No. 38: California
By Paul Myerberg // Jul 31, 2012
While college coaches have struggled transitioning to the N.F.L., former N.F.L. defensive assistants, when promoted to defensive coordinator on the F.B.S. level, have largely experienced a smooth transition to the college game. Take Todd Grantham, for instance, who has helped lead the Georgia defense back into the upper echelon of the SEC over two seasons with the Bulldogs. There’s Greg Mattison, who worked miracles with Michigan last fall, his first season in Ann Arbor. After an up-and-down debut, Monte Kiffin has U.S.C. playing the sort of defense that wins championships. California has its own former N.F.L. assistant in Clancy Pendergast, but his record since moving down to the F.B.S. prior to the 2010 season has been defined by a troubling lack of reliability. Sometimes his defense hangs tight with nation’s best, such as it did against Oregon two years ago. But then it doesn’t, such as in the case of Colorado, the Ducks, U.S.C. and Arizona State last fall, and that’s the problem. The Golden Bears haven’t played defense with a reasonable level of consistency for the entirety of Pendergast’s tenure, which might explain why the program is a game under .500, at 12-13, over the same span.
10 (5 offense, 5 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 1
- Sept. 8
- Sept. 15
at Ohio St.
- Sept. 22
- Sept. 29
- Oct. 6
- Oct. 13
at Washington St.
- Oct. 20
- Oct. 27
- Nov. 2
- Nov. 10
- Nov. 17
at Oregon St.
Last year’s prediction
So I’m pretty bearish on Cal in 2011, it seems. Most are looking at the following and penciling the Golden Bears in for a tough season: last year’s poor play, the new starter at quarterback, the unproven quantities at running back, the losses in the front seven and a thin secondary. Those are very valid concerns, to be fair. But I have faith in this defense’s ability to win games on its own and Tedford’s ability to coordinate this offense as the play-caller, slight concerns or no. On its own, I think this defense can win five games. Can the offense do enough to get Cal back into the eight-win range? Maybe, but I feel safer predicting a 7-5 finish. Much depends on how Maynard fares against big-time competition. The Bears have to find a running game, but I still think the offense will be better. Cal’s not going to compete for the North division title, but the Bears will be better, back in bowl play.
In a nutshell The program is standing still while the rest of the league runs past. And runs past, and runs past again. The Golden Bears made no hay while the Trojans played under N.C.A.A. probation. Oregon, which jockeyed with Cal for second place in the Pac-10 during U.S.C.’s glory days under Pete Carroll, is light years ahead of where the Golden Bears currently stand. After winning seven of his first eight against Stanford, Jeff Tedford has dropped back-to-back games to the Cardinal. The offense and defense rarely work in concert, as we saw in 2011. An improvement over 2010’s disappointment, but not a big enough improvement.
High point A 47-38 win at Arizona State in the regular season finale sealed a bowl berth for Cal, though it could have squeezed in with six wins, one over an F.C.S. opponent. The Golden Bears’ best win was the only one they’d notch against a team that ended 2011 with a winning record: Cal beat Utah, 34-10, on Oct. 13.
Low point Five understandable losses, even if Cal’s defensive performance on several occasions was inexcusable. Five understandable losses; the sixth, a 31-14 loss at U.C.L.A., was not so understandable.
Tidbit Tedford, 79-48 after last season, is now the all-time wins leader in Cal’s history. He is one of seven active head coaches to hold his current stop’s record for career victories, joining Boise State’s Chris Petersen (73-6), Florida International’s Mario Cristobal (24-38), Kansas State’s Bill Snyder (159-83-1), Nevada’s Chris Ault (226-103-1), Troy’s Larry Blakeney (164-91-1) and Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer (209-98-2). An eighth head coach, T.C.U.’s Gary Patterson (109-30), enters 2012 tied with Dutch Meyer for the most wins in that program’s history.
Tidbit (first half edition) The Bears have started 3-0 in six of Tedford’s 10 seasons with the program: in 2002, 2004-5, 2007, 2009 and 2011. Only once has Cal opened worse than 2-1, back in 2003, when it lost two of its first three before winning two straight to move back to .500 at the midway point. Tedford’s teams have always started strong – or not started slowly, at least: Cal is a combined 41-19 over the first half of the regular season during Tedford’s decade with the program.
Tidbit (more explosive edition) Last fall saw Cal rediscover some of its lost explosiveness on offense. In 2010, the Golden Bears finished 94th nationally in plays of 10-plus yards (143), 103rd in plays of 20-plus yards (39) and 70th in plays of 30-plus yards (22). In 2011, the Bears ranked 24th in plays of 10-plus yards (212) and 36th in plays of 20-plus yards (64), though the offense ranked 69th in plays of 30-plus yards (22).
Former players in the N.F.L.
45 LB Lorenzo Alexander (Washington), DT Tyson Alualu (Jacksonville), P Bryan Anger (Jacksonville), CB Nnamdi Asomugha (Philadelphia), RB Jahvid Best (Detroit), LB Desmond Bishop (Green Bay), QB Kyle Boller (Oakland), DE Keith Browner (Houston), WR Michael Calvin (Atlanta), S D.J. Campbell (Carolina), S Sean Cattouse (San Diego), OG Justin Cheadle (Kansas City), S Chris Conte (Chicago), OG Brian De La Puente (New Orleans), S Thomas DeCoud (Atlanta), RB Justin Forsett (Houston), LB Scott Fujita (Cleveland), OG Mike Gibson (Philadelphia), S Matt Giordano (Oakland), TE Tony Gonzalez (Atlanta), DT Trevor Guyton (Minnesota), P Nick Harris (Carolina), WR Lavelle Hawkins (Tennessee), CB Dante Hughes (New York Giants), WR DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia), WR Marvin Jones (Cincinnati), DE Cameron Jordan (New Orleans), LB Mychal Kendricks (Philadelphia), LS L.P. LaDouceur (Dallas), RB Marshawn Lynch (Seattle), C Alex Mack (Cleveland), DT Brandon Mebane (Seattle), LB Mike Mohamed (Denver), TE Cameron Morrah (Seattle), DE Ernest Owusu (Minnesota), QB Aaron Rodger (Green Bay), WR Jeremy Ross (Indianapolis), OT Mitchell Schwartz (Cleveland), TE Craig Stevens (Tennessee), LS Nick Sundberg (Washington), FB Will Ta’ufo’ou (Denver), K Giorgio Tavecchio (San Francisco), OT Mike Tepper (Indianapolis), CB Syd’Quan Thompson (Denver), RB Shane Vereen (New England).
Arbitrary top five list
Quarterbacks taken in final nine picks of first round
1. Dan Marino, Miami (1983).
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (2005).
3. Jim Harbaugh, Chicago (1987).
4. Ken O’Brien, New York Jets (1983).
5. Tommy Kramer, Minnesota (1977).
Jeff Tedford (Fresno State ’83), 79-48 over a decade in Berkeley. His winning percentage (62.2) is the third-best in school history, trailing only Andy Smith (79.9 from 1916-25) and Pappy Waldorf (67.0 from 1947-56), and, late last season, he surpassed Smith to hold the most career wins by a coach in program history. Tedford turned Cal into a winner so quickly — 7-5 in his first season, back in 2002 — that many have overlooked the situation he inherited. The program went 16-39 over the five seasons before his arrival — the forgettable Tom Holmoe era — and bottomed out at 1-10 in 2001. The Bears have experienced nearly unprecedented success under the former Oregon offensive coordinator, finishing nationally ranked four times, winning the third-most game in the Pac-12 over the last decade and twice, in 2004 and 2006, making a push for B.C.S play. How has he done it? With a dynamic offense, for starters, one typically paced by his latest project under center. Sometimes, however, his Golden Bears ride the running game, not their quarterback, illustrating Teford’s flexibility and penchant for adapting to his personnel – the mark of a top offensive mind. Prior to serving as the offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti at Oregon, Tedford coached six years at his alma mater (1992-1997), the first year as quarterbacks coach and the final five as offensive coordinator. Cal is 5-3 in bowl games under Tedford, making him the only head coach in the history of the program with more than two bowl victories. And, most importantly, Tedford is 7-3 in the Big Game; Cal lost seven straight to Stanford prior to his arrival. And no, I don’t think the bloom is off the rose. He needs to mount a push in the North division, but the program would be foolish to look in another direction at head coach.
Players to watch
This offense is suffering an identity crisis. The Bears’ most dangerous weapon, of course, is junior wide receiver Keenan Allen (98 receptions for 1,343 yards), who continues to flourish – slightly behind the scenes, amazingly enough – as the centerpiece of Tedford’s attack. Allen is, quite simply, a star: he’s bigger than you might think, at 6’3 and 200-plus pounds, and his size is an asset against some of the Pac-12’s slighter cornerbacks; this prototypical length belies his explosiveness, which becomes even more evident on third down – when he averaged 17.7 yards per his 31 moving-the-sticks receptions. What Tedford and the Bears want to do is get the ball in Allen’s hands as often as possible, and you can’t fault that offensive approach.
But there are two issues with this mindset: one, Cal is still unsure of what it will get from senior quarterback Zach Maynard, the former Buffalo transfer and second-year starter; and the offense only clicked during conference play when Tedford and offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik adopted a more balanced attitude – when the Bears started stressing the running game before moving towards the pass. Hence the identity crisis. It’s clear that Cal’s at its best offensively when the running game is given ample opportunity to click; it’s also obvious that Cal’s most dangerous weapon, the only option that can make game-changing plays, can be found at wide receiver.
The quest for middle ground begins in September. This staff needs to find a way to feature Allen in the passing game while also maintaining a healthy ground game. Anything less – if Cal is slanted in either direction – won’t yield this offense impotent, but it would mean that the Bears aren’t playing with a full deck. So how can Cal run the ball 40-plus times per game while still giving Allen his touches?
Much depends on Maynard, who must – absolutely, positively must – do more with less. This has to do with consistency: Maynard makes far too many mental errors and is far too unreliable to be asked to lead the way on offense. But Cal seemed to find a nice balance last November, when Maynard shouldered less of a load in the passing game; the running game stepped up, and Maynard, despite making fewer attempts, was more productive and more dangerous as a passer. That’s where Cal needs to be, in this middle ground, in order for Maynard to be a competent passer in the offense-first Pac-12.
The Bears won three of their last four to end the regular season; Maynard averaged 22.8 attempts per game over this span, compared to 35.1 attempts during Cal’s 4-4 start. Maynard completed 68.1 percent of his attempts in November, tossing five touchdowns against a single interception – he had eight touchdowns against nine picks against Cal’s first seven F.B.S. opponents. So was this simply a matter of a light turning on? Well, sort of. But Maynard’s improvement – and he remained a bit spotty at times – was also a direct result of Tedford’s decision to even out his team’s offensive mentality. If the Bears remain balanced, Maynard should be fine – and he won’t be the reason Cal loses games. But he cannot be the focal point of this offense.
Statistically, last year’s line was the worst of Tedford’s tenure. The Bears tied for 74th nationally in sacks allowed – protecting the passer has been an issue for three years running. The line led the way for a running game that averaged 154.9 yards per game, which ranked 62nd nationally and fifth in the Pac-12. This group also contributed heavily to a team that finished second-to-last in the F.B.S. in penalties, committing an average of 7.5 penalties for 72.4 yards. The good news is that the line responded well to the late-season shift in philosophy, helping the offense averaged 230.0 rushing yards per game in November – before getting absolutely dominated at the point of attack by Texas and its bullying front seven.
But all in all, the way the line closed last year bodes for this coming season. The Bears return three starters off last year’s group in seniors Brian Schwenke, Dominic Galas — if he’s 100 percent — and Matt Summers-Gavin. Only the latter will remain in the same spot, however; while Summers-Gavin returns at right tackle, Galas will move from center to right guard and Schwenke from left guard to center. That will lead to a brand-new left side, but remember: Maynard is a lefty, so having Summers-Gavin and Galas on his right means that his blind side is in good hands. In all likelihood, the Rigsbee family is going to be well-represented up front. Senior Tyler Rigsbee will get the nod at left tackle, with his younger brother, Jordan, a redshirt freshman, taking over at left guard.
Senior back Isi Sofele (1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns) averaged 22.1 carries in Cal’s seven wins and 16.2 carries in its six losses. Not to continue harping on this fact, but the Bears are obviously a stronger team when Sofele is given 20-plus carries; while he’s not the most talented starting back of Tedford’s tenure, Sofele’s production speaks for itself – and like this line, he grew stronger as the year wore on. Cal returns its top backup in senior C.J. Anderson (345 yards and 8 scores), who is a nice short-yardage back with explosive potential as a pass-catcher, as evidenced by his long catch and scamper against Arizona State. There’s also redshirt freshman Daniel Lasco, a Texas product who did impressive work on the scout team last fall.
The formula, if Cal averages 70 plays per game, should be to run the ball 55 percent of the time. While this is contingent on further improvement up front, doing so would allow the Bears to control the clock; would feature the same sort of balance that defined last season’s strong close; would give Sofele his carries while giving options like Anderson and Lasco some touches; would take the result out of Maynard’s hands, to a degree; and would still allow Tedford and Michalczik ample opportunities to get Allen the ball at least a dozen times per game. This is Cal’s winning formula on offense.
A general unfamiliarity with this system will no longer be an excuse for this defense, which enters its third season playing in Pendergast’s 3-4 base formation. Inexperience may be an issue, however, as the Bears must find two new starting ends, two middle linebackers and a pair of new starting safeties. Despite breaking in two new faces in the secondary, Cal should remain in the top fourth nationally in defending the pass – if the front seven can continue to bring pressure on passing downs, that is. For this defense’s faults, one thing Cal did wonderfully was get to the quarterback: Pendergast’s group finished 20th nationally and third in the Pac-12 with 33.0 sacks.
The since-graduated end pairing of Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu – two linemen who were a nice fit for this 3-4 defense – combined for nearly a third of Cal’s sacks. In the new starters, Cal has gone with massive, tackle-sized ends Deandre Coleman (19 tackles, 6.o for loss) and Mustafa Jalil (13 tackles), two linemen who did a nice job adding some production as reserves a year ago. Coleman in particular is very intriguing: he’s huge, at about 315 pounds, but quick enough to have made some plays behind the line of scrimmage last fall. Seniors Kendrick Payne and Aaron Tipoti (25 tackles) are back at nose tackle, but both will be pushed for snaps by sophomore Viliami Moala, who was superb during the spring.
While inexperienced, this line has a higher ceiling than last year’s group. Both Coleman and Jalil have all-conference talent – with Coleman, in my mind, one of the Pac-12’s breakout stars in 2012. In addition, dedicated and fruitful work on the recruiting trail has made this one of Cal’s deepest lines in recent memory, which should help the Bears combat the Pac-12’s many spread teams; Pendergast might be able to combat the league’s up-tempo feel with a line that goes seven or eight deep.
Would-be sophomore Cecil Whiteside was not with the program for a good portion of the summer, which handed the two outside linebacker jobs to sophomore Chris McCain (29 tackles, 6.0 for loss) and junior Dan Camporeale (19 tackles, 4.5 for loss). But Whitehead was recently reinstated, meaning that he could push himself back into the starting lineup with a strong fall camp. Regardless of which starting pair Pendergast goes with come September, the Bears need to get more production from the position, even if you’ll often see Cal exchange its outside linebackers for nickel backs or a fourth down lineman. When the Bears need more flash outside, Pendergast will go with sophomore David Wilkerson (17 tackles, 4.0 sacks), who is battling for a starting job inside but can be very useful coming off the edge on passing downs.
While the final decision will come during fall camp, Pendergast and the Bears entered the summer with senior Robert Mullins and sophomore Nick Forbes atop the depth chart at middle linebacker. Cal’s production at the position is going to take a significant decline; last fall, the Bears were anchored inside by seniors Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt, the former the league’s defensive player of the year and the latter a second-team all-conference pick. While Wilkerson is valuable outside, the Bears might need his flash in the middle. One thing you do like about Cal’s linebackers, both inside and out, is the number of talented recruits jostling for starting and reserve roles. But this is undoubtedly a far more inexperienced group.
Cal’s pass defense – which has made a nice two-year rebound after struggling so mightily in 2009 – should remain stout despite losing both of last season’s starting safeties. One of the two lost starters will be replaced by senior Josh Hill (49 tackles, 2 interceptions), last year’s nickel back. Hill made six starts last fall when Cal opened with a different alignment, but he played in every game, often taking very important snaps against the Pac-12’s best offenses. Pendergast could team Hill with either junior Alex Logan, one of last season’s backups, or sophomore Michael Lowe, a special teams standout as a rookie – and one defensive back with a bright future in Berkeley, in my opinion.
The Bears go four deep at cornerback, as this defense did a season ago. The two starters are again senior Marc Anthony (38 tackles, 2 interceptions) and junior Steve Williams (44 tackles, 2 interceptions), a pair that combined to make 24 starts a year ago. Are they top-flight, all-conference stoppers? No, not really – though Anthony has a shot at postseason honors. But both are solid and consistent, and Cal can rely on the two backups, sophomores Kameron Jackson and Stefan McClure, to give some production off the bench. If the pass rush maintains last year’s pace – or even just comes close – the secondary will again be one of the 25 best in the country.
Pendergast’s defenses will stop the vast majority of pro-style teams. But how can this group shut down those up-tempo, no-huddle, spread teams on its schedule – now that more and more Pac-12 teams are adopting this scheme? The depth up front is one reason: Cal can go deeper, which should allow it to remain fresh for four quarters against Oregon, for example. Again, it does come down to the pass rush. If Coleman, Jalil and the linebackers can bring heat, Cal has the secondary to slow down opposing quarterbacks. As a whole, look for an improved performance from this defense – but you can’t yet say whether Pendergast’s group will play with greater consistency, avoiding the rollercoaster ride that has been the last two years.
Keep on eye on sophomore Brandon Bigelow, who might get squeezed out of carries at running back but could be a difference-maker on kickoff returns. He and Allen give the Bears two very dangerous return men, with Allen handling punts, but Cal’s overall special teams play might decline without Bryan Anger at punter and Giorgio Tavecchio at kicker. While Tavecchio never escaped the foot fault that doomed his team’s chances against Oregon in 2010, he made 20 of 23 attempts as a senior. Anger had one of the nation’s biggest legs. Who steps up?
One of Cal’s three options at punter is on scholarship – so it’s probably safe to say that true freshman Cole Leininger, who signed in February, is going to end up on top. It’ll be a new-old face at kicker: Vincenzo D’Amato, who made 7 of 12 field goals in 2009, returns to the starting lineup.
Position battle(s) to watch
Wide receiver You know that Allen is fantastic, but he can only carry this passing game so far – even if he’s already shown an ability to carry Maynard for an entire season. With Marvin Jones gone, robbing the Golden Bears of a steady secondary option, this offense desperately needs to find three or four complimentary option to take some pressure off of Jones. One thing you know: Allen is going to be surrounded by freshmen – both true and redshirt – and sophomores. The Golden Bears have options at receiver, but outside of Allen, no one target has earned extensive playing time.
Or much playing time at all, in fact. But while the lack of experience is an issue, Cal had to like what it saw during the spring from redshirt freshman Maurice Harris, who flashed a nice burst and some very intriguing jump-ball skills. While Harris won’t be asked to do much – with Allen shouldering the load – he will need to be consistent; he must beat single coverage with some degree of regularity, not to mention catch everything that comes in his path. With this pair entrenched as the two starters, look for Cal to call on at least one of five incoming freshmen to add some depth and athleticism.
Unlike a few other teams in the Pac-12, the Bears don’t necessarily need to go seven or eight deep at the position. Going five deep is mandatory, however. Allen makes one; Harris makes two. Of the incoming freshmen, Bryce Treggs and Cedric Dozier arrive with the most advance billing. Cal also returns junior Jackson Bouza, who made six grabs as a reserve last fall, and moved senior Mike Manuel over from running back prior to spring ball. Allen’s going to make plays. Harris is a promising talent. What I’m really interested in seeing is what sort of impact the true and redshirt freshmen can have in their first tastes of college action.
Game(s) to watch
Cal’s schedule is the toughest in the Pac-12. The Bears will take on Nevada and Ohio State during non-conference play, with the latter on the road. They also get the South’s division three best teams in U.S.C., U.C.L.A. and Utah, with the Trojans and Utes on the road. But one thing about home games: Cal will be moving back into a revamped Memorial Stadium after playing last year’s home games at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. That should provide a nice boost. When you consider this slate overall, however, keep one idea in mind: Most reasonable expectations would list Cal as one of the top seven teams in the Pac-12, joining U.S.C., U.C.L.A., Utah, Oregon, Stanford and Washington. The Bears play each of those six teams. If nothing else, this means that Cal must take care of business against the Wolf Pack, Southern Utah, Arizona State, Washington State and Oregon State.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell California has made some subtle improvement – and some not-so-subtle improvement – across the board, with the exception of linebacker and in the kicking game. But when it comes to the former, it’s possible to see the Golden Bears match last season’s production thanks to a deeper and more talented defensive front; with more bodies at Cal’s disposal up front, this linebacker corps should have plenty of room to operate. This team is stronger elsewhere: Maynard is going to play with more consistency, if only because he’ll be asked to do less; the offensive line, which returns three starters, found some rhythm late last season; the backfield has weapons; Allen is an all-American receiver; and the secondary looks ready to post another top-25 finish.
So Cal is better, just not improved to the point where it can be included among the Pac-12’s top quartet – Oregon, U.S.C., Utah and Stanford, in no particular order. The issue, in a big-picture view, is that the Bears need more than just some improvement to move into the Rose Bowl conversation; Cal needs to get drastically better, and must become substantially more consistent on both sides of the ball before challenging Oregon for the North division or the Trojans and Ducks for the outright conference crown. You’ll see this played out come September, when Cal takes on the South division’s top three in addition to its typical North division slate. With this schedule, Cal should be very happy with an eight-win regular season – one that would include at least one victory as an underdog, if not two or more. A safer bet is seven wins with an above .500 finish during conference play, which would mark some progress for this program.
Dream season Cal loses to U.S.C. and Oregon but sweeps the rest, developing some confidence in early wins over Nevada and Ohio State before taking care of most of the Pac-12. Cal really takes care of Stanford: Golden Bears 44, Cardinal 17.
Nightmare season A season-opening loss to Nevada sends the Bears off on a decidedly poor note. That losses is followed by six others: Ohio State, U.S.C., U.C.L.A., Stanford, Utah and Oregon.
In case you were wondering
Where do California fans congregate? There are plenty of options when it comes to message board chatter, beginning with Bear Insider and continuing with Bear Territory and Cal Sports Digest. The Cal fan base also touts several good blogs, such as California Golden Blogs, Excuse Me For My Voice, Bear Talk and Bears With Fangs.
California’s all-name nominee OG Alejandro Crosthwaite.
Through 87 teams 345,447.
Who is No. 37? The formula is simple: To win games, tomorrow’s program needs to crack the 30-point mark – the team is 19-2 over the last four years when reaching that total.
Tags: Brandon Bigelow, Brian Schwenke, Bryce Treggs, California, Cedric Dozier, Chris McCain, Clancy Pendergast, Daniel Lasco, David Wilkerson, Deandre Coleman, Dominic Galas, Isi Sofele, Jeff Tedford, Jim Michalczik, Josh Hill, Keenan Allen, Marc Anthony, Matt Summers-Gavin, Maurice Harris, Mustafa Jalil, Pac-12, Steve Williams, Vincenzo D'Amato, Zach Maynard
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