Love. True Love. When it is present, it is a glorious feeling. Ah, but when it turns sour, there are few things as destructive.
There was a time when the Washington - Cal relationship was one of mutual respect, if not admiration. The similarities and connections are bountiful. Long, accomplished history in the PAC conference. Check. Strong academic history. Check. Time tested ties to the nations of the Pacific Rim. Check.. A shared love for rowing. Check. A singular disdain for the dominance of the Southern Cal football program. Check. An accomplished record of Rose Bowl appearances and runs at football National Championships. Che...well ... almost.
But like an early frost that wilts the rose, this relationship has chilled over the last few seasons. Unexpected upsets, Michalczik-gate, the late flipping of recruits like Brandon Bigelow, Deandre Coleman and Shaq Thompson and the poaching of two Cal assistants has all but extinguished the flame of our relationship. And while the level of butt-hurtedness is certainly more severe on the Cal side, it can no longer be said that flame of love, that once cut so brightly through the morass of viciousness that belies typical PAC rivalries, any longer burns among the dissipating embers that was once our mutual respect.
What once was a gentlemanly affair is now an emotional rivalry - at least in one direction - and one that now warrants our attention. Forget the Doom, the Jumbacos and the dozens or irrelevant Internet memes quoted ad nauseam over in the comment threads at CGB. This is war and it is on. The next volley in the campaign, courtesy of the Gekko File, after the Jump.
The Golden Bears entered the 2011 season with high expectations. Sure, there were questions on the offensive side of the ball. But noted QB whisperer, Jeff Tedford, had sorted out the mishmash mess that was his QB situation and handed the reigns over to the dual-threat transfer from Buffalo, Zach Maynard. In addition, the ranks were stocked with the fruits of some effective recruiting over the last three seasons and the defense, to be anchored by a strong LB corps, looked poise to breakout. This was the season that Cal was to challenge Oregon.
Things started out well enough with three straight wins in which the offense looked solid. A narrow OT win in Boulder, however, highlighted some of the defensive cracks that were not expected. Then disaster struck. A road trip to UW kicked off a string of three straight losses that would expose the inconsistencies of the Cal QB. A solid win against Utah ended that streak, but it was followed by an inexplicable mauling at the hands of the UCLA Bruins who, literally, ran all day over that Cal defense. The season would end on a high note with Cal running off wins in three of their last four to earn a berth in the Holiday Bowl against Texas. Of course, the Bears would completely disappear in that game as the season ended with a whimpering 21-10 loss leaving the Bears with a somewhat disappointing 7-6 record to close the season.
When you look at the season outputs, there were far more good than bad all across the board. WR Keenan Allen had a breakout type of season and was one of the three best receivers in the PAC. LB Mychal Kendricks was a tackling machine on his way to PAC 12 DPOY honors. Unheralded RB Isi Sofele was a revelation, rushing for 1,300 yards and averaging 101 per game. The Cal Pass Defense was the tops in the conference. The red zone offense was great and the red zone defense was even better. In fact, the only failings you can really pinpoint on the Bears were in the passing game. Interceptions, inaccuracy and a lack of established receiving options outside of Allen and Marvin Jones just about explain the whole collapse.
Of course, the off-season would get much more strange for the Bears. Jeff Tedford would land squarely on the hot-seat after not getting a pass for a season in which the Bears played all their home games in San Francisco. Tosh Lupoi would get recruited away to UW in what amounted to an act of treason (despite the fact that assistants change teams all the time). WR coach Eric Keisau would also get recruited away to UW to serve the OC role in Seattle. Along the way, Cal would go on to lose its grip on what, at one point, was one of the 10 best recruiting classes in the nation. Cal opens up its fall camp ready to move back into Memorial Stadium and to move past 2011.
2011 Look Back: Cal @ UW
One season removed from the famous "God's Play" TD and two removed from the best football game Jake Locker ever played (a memorable 5 TD performance that kickstarted buzz about a Heisman run in 2010), this was a game that the Cal Bears thought ought to belong to them. And, why not? Keith Price was still an unproven commodity at this point. The Husky D was already showing signs of being, eh, bad. And, dammit, they were due. What they were not counting on was Keith Price fully breaking out.
In what was a back and forth affair that the UW defense tried its hardest to give away (I don't think I've ever seen a defensive play as bad as the 90 yard TD pass/run by Keenan Allen), UW would pull out an exciting 31-23 victory in front of its home crowd. Keith Price was huge in the game, passing for 292 yards and 3 TDs on just 25 pass attempts. Chris Polk, who was held to just 60 yards on the ground, had a huge day receiving including catching a 70 yard TD pass. Devin Aguilar also had a long reception and chipped in his best game of the season. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins had his coming out party going for 54 yards and two TDs of his own.
The most interesting part of this game was the reversal of roles by the teams relative to the 2010 game. In this one, Cal had the ball to end the game, driving the length of the field in four minutes to set up 1st and goal on the 2 yard line down by 8. The Husky D stiffened as they forced an incomplete pass and stuffed to runs to set up fourth down. On their last chance, Maynard missed Allen badly to give the ball back to UW. There would be no God's Play for Cal as the crowd roared its approval and the Husky players celebrated their victory on the sidelines.
Cal was the most difficult team to forecast for 2012 as part of this Gekko File series. Of all of the programs in our league, this Cal team has the potential to compete with Oregon for the very top of the North division or to collapse altogether and compete with WSU for as low as the fifth spot. The reason for this is because there is a very strange and combustible combination of established senior performers, big gaping holes of depth, latent and untapped talent, and a middling QB who will only take the team as far as the rest of the talent allows him to.
On the offensive side, there is certainly reason for hope. Keenan Allen is a certifiable stud who will be a high pick in the NFL draft next April. Sofele is a solid, versatile back and he is supported by very good depth with runners CJ Anderson and Brandon Bigelow. An optimist would also point out Maynard seemed to get it all together at the end of last season (Holiday Bowl aside) and should only get better under a Jim Michalczik led offense. The pessimist would point out that Maynard is already who he is going to be: a misfit QB with very poor mechanics and middling arm strength who, probably, isn't as good right now as incoming true freshman Zach Kline. He would also point out that the Bears lost their top three receivers after Allen from last season and that, at minimum, the Bears are going to have to have two true freshman (from the mix of Bryce Treggs, Cedric Dozier and Darius Powe) grow up fast. Of course , he would lament openly about the loss of the Bears best OL from a year ago - T Mitchell Schwarz. Just to pile on, he would fret about the Allen's recovery from ankle surgery and the loss to the NFL of P Bryan Anger. All tolled, there are significant questions among the offense, but tons of talent that could hit or miss.
If you simply consider who the Bears lost on Defense, you'd be hard pressed to not cringe and wonder aloud how they will recover. Gone are Kendricks, ILB DJ Holt, both starting S in DJ Campbell and Sean Cattouse, DE Ernest Owusu and stud DE Trevor Guyton. Yet few people seemed too concerned about a drop off for Clancy Pendegrast's squad. The reason is there continues to be strong talent in the line-backing corps and, probably, the best defensive line in the PAC 12. Consider that the Bears are likely to roll out a starting trio of DE Deandre Coleman (6'5" 315), Anthony Tipoti (6'2", 295) and DE Mustafa Jalil (6'3", 290). Todd Barr adds depth and may challenge for a starting spot. Layer in the talent of the mercurial Cecil Whiteside and the emerging Chris McCain coupled with the experienced CB duo of Marc Anthony and Steve Williams and you can see why many pundits are very bullish on the Cal D. That said, there are a lot of moving parts in the flipping of this and there are certain to be growing pains along the way.
Not to be ignored for Cal is the fact that they will be breaking in two new kicking specialists, the fact that they are involuntarily replacing important pieces of the coaching staff and the fact that it is not outside of the realm of possibility that Zach Kline may get handed the keys to the offense in much the same way Matt Barkley did at USC. Added all together, it is difficult to forecast the Cal season for 2012. Lots of talent, lots of moving parts and lots of gaps to fill.
- The Bears put six players from their 2011 team into the NFL via the Draft. This includes second rounders Kendricks and Schwartz, third rounder Anger, fifth rounder Marvin Jones and seventh rounders Guyton and D.J. Campbell
- Six draft picks is by far the most produced by any Pac 12 team in 2011
- The move of Eric Kiesau to UW left OC Jim Michalczik with a hole at receivers coach that he has gone on to fill with former NFL All-Pro Wes Chandler. Chandler had not coached since 2009 with the USFL and has had minimal college coaching experience.
- Cal's top returning receiver after Keenan Allen is RB CJ Anderson (7 receptions, 186 yards) and TE Spencer Hagan (12/94). The most accomplished receiver is Jackson Bouza, a sophomore who caught three passes last season.
- Cal's hope to replace K Giorgio Tavecchio is James Langford. Langford is a transfer from Cal Poly who is technically ineligible in 2012, but who is petitioning to play this year.
- Academic eligibility has been a sore spot for Cal with rumors flying that key players like Maynard and Jalil have had to miss practices and workouts in order to focus on keeping eligible.
- Projected starter, OLB Cecil Whiteside, who was "dismissed" from the team in late May for a violation of team rules, was miraculously reinstated just a few months later. Whiteside will have missed no official team practices. That's Oregon justice, right there.
- The overhaul of Memorial Stadium includes an historic $447 million in debt that is probably the biggest such financing effort in the history of college athletics - more than double the debt incurred by Minnesota and Washington in their similar projects. As recently as last March, there was open talk that the stadium portion of the project was not going to be complete in time for the season. Since then, crews have been working 12 hour days / 6 days a week in order to close the gap. The latest is that Cal will open the gates and that vital facilities such as the field, seating, concessions and bathrooms should be operational. Good luck with that.
- I know some of you came directly to the Dots looking for pictures. Keep in mind that we are talking about Cal. I'm sparing you.
I've elected to take the "optimist" point of view on Cal this season. The key for me is the talent that they will be rolling out on the DL and amongst their OLB. Coupled with those experienced corners, I can see the Bears being very stout against passing offenses and effective in generating pass rushes. I also can't help but to like the running back stable. Despite the questions market on the offensive line, there is enough talent there to boost Maynard and what I think will be a very down passing attack in 2012.
I don't really see Cal as any better or worse than UW or Stanford in 2012. However, I think they have a few advantages that will help them emerge as the #2 team in the North. The first is the opening of Memorial Stadium and the advantage that this will give Cal, particularly in the Big Game this year. The second is the schedule overall. Compared to both Stanford and UW, Cal gets one extra conference game at home, including key matchups with Stanford, Washington and Oregon. When you take into account the fact that they have two relatively straight forward (but don't fall asleep on either) OOC games against Nevada and Southern Utah before their big road trip to take on Urban Meyer and Ohio State, you can see why I'm arguing that Cal is going to be an 8 win team with a 6-3 PAC record ... good enough to finish 2nd in the North.