For the second time this year a Mountain West team faces Cal an this time it is San Diego State who is hosting the Bears. We caught up with CaliforniaGoldenBlogs.com to get to know this California team.
1. Last year the Golden Bears went 8-5 and 4-5 in conference. How do you predict they will do this year?
boomtho: I'm probably among the more pessimistic Cal fans, but I think we'll finish 6-6 (losses: Texas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, and one out of either SDSU or Utah). Given the difficult of this year's schedule and the loss of #1 overall pick Jared Goff (let's not talk about how his preseason has gone...), that would be a pretty good accomplishment.
Piotr T Le: S&P+ numbers have the Bears going 4-8 or 5-7 with 3-4 in conference wins. I personally think that we will fall closer to 6 wins.
LeonPowe: Slightly worse. We did lose the #1 pick in the NFL draft and our top 6 wideouts - so even on the side of the ball I'm comfortable, we're dealing with inexperience. As good as Webb looked week 1, I realized how great we had it with Goff - not in the throwing the ball part of being a QB, but in the decision making, the quickness and decisiveness. Not that Webb is even bad at these things, but Goff was as good as any that have played QB for Cal.
Then we turn to the defense where we continue to bleed players - and even if those players were slightly slow or not as physically gifted or whatever shortcomings they had - that's still a loss of an experienced rotation player. Barton to Arizona and Nickerson to Illinois hurt the most, seeing how bad our run defense looked.
2. What are the biggest weaknesses of the Golden Bears could prevent them from meeting this season's expectations?
boomtho: As has been well covered, the Cal defense is by far the weaker unit. That is a result of a couple of factors: graduation of key contributors (Mustafa Jalil, Trevor Kelly, David Davis on the interior of the DL: safety Stefan McClure), transfer of other key contributors (Michael Barton and Hardy Nickerson), retirements for injury (Griffin Piatt, Caleb Coleman), and really unfortunate injury (safety Damariay Drew). So, not a great offseason for the defense!
The problem this really poses for the Cal defense is two-fold: we have very little depth with any meaningful experience, and even our top-end talent is not enough to hang with the big guns of the Pac-12. Even more specifically, the DL can't consistently generate pressure and is unlikely to be able to plug holes in the run game ,and the LB's are young and inexperienced.
Piotr T Le: Run defense. We're facing the "who is who" of West Coast Running Backs this year. Without good DT pressure up the middle we will be forced to stack the box tighter than our Cover-4 nature permits us.
LeonPowe: Defensive depth and speed in the front seven. A very difficult schedule.
3. Although the win was expected, what was Cal's reaction to Hawaii scoring 31 points in Australia?
boomtho: People expected the defense to struggle, especially early - but what I think concerned fans was the way in which Hawaii scored. There were a lot of missed tackles between LB's and safeties, and the DL was able to generate nearly no push, either as a pass rush or stopping the run. Hawaii also gifted Cal multiple turnovers, including a penalty on a Cal punt which gave us the ball back. Hawaii did score the bulk of their points later in the game (ish), so it's not all bad - but still, there's a lot of reason to be concerned.
Piotr T Le: Disquieting. It wasn't the quantity of scores as much as the way Hawai'i arrived at the score: sustained drives with one or two explosive plays on the ground.
LeonPowe: Slightly disappointing - the 31 wasn't quite as bad as it seemed, but really with the talent difference, the bad angles and missed tackles and the lack of pressure up front were disappointing. I don't think we "really" gave up 31 points - late garbage time touchdown, but it shouldn't have even been close to 31.
4. What kind of a job has Sonny Dykes done so far, and what are near-term expectations?
boomtho: When answering this question, it's important to understand the sheer scope of the problems plaguing Cal when Jeff Tedford. The academics were abysmal, we had lost basically two highly regarded recruiting classes to academics/transfers/retirements, some in the community had definitely turned on the team, recruiting was kind of in a tailspin, and the program felt very isolated from the rest of the campus.
With that context, Dykes has done a WONDERFUL job addressing the off the field concerns. The academics are on a great trajectory, the team engages with the student body (notable example: conducting the band and singing the fight song after games), and the team has gotten some pretty cool publicity opportunities like the Hawaii game. Dykes has also done a pretty decent job recruiting (though the balance of talent has certainly skewed offensive).
Dykes has had some misses, specifically on coaching hires (Andy Buh was a disaster of a DC, the public departure of Tony Franklin, the unseemly Pierre Ingram stuff, and the jury is still out on whether Art Kaufman's X's and O's skills offset his lack of interest in recruiting). And like LeonPowe mentioned, Dykes has, for whatever reason (talent, coaching, injuries, transfers), been able to field even a decent defense. Dykes also hasn't beaten a Pac-12 California school, and that lack of success is already grating on a LOT of people's nerves.
Near term expectations are to make a bowl, continue recruiting momentum on the offensive side, try to make inroads on the defensive side, and for the love of Oski, beat a Pac-12 California school!
Piotr T Le: I like how he changed the culture of Cal football. Our APR scores are rising, the players all are great ambassadors to the university and each one of them has been a credit to our institution. However, his on field performance leaves a lot to be desired since he has yet to win against UCLA/USC/Oregon/Stanfurd.
LeonPowe: In terms of culture change, off field stuff, integrating the team into the student body, driving a love for Cal and producing young men that we are proud that they wear Blue and Gold and represent the University in a positive manner, he's been outstanding. I loved loved loved Coach Tedford, but it always felt like he built a wall between his program and the university. Dykes has flipped that and the guys really feel like they're students at Cal, not just football players - at least to me.
In terms of cultivating offensive talent - again, almost perfect marks. Seeing where we started from 3 seasons ago - compared to now - we're a wide receiver factory, and a probably NFL player at QB and probably our backs will have a chance to play or practice on Sundays too. Also, our o-line is starting to come together.
There's a large segment of the fanbase which claims that Sonny doesn't care about defense - I don't think that's the case at all. But it's not his expertise, and he doesn't have a defensive recruiting guru. And all the 4 and 5 star guys we have taking campus visits are on the offensive side of the ball. I think Sonny cares about defense, because he cares about winning and doing a good job - but I think he needs to place a little more attention towards fixing that side of the ball. The bodies are lacking, even if we're starting to recruit good talent over there (Marloshawn Frankling and Evan Rambo look legit) it's not enough.
Near-term expectations - keep up in the bowl eligible range this season, start to build up more defensive depth/talent and in two years when Stovall and Robertson are juniors we should be contending for a Pac-12 title.
5. Who are the most talented additions to the Cal roster in 2016 (beyond Webb)?
boomtho: Let's start with the WR's: 5* Demtris Robertson, explosive jitterbug Melquise Stovall, and highly regarded recruiting Brandon Singleton should all make an impact sooner than later. On the defensive side, CB Traveon Beck is probably the FR expected to get the most PT.
Piotr T Le: Demetrius Robertson and Meloquise Stovall. Both are Freshmen WRs who are going to get substantial snaps throughout the season. They have elite top end speed and agility. Their true talents will shine next year once they get used to the speed of the game.
LeonPowe: Melquise Stovall and Demetrius Robertson - true freshmen wide receivers. They haven't started producing like Desean Jackson just yet (Desean ran a punt back and caught a touchdown in his first game), but we have a lot more wide out talent around them. I think either or both could be as good as Tha1.
6. Does Cal think SDSU is as good as recent game predictions?
boomtho: I don't know about Cal - but most of CGB, myself included, is definitely scared of SDSU. Specifically, the defense is terrifying, and I don't know how in the world we're going to stop Donnel Pumphrey.
LeonPowe: 7 point favorites? I wouldn't speak for the entire fanbase - because there's portions of the fanbase who think we're going to win by 30 and other portions that think we're going to lose by 30. I only know the dangers of overlooking SDSU, because I went to back-to-back road trips to San Diego in 94 and 95 and we lost both those games. The only game against SDSU we won when I was a student was when Marshall Faulk came into Berkeley and we held him under 100 yards. So much for expectations.
7. How much confidence does Cal have in Davis Webb? He threw for 441 yards, and four touchdowns against Hawaii.
boomtho: I think the team has as much confidence as possible for a guy who's technically in his first year playing for Dykes and OC Jake Spavital. Obviously he's a senior and was competing against younger guys (albeit with more Bear Raid experience), but the fit seems to be pretty seamless so far.
That being said, he's no Jared Goff... which I'm not sure that all fans have expected.
LeonPowe: He looks like he's an upper tier college QB. but he's got huge shoes to fill. Immediately I'd say his decision making skills aren't as fast as Goff's - and I think he missed some throws early.
8. How did U.C. Berkeley come to be known as California, given there are over 300 colleges and universities in the great state?
boomtho: We are the flagship public university, the first one founded by California, and one of the best universities in the world (note the lack of ‘public' qualifier). I'd say the moniker is well deserved! I'd also say it's very confusing and a branding problem, as many people don't realize that Cal and UC Berkeley are the same.
LeonPowe: We were the first University founded by the state way back in 1868, and are the flagship campus for the University of California. Much like Texas (UT-Austin), Wisconsin (UW-Madison) etc. etc.
9. If my girlfriend were missing, what are the odds that it's because Cal QB Davis Webb took her?
boomtho: Is she a little bit country, or a little bit rock and roll?
LeonPowe: That depends if she likes the bad boy or the cute one.