(Written by Ken Crawford)
This is a really tough one for me. Part of it is that I’ve had a very good season predicting games. Only got one wrong so far and have nailed 3 to 4 depending on how picky one is for having nailed it. I don’t want to mess this one up.
The one game I missed was WSU. I thought Cal was going to win in the trenches against a less talented WSU. I was a year behind in understanding where WSU’s talent was. They had gotten a fair bit better. I fear that today I’ll make the same mistake of not appreciating how far Colorado has come.
Thus, I’ve spent a fair amount of time watching Colorado game highlight videos (well, usually the highlight is for the other team) this week. Here’s my assessment:
- Colorado has BCS conference size/speed. Unlike some of the weaker teams out there who struggle in BCS conferences because they just can’t recruit the bodies like the big boys, Colorado has the bodies.
- Overall team speed is mediocre, but they’ve got a few really fast guys.
- Their lines seem OK at getting stalemates in the middle, but aren’t exactly winning. Lot’s of the big plays against them seem to happen when there is just a big heap of guys at the line of scrimmage and the opposition just goes around the big mess.
- Their linebacker and defensive back units are pretty weak, particularly lacking in speed, but their tackling is not horrible.
- They seem to start well (they had a lead on Oregon for crying out loud!?!) but also seem to get discouraged later in the game as the opponent points start piling up.
Of all of those things, it’s the last one that worries me. Cal has been starting HORRIBLY, all season. The last thing this team needs is to get in a 10 point hole to start the game against Colorado. Colorado won’t be discouraged late if they’ve got a sizable lead and as the altitude takes it’s toll on Cal more than Colorado, their ability to make a comeback will be diminished.
Moving on, here’s how I see the pros and cons:
- Cal’s offensive scheme can do well when they can be successful on the perimeter, which Colorado is susceptible to.
- Cal is the more talented team overall.
- Cal has shown to be slightly better against the same teams.
- Cal seems better prepared to play 4 quarters.
- Weather is mild today (55 and partly couldy is as good as it gets in mid-November).
- Colorado starts the game strong.
- The game is at Colorado which is the best home field advantage in the conference, being at 5000 feet. (Anybody remember how sluggish the Bears were at 4400 feet in SLC last year?)
- Colorado’s defense is statistically stronger across the board
The more I think about it, the big question is, can Cal get the run game working today. Passing over the top is going to be very difficult for Cal at altitude, so Colorado will load up on the short passing game. (This is particularly true since they’re expecting a fair amount of wind today.) But because of the spread nature of the Cal passing game, the way for Cal to neutralize that is to run well between the tackles. And if there is good news, Colorado is by far the weakest team against the run Cal has faced all season. Add to that, that Cal has been getting significantly better running the ball and the offensive line has made real progress, and there’s reason for hope here.
So Cal needs to come out and hit Colorado in the mouth and have success running the ball early and the defense needs to be able to do what it hasn’t all season, get early stops. If Cal can do that, as the game wears on, they have the potential to stretch out a good lead as the game wears on.
If they don’t, if Cal is dependent on the passing game and the defense gives up a couple scores, it’ll still be a tight game, but the attempts at a comeback will fall a bit short. It’ll feel a bit like the Arizona game where the team gets close, but can never quite get over the hump. Every time it looks like the comeback might be real, an exhausted defense will give up something that kills the comeback opportunity.
But I’m going with option A, the Bears come out and hit them in the mouth early and the defense plays what looks like one of their best games of the season (but that will be mostly because of the quality of the competition).
Bears win this key one: 31-20