(Written by Ken Crawford)
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:
- Stanford: Cal is not built to beat this sort of team
- Oregon: For obvious reasons
- USC: Has always had Cal’s number and the game is in LA
- 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).
- Washington: #3 team in the north (who tends to have Cal’s number).
- Oregon State: #4 team in the north
- Washington State: #5 in the north but appears to be on the rise and game is in Pullman where Cal tends to struggle.
- Arizona: Cal played them close last year and they’re #4 in the south, but game is in Tucson this year.
- Northwestern: Cal played them competitively last year and they’re not that good.
- BYU: Getting worse as an independent
- Colorado: Game is at home this year and they’re picked #6 in south.
- 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.