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The Gekko File: P12 North #3 - Cal

There may not have been a team in all the land with worse luck than Cal had in 2012. Can a Coach named "Sonny" and a Back named "Bigs" turn that around?

These men are plotting a Cal revival on the field and in the classroom.
These men are plotting a Cal revival on the field and in the classroom.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

I miss Cal.

There was a time when Huskies and Bears lived in a state of mutual respect and, dare I say, admiration. Both schools shared a kinship of sorts that was premised on a strong mutual valuation of academic excellence, an affinity for some of the more civilized of sports such as Crew and Tennis, and a love of high quality microbrews. Where Cal may have laid some claims to superior academics, UW laid claims to superior football. It was a perfect yin and yang. A co-existence of mutual admirers.

Then it was over.

The plucking of Tosh Lopoi from Cal, the promotion of Cal WR coach Eric Kiesau to OC, and the eventual turning of uber-recruit, Shaq Thompson, are all viewed by the Cal fan as unforgivable crimes and have forever sullied the relationship between our two fanbases. Cal fans do not care to acknowledge that the hotseat that Jeff Tedford sat on before being fired at the end of last season put their assistant coaches job security in jeopardy (and, in hindsight, it is impossible to argue that leaving Cal before last year was a bad call by either Kiesau or Lopoi) and have resolved to collectively designate UW as their most hated foe in the conference. The love is gone and an era of frigid relations has settled in.

Of course, this acrimony is purely a one-way phenomenon. Husky fans still view Cal with the same type of non-chalant appreciation that they always have demonstrated. While us Husky fans mostly find it amusing, if not remarkable, to be the most hated rival of three P12 foes (joining WSU and Oregon), there remains a sense of longing for our long lost pals to the south.

Cal fans, please come back. We miss you. This Gekko File is for you.

The Gekko File Accountability - What I Said in 2012

I was more bullish on the Bears in 2012 than perhaps I should have been. Here is what I said:

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...

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...

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.

I can see you raising your eyebrows as you now recall that I did, indeed, forecast Cal to finish 2nd in the P12 North last year (not unlike how I picked Utah to finish 2nd in the South). If you read my article, you'll know that I was basing this prediction on two critical factors: what I saw as a very robust Cal defense that had strength on the DLine and a high quality stable of backs to fuel that Cal rushing attack. I was optimistic that these strengths would take the pressure off an underwhelming QB in Zach Maynard and, combined with what looked like a manageable schedule at the time, be the foundation for a solid season. Didn't happen. Read on.

2012 Review

Jeff Tedford, the engineer of one of the truly great program turnarounds in college football history, entered 2012 clearly on the hotseat. After having enjoyed a phenomenal run as the one true challenger to USC's hegemony in the early part of the 2000's, the tarnish on Tedford's glow had been expanding with every musical chair rotation at QB and every questionable loss to middling P12 teams in the record book. The team had not finished a season in the Top 25 since 2006 and the natives were getting restless. Still, there was reason for optimism heading into 2012 as the Bears boasted what was, at the time, considered a Top 25 offense, they had a dynamic playmaker in Keenan Allen on offense, they had a stable of productive running backs and they had a bright and shiny new stadium - one that was built at considerable expense - to call home.

It was not to be.

Things unraveled for Cal just before the kickoff of their opener versus Chris Ault's Nevada team. It was announced that starting QB Zach Maynard was being suspended for a violation of team rules, but that the news had been withheld from everybody - including the team - until the morning of gameday. As it turns out, Maynard only missed the first three series of that game, but what a three series they were. In their first 13 plays, Cal netted a total of 10 yards and watched as Nevada put up a quick 14-0 advantage. Maynard would come back and help get Cal into the game, but the gap was too great as the Bears would fall by a score of 31-24. Things just got worse from there.

A win over Southern Utah was followed by three tight losses to high powered opponents in Ohio State, USC and Arizona State. The Cal team would rally in the next two, posting a very impressive win over UCLA, Maynard's best game as a collegian, and a throttling of Washington State. That was where the good times ended.

In the 30th anniversary of "The Play" and the first Big Game to be hosted in Cal's new stadium, the Cardinal whipped Cal in a show of defensive force 21-3. It was a devastating loss for a team that was starting to garner momentum. The next week, the wheels came off the bus as the Utah Utes destroyed Cal and sent them into a tailspin that they would never recover from, finishing the season with five straight losses, a 3-9 record and a fifth place finish in the P12 North.

The feeble ending to the season, and that Big Game loss in particular, was the effective end of the Jeff Tedford era. Fan perception was clearly that he had lost his grip on competitiveness and that the team was "declining" even from the previous year. Despite the fact that recruiting had been going pretty well overall, the talent wasn't getting developed (especially at QB) and the fans believed that to be on Tedford. What the fans didn't appreciate was the extent of all the bad breaks that Tedford had to endure in 2012. Between injuries to several players (including Keenan Allen), a high ratio of fumbles caused (28) relative to fumbles recovered (9), some game-deciding scoring plays overturned and, as Bill Connelly points out in his 2013 preview of the Bears, an odd disparity in third-down defensive performance relative to first and second down performance, the Bears didn't harness much good fortune. Still, it cannot be disputed that there were considerable opportunities missed due to poor play calling, inadequate execution and questionable player development. Compound that with the ongoing struggle that Cal Football has had with the APR rankings, and the end of Jeff Tedford's successful tenure was all but assured.

2012 Recap: UW @ Cal

Washington traveled to Berkeley for a Thursday night game having just come off their big upset win against Oregon State in Seattle. Questions lingered around this Huskies team given that they had just come off three straight losses and they had needed four Beaver turnovers to break that streak. Could the Huskies go on the road and win in convincing form against a Cal team that, at this point of the season, was outgunned and just waiting for the axe to fall on its staff?

Unfortunately, this game did little to answer that question for UW fans notwithstanding the ultimate outcome. Despite traveling to the game in suits to demonstrate the "business trip" mentality of the team, the Huskies came out sloppy in this one. They committed 12 penalties throughout the game and turned the ball over four times. Cal was every bit as sloppy also committing four turnovers. In one memorable series of exchanges in the fourth quarter, the two teams drives ended like this: Cal - Missed FG, Wash - Fumble, Cal - 3&out, Wash - Fumble (one play), Cal - Fumble (2 plays), Wash - Fumble (3 plays), Cal - Interception.

It was the definition of UGLY.

Still, Bishop Sankey had a career defining day with 189 yards rushing and a couple of TDs. Austin Seferian-Jenkins was the entire passing offense with 8 catches, 154 yards and a fantastic TD grab. Despite being outgained 450 to 400 yards and surrendering 10-18 third down conversions to a Cal team without Keenan Allen, the Huskies were able to squeak by the Golden Bears by a score of 21-13. While much has been made about the two UW games at the end of the season that the Huskies should have won, this was that classic example of a game the Huskies should have lost. Still, a win is a win and the Huskies claimed it when they needed to.

2013 Preview: Cal Golden Bears

The new man in charge of the Golden Bears is former Louisana Tech coach, Sonny Dykes. Those of you with good memories will recall that Dykes led a three year revival at La Tech that culminated in a 9-3 record and the top-scoring offense in all of college football (Oregon included) at 51.5 points per game in 2012. Dykes, a prodigy of WSU Coach Mike Leach, knows the Pac 12 as a former QB Coach and Offensive Coordinator at Arizona where he cultivated record-setting performances out of Willie Tuitama. The implementation of his style of the Air Raid, now known as the "Bear Raid," is the key story line that sets up the season for the Golden Bears in 2013.

The first question Dykes will have to answer is who his QB will be. Usually, the lack of an established QB is a negative. However, for Cal, it may well be a positive. Gone are chronic underperformers Maynard and Allan Bridgford. Left behind are a stable of very talented, highly recruited QBs in Jr. Austin Hinder, RFr Zach Kline and TFr Jared Goff. One of these guys will have a chance to break records in Dykes's high octane offense. While it is too early to call at the moment, my guess is that the job will go to one of Kline or Goff - both of whom were very highly regarded high school recruits and have the skills to run this kind of offense. Goff could very well be the favorite given the fact that he made it in for Spring Camp and came out of it with what some consider to be a slight overall edge.

Whomever it ends up being will have the luxury of playing behind one of the biggest, if not the biggest, offensive line in the Pac 12. While this was a significantly underperforming unit in 2012 - their sacks / game of 3.4 was 8th in the P12 - the truth is that this should be the best P12 offensive line outside of Stanford and Oregon. While this unit is light on "career starts" it is more experienced than you think and is anchored by RT Bill Tyndall, the unit's only senior, and Jordan Rigsbee, a 325 pound mauler at LG. Rigsbee will partner with the behemoth 350 lb So LT Freddie Tagaloa to form an enormous left side of the line of scrimmage. I expect this offensive line to struggle early in the season as the new starters gain experience and they acclimate to Dykes' new system. Still, from a potential standpoint, this may be one of the more intriguing offensive lines in all of the conference.

The offensive skill positions are stocked with bright young talent that should take to Dykes' offense from Day 1. Whereas last year I was effusive about the RB situation, this year it is all about the very talented, very deep and very young receiving corps that fits absolutely perfectly in the Bear Raid. While the loss of Allen is a blow, the fact is that the best receiver for Cal last year may have been true freshman Chris Harper, who played mostly out of the slot. Harper had 41 catches in his first year and demonstrated outstanding hands and route running for a first year player. Outside of Harper is the uber-talented Bryce Treggs - another true freshman who played last year. Treggs is more of a home run threat who was one of the most sought after recruits a year ago. Though he was hurt for parts of last year, he flashed enough potential to give many people an expectation of a 2013 breakout. Further depth is provided by Richard Rogers, the highly touted Kenny Lawler and big-man Darius Powe.

Not to be overlooked is the RB stable. Don't fool yourself into thinking that Dykes' Bear Raid is going to look like Leach's version. Dykes ran the ball on 52% of downs last year and has demonstrated a penchant for getting backs into space. If he keeps that formula true to form, then this could be a huge year for Jr. Brendan Bigelow. A one-time Husky commit, Bigelow is clearly the man in the Bears backfield now that Isi Soefele and CJ Anderson have moved on. Bigelow is the ultimate home-run threat. He averaged nearly 10 yards a carry last season and, if he can stay healthy, is up there with De'Anthony Thomas as a true game-breaker in the Pac 12. The "big back" role in the Cal backfield may fall to Daniel Lasco - a 200 pounder who had over 100 yards on just 6 carries a year ago. If neither of these guys can carry the load, don't be surprised to see Dykes pull the red shirt off of stud recruit Khalfani Muhammad and give him a shot at the Freshman Offensive Player of the Year race. This stable is not overly deep and durability is a question, but they have tons of speed and, like their WR counterparts, fit perfectly in Dykes' system.

The defensive side of the ball, which has been a strength for Cal, has a few more question marks than it has had in the past. Jim Harbaugh's former co-Defensive Coordinator, Andy Buh, returns to the Pac 12 and will be remaking Cal's 3-4 into a 4-3 in 2012. While this may seem like an "against the grain" kind of move, the truth is that Buh will be doing what a bunch of coordinators are already doing in terms of utilizing OLBs as a rush end in a scheme that plays more bodies along the line of scrimmage in order to occupy linemen and to create opportunities for LBs. The big question in all of this is whether or not the veteran defensive line, which was particularly weak in pass rush last year, can become the strength that, on paper, it looks like it ought to be. DeAndre Coleman, well known to Husky fans, moves inside and will partner with the highly-recruited but so far underperforming Viliami Moala (think Sione Potoa'e) and Mustafa Jalil to make up the core of the interior line. On the ends, you'll see the intriguing Brennan Scarlett and Todd Barr on one side while Buh tries to figure out who he'll plug in at Rush End.

The back seven features what looks to be a very strong LB corps anchored around Jr MLB Nick Forbes. Forbes is a stud who has all conference potential and was Cal's leading tackler a year ago. He'll be partnered with incoming OLB and Penn State transfer, Khairi Fortt. Fortt has already demonstrated his abilities as a versatile force in the Big 10 and should be expected to make huge contributions for Buh. The secondary is a bit of a question mark for the Bears as they have seen some turnover. Avery Sebastian is a solid Safety prospect who really showed a lot of grit when he got playing time towards the middle to end of last year. He's a clear starter who will partner with the experienced but limited Alex Logan. At CB, Kameron Jackson has one position locked down after a strong showing as a nickel back last year (he picked Brett Hundley off three times in that huge upset of UCLA). Stefon McClure, coming back from a knee injury after a promising freshman year, is penciled in at the other CB position. Depth is a concern here, but one wildcard to watch here is the athletic Cedric Dozier of Lakes High School. Dozier, who spurned the Huskies because he wanted to play WR, has now switched to DB and could be a factor for Cal this year.

2013 Forecast: Cal

Last year, I made the mistake of underestimating both Arizona and Arizona State because of what I perceived to be a "long learning curve" for each team in adapting to the new offensive philosophies of both RichRod and Todd Graham, respectively. I won't make that mistake again. Especially with a Cal team that features skill pieces that seem to fit perfectly with Dykes' scheme and an offensive line that should make a huge step forward in 2013. The quarterback race remains a major open question, but, even then, both Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley showed us last year that first year QBs, in the right system, can often thrive. This is especially true when the scheme is relatively simple and the pieces around them are of high quality. There is talent on this Cal offense and, if they stay healthy (big question), then they provide whomever is at QB with just those kinds of pieces. Even if the defense struggles with the change to Buh's system, the offense should be good enough to compensate in a way that Tedford's offenses just couldn't.

The impact of the schedule on Cal's chances for 2013 can be viewed from a few different perspectives. On the negative side, Cal has the dubious distinction of playing two Big 10 teams in their regular season schedule. And, with those two teams being Northwestern and Ohio State, they didn't draw the slackers of the conference. Still, those games will be at home and represent excellent opportunities for Cal to make some early statements not unlike what both UCLA and Oregon State did last year with their Nebraska and Wisconsin games. The conference schedule features four home games and misses against Arizona State and Utah. Three road games are tough - against Oregon, Stanford and UCLA. The fourth is a winnable one @ Colorado. The fifth is UW.   In all, the schedule, in my view, is a slight positive in that it gives the Bears a lot of time at home to adjust to their new schemes and to demonstrate their growth as the season goes on.

In all, I'm once again bullish on the Bears. While four is more likley, I don't see why five wins isn't possible in conference. If they catch a break, a sixth could be had (though, that would likely mean an upset of UW in Seattle). I can see this team battling it out with UW right in the middle to upper-middle of the P12 N standings and surprising some doubters in the process.