We are in the middle of bowl season in college football and on December 29th the Air Force Falcons will head to Fort Worth, Texas to take on the California Golden Bears in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. The two teams have matched up in this bowl game before, but that was way back in 2007 and Mountain West Connection hit the virtual highway to find out some information about the Bears. We meet up with not one, but two of the writers from California Golden Blogs. So, we sat down with boomtho and Leland Wong and did ourselves a little roundtable discussion on: Cal and the bowl game match up with Air Force.
MWConnection: There seems to be some real issues between Sonny Dykes and the University. Did that affect the team who really struggled after a 5-1 start?
boomtho: From my perspective, I don't think the Dykes negotiation really affected the Cal players a ton after a 5-0 start. Rather, Cal had a much easier first half of the schedule than second half. The Pac-12 powerhouses - Utah, UCLA, USC, Oregon, and Stanford - all came on the back half of our schedule, and all came in a row.
Leland Wong: I feel rather comfortable in estimating that conflicts between Dykes and the University were responsible for about 0.001% of the team's end-of-year slide. I bet that Dykes has been coaching for long enough to keep any unhappiness with his employers from affecting how he coaches the players; furthermore, all the news about Dykes wanting an extension, then feeling unappreciated, then getting an inadequate extension, and then interviewing elsewhere came much later in the season. The late slide had more to do with our inconsistent run game (see question 3) and--like boomtho said--our schedule. In fact, way back when the schedule was announced in the preseason, we all expected a hot start followed by a punishing grind.
MWConnection: How good is Jared Goff? Do you legitimately see him as the best quarterback in the country and will he be in the NFL this time next year?
boomtho: I don't watch a ton of non Pac-12 college football, but from what I've seen and read about draft reports, Goff is probably the best pro prospect in the draft. That's different than best current quarterback in the country - there are a few Big 12 QB's with eye popping stats that are tough to ignore - but I really believe Goff is the most ready to succeed in the NFL due to a few factors.
First, Goff has great pocket mobility. He always keeps his feet moving and is able to elude the first wave of pass rushers and extend the play. He's not the fastest guy, but his agility and mobility in the pocket is really impressive. Second, he's very good at moving through his progressions. There are many plays where he's able to come all the way across the field to find a WR breaking open. Third, he's got good arm strength (not great), and is able to get the ball to all key areas of the field.
I really hope that Goff goes to the NFL. While Cal would be better next year if he stays, he's been an awesome representative of the university since being thrust into the starting role as a freshman, and given how short NFL careers can be, I want him to get to the league and get paid.
Leland Wong: It's apparent to all of us that Goff loves all things Cal and I wouldn't be surprised if he genuinely wanted to stay next year to get the full college experience and to help the program in every way he can... But I think this is just an offer that he can't refuse with NFL teams loving his accuracy, pocket presence, and evasive skills--especially with so many other weapons on offense whose collegiate careers are ending.
MWConnection: Everyone talks about Cal's passing game? Do they even have a running attack and who are some names to watch if Cal runs the ball?
boomtho: The notion that the Bear Raid is 100% geared towards passing is kind of a misconception - that's more true for what Mike Leach runs up at WSU. Cal ran the ball about 400 times and passed it about 500 times, which is a 44% run rate. Dykes has said he'd love to get closer to 50/50, but unfortunately we don't have the right personnel to be a consistent running team. Our OL has definitely improved, but they're still probably better in the pass game than in the run game. In addition, while we thought senior running back Daniel Lasco would be the perfect feature back to lead this attack (due to his versatility), he got hurt early in the year, throwing the RB rotation a bit into the air. RB Tre Watson kind of emerged by the end of the year as a lead back, and he's pretty good - but there was a lot of uncertainty in the middle of the year which hurt the running game.
Leland Wong: Yeah, we do get a little tired of the "pass-only" misconception. We certainly do use the pass for the big play and to get the ball into space, but we absolutely lean on a run game to keep the chains moving and to punish teams who solely focus on the pass. We wish we could answer this question with senior running back Daniel Lasco, who rushed for over 1000 yards last year, but he was unfortunately injured in the second game of the year against MWC-mate San Diego State. Instead, Cal will probably rely on running back by committee. In addition to Watson, the Falcons will probably have to contend with speedster Khalfani Muhammad and Vic Enwere, who's more of a power back and capable of converting 3rd and 36 on the ground.
MWConnection: What have been the biggest strengths of the defense this year? And what are their biggest weaknesses?
boomtho: The biggest strength has probably been our secondary. Now, the statistics don't immediately bear that out, but compared to last year, our secondary has been significantly improved. Players like Darius White, Darius Allensworth, and converted QB Luke Rubezner have really gotten more comfortable in the scheme and are able to better make plays on the ball.
The biggest weakness has probably been the lack of a pass rush, especially vs the better team sin the conference.
Leland Wong: The biggest defensive strength was our ability to force takeaways. Emphasis on "was". Back during that great five-win start to the season, Cal led the nation in takeaways. Once those takeaways started to dry up, the wins became rarer and rarer. I think our biggest weakness on this side of the ball is our youth and lack of depth. As the season went on, we were forced to play more underclassmen and--while they had heart--they just weren't ready yet.
MWConnection: How does it make everyone at Cal feel when Aaron Rodgers introduces himself as being from Butte Community College instead of Cal on nationally televised NFL games?
boomtho: There's definitely a portion of the fan base that is pretty unhappy when that happens (other notable Cal NFL players like Desean Jackson and Marshawn Lynch have also done similar intros). I personally don't care that much - it'd be great if he said Cal, but I'm not stressing about it.
Leland Wong: Boomtho has chosen his words <i>very</i> diplomatically; we have a passionate and raging subpopulation within our fandom who rage every time they see Rodgers make that introduction. In fact, whenever we make a post about Rodgers, I guarantee that within the first three comments, at least one will make the always-hilarious joke that we're mistaken because he's a Butte alumnus. I agree with boomtho that it would be nice if he helped give some more publicity for Cal, but it's his prerogative and I think we as just fans should have far bigger issues to worry about.
MWConnection: Break it down for me.....how do you see this game going and what is your prediction?
boomtho: I think Cal is very happy to be bowling so won't take this game lightly at all. I predict a modest Cal victory, say 34-24. Cal opened up as ~6.5 point favorites so I'm maybe feeling a bit better about Cal than Vegas.
Leland Wong: Let's rely on the tried-and-true transitive property of college football. Cal and Air Force have one shared opponent in SDSU. Cal scored 5 points for every 1 SDSU point and SDSU scored 27 against Air Force... so that means we should expect Cal to score 135 points in a big victory?
I think the triple option is going to be a unique challenge that will test a solid, but unspectacular Cal defense. Air Force is going to put up points--especially early on as Cal has to adapt to this unique attack. The Falcons' defense has some solid experience--especially in the secondary--but I think the offensive talent for the Bears at quarterback and receiver is enough to overpower the Falcons. I'll predict a 31-21 Cal win.