I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™ll ever figure this out, but a trip to Corvallis may help me understand why the Cal-OSU series is the antithesis of the Cal-UCLA game. The home team hasnâ€™t won this game since 2002 when the Beavers actually won at home in Tedfordâ€™s first year. That trend will continue this year as the Bears are desperate to get back on track after back-to-back loses to Oregon and USC. OSU will also be having difficulty filling all the holes in the depth chart as the usual injuries pile up this late in the season. Expect Cal to romp and romp early.
Cal 38, Stanford 3:
Two words: RE – VENGE! The Cal defense will be out for blood in this one and the offense will be back to clicking like early season form. Stanford will be fairing far worse than most with the injury bug depleting an already thin depth chart. With the â€˜new coachâ€™ and â€˜we beat USCâ€™ mojo long since faded from memory, Cal wins this one in a walk similar to the previous Tedford Big Games. The one difference is that Stanfordâ€™s offensive line should be good enough that Stanford wonâ€™t need 3 QBâ€™s and Cal fans wonâ€™t find themselves answering the difficult question of whether it is more morally bankrupt to feel sorry for whoever is the next Stanford QB to take that beating or to show no mercy.
Cal 31, Washington 17:
The only reason to fear this game is if it was in Seattle, since it is now early December or if the Huskies are but one victory from bowl eligibility. However, my guess is that Washington will have likely found their 7th loss against UCLA two games prior because of their BRUTAL non-conference schedule. They may just have the nationâ€™s toughest schedule two years in a row with non-conference games against Notre Dame, Oklahoma and BYU. Add in having to play the conferences three toughest teams (USC, Oregon and Cal) on the road as well as the Apple cup in Pullman and itâ€™s going to be tough for the Huskies to get to their last game with only 6 losses. Expect Cal to grind this one out on the ground and only go to the air when necessary with the young defensive front being unable to hold off the determined Cal offense.
Cal 35, Kansas 19:
The Holiday bowl is not a happy camper faced with a Texas vs. Cal match-up â€œby the numbersâ€. Unwilling to pick below their ranking on both sides, they pick Cal because of their good historical showing in San Diego and because Texas was just there the prior year. Instead they go for Kansas who has taken the #2 spot yet again in the Big-12 north. Their other choice was Texas Tech. in third place in the Big-12 south but they didnâ€™t want a rematch of 2004.
Expect to see an update of these predictions at the end of Fall practice.