California hasn't had the season any of the Golden Bears or the Old Blues had hoped for, and it might mean the end of the line for head coach Jeff Tedford Saturday night when they end their season early at Reser, against an Oregon St. team that's still in the hunt for a very good bowl berth, despite the fact that any chance at the Rose Bowl evaporated when Stanford got a late touchdown, and a 27-23 win.
Injuries have hastened the season's demise for the Bears, and losing both your quarterback and top receiver, as has happened to Zach Maynard and Keenan Allen, is never good, though that's been only the tip of the iceberg that Tedford's ship has sailed into this season.
To take the temperature on the situation down in Berkeley, and what Beaver Nation can expect this week, we got together with the guys down at California Golden Blogs, where the frustrations haven't completely turned to feelings of impending doom, at least not yet.
Is there ANY chance that Zach Maynard plays one last time against Oregon St.? Or is this week's game Allen Bridgford's deal all the way?
Berkelium97: The odds seem pretty low at this point. Maynard wasn't even walking out of practice last week and we haven't heard that he has returned to practice this week.
Kodiak: Yes. Tedford has shown a tendency in the past to play an injured former starter instead of the backup. It would be a foolish decision, but I wouldn't put it past him. Most of us would rather see what Bridgford or even Austin Hinder can do with some extended time.
NorCalNick: Well, Tedford's regime has always been tight-lipped about injuries, so it's essentially impossible to answer that question definitively. But I'll say that there's certainly a chance. Maynard was never official ruled out of playing against Oregon, so with another week to rest up maybe he's given the chance to play against Oregon St. I doubt it though, seeing as there's nothing to gain from him playing and risking further injury.
Is there ANY chance that Keenan Allen ever plays again for Cal? Or is he for sure out again this week, and on his way out of town?
NorCalNick: No and no. Allen is gone this season and he's gone from the Bears to the draft, and it will be the right decision. Allen has never hidden his intention to leave Berkeley after this season, and an injury scare can only solidify his decision to get paid for his talents while he can. Thanks for 2.75 incredible seasons Keenan, and best of luck in the pros.
Kodiak: Is the NFL going on strike next year?
Berkelium97: It's all but certain Keenan is taking off. As a consensus first-round pick, he has almost no incentive to return.
Are we going to see a lot of touches for Brendan Bigelow Saturday night? Is there any explanation for why he hasn't had double digit touches every game?
NorCalNick: I think you'll see a decent amount of touches, but I'd be mildly surprised if it got to double digits. The coaching staff's explanation has had to do with his ability to pick up the play book and do things like block in pass protection and hold on to the football. And they have a point, because Bigelow is still raw, even to my untrained eye. And he's been involved in some fumbled exchanges that have hurt Cal pretty badly. But on an offense that desperately needs any kind of big play threat they can find, the coaching staff's inability to get the ball in his hands has been . . . frustrating.
Berkelium97: This is a subject of unending frustration for Cal fans. The official word is that he's still learning the offense. He also has fumbling issues (then again, so does Isi Sofele). He'll probably get 5 touches if we're lucky.
Kodiak: No. I hear he shot Kennedy, stole the Watergate files, faked the moon landing, and then slept with the head of the CIA. 3-4 touches + kickoffs are about it. The rumor mill says he has fumble and playbook issues. Who knows.
There is actually a lot of good looking talent beyond Keenan Allen at wide receiver for the Bears. Why hasn't any of them emerged as the clear running mate for Allen, giving the Bears a 1-2 punch that would keep opposing defenses on their heels, like USC's Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, or Oregon St.'s Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks?
Berkelium97: Bryce Treggs looked like he was going to emerge as the next big receiver. He has taken a backseat to Chris Harper, however. Chris is a great receiver and reminds us very much of Marvin Jones: solid, well-rounded guy with a knack for catching the uncatchable. He won't burn the DB on every play, but he'll find a way to catch most passes thrown his way.
As for why no one has consistently become a threat, that issue is the result of systematic issues, not an issue with any of the receivers. With some of the worst pass protection in the nation and a QB who is wildly inconsistent, these receivers aren't in a position to succeed. They've shown potential, but they're not going to reach their potential with this kind of offense.
Kodiak: You could make the argument that Chris Harper has, in fact, emerged as a more than capable #2. But, he needs a QB who can deliver the ball to him as well as an Oline which can block for said QB.
NorCalNick: I'd argue there has been, to a certain extent. Chris Harper has had a really great freshman campaign, showing off great hands and solid route-running abilities. If he were playing for a team that didn't have a 1st round talent gobbling up pass targets, and if he were playing for a team with an above average quarterback receiving consistent protection from his offensive line, he might've put up numbers even more impressive for a true freshman. As it is, he, Bryce Treggs and Darius Powe (all true freshmen WRs) represent the great hope of all Cal fans dreaming of a productive offense.
The Bears looked to play with a surprising amount of spunk for a while against Oregon. Will California be able to muster another such effort against Oregon St.? Or was that effort, at home, the last hurrah for the season?
Berkelim97: Surprisingly, this team has shown fight all year ( and literally against Oregon). They're going to keep playing hard this weekend even though the season will come to a very disappointing end.
Kodiak: Despite all the self-inflicted errors, I haven't gotten the sense that this team quits. They play hard, particularly guys like CJ Anderson, Chris McCain, and Avery Sebastian. That's part of what makes this year so frustrating. It's not really due to a lack of effort. However, you can almost count on a requisite formula of three turnovers (fumbles/ints) from the offense as well as 3 +/- 2 drives killed by boneheaded penalties.
NorCalNick: I guess it wouldn't shock me if the Bears played like the season is already over, but other than an iffy effort against Utah they've played well for a while now despite the fact that the season functionally ended against Stanford. I think there's a lot of respect for Tedford regardless of his job status, and the team's effort has reflected that.
What has prevented the California defense from gelling this season? It seems like expectations for this unit's development were much higher than what has eventuated. Were those expectations ever realistic?
NorCalNick: To draw a parallel that Beaver fans will quickly relate to, Cal's defense in 2012 might compare to OSU's defense in 2011 - and by that I mean injuries. 15 different defensive linemen and linebackers have missed a game or more this season, and that doesn't even include the academic ineligibility of expected starter Cecil Whitewide. Basically, Cal has seen an entire two deep go down to various injuries.
I don't want to overstate things, because the reality is that other than against Utah, it's been only a few players at a time. But I think the cumulative effect has been that the defense never really reached what I believe to be their very high potential. If they can get healthy, the majority of the defense will be back and hopefully ready to fullfill that potential in 2013.
Kodiak: In this case, the injury bug has really hurt. Two projected starters at ILB were lost for the year in fall camp. Our top nickel back never made it back from knee surgery. And just about every Dlineman has missed time or been limited at some point this year.
When you add in inexperience at safety plus the head-scratching decision to start Logan over Sebastian, you have a D with a lot of missed assignments.
Berkelium97: We have been abysmal defending both the run and the pass. The issues with the run have largely been the result of an unbelievable wave of injuries. It seems like everyone in the front seven has missed time due to injuries.
Pass defense has also struggled due to the front seven's injuries, as we have done a poor job of consistently generating pressure. This has given opposing QBs too much time to throw and we have been burned, especially on third and long. Aside from Avery Sebastian, safety play has also been disappointing. Too often guys find themselves out of position to make a play-saving tackle.
Is this Bridgford's team next season, regardless of whether Coach Tedford survives or is replaced? Or is there anyone else on the roster that can play quarterback? (Which begs of another question; if there is someone, why didn't they play this year?)
NorCalNick: Everybody has raved about true freshman Zach Kline, to that point that some believed he should have been starting this year. I won't begin to guess, but if they're right next year could be a 'Brett Hundley at UCLA' type of scenario where an outgoing head coach doesn't get to reap the benefit of an elite player he recruited.
As for Bridgford - well, it's tough to grade him on what little he's had the chance to do. He looks OK, but Cal fans have grown weary of 'OK.' But he'll almost certainly be in the mix next year regardless of who the coach is.
Kodiak: Nope. The cliched "wide-open" competition will commence in the spring. Most of us have our money on Zach Kline as The Future. He's wisely redshirting this year.
Berkelium97: Honestly, I hope not. Bridgford looks to be about on par with Maynard, which is disappointing. Zach Kline looked great during spring practice and people seem to think he's our Jesus in Cleats who will return the program to greatness. Of course, we've been saying "the next QB is THE guy" since 2008. With a solid QB coach and a new coaching staff *ahem*, Kline might turn into the QB we've been waiting for since Nate Longshore's ankle exploded.
We have all heard all the calls for replacing Coach Tedford, but has there been any consideration to just hiring an established recruiter / talent evaluator instead? It seems that Tedford's problems have mostly (all?) been a product of missing badly on multiple quarterback recruits in recent years, none of whom have been close to consistent.
NorCalNick: Well, the issue here is that if Tedford can't identify and coach up a quarterback . . . well then why are we paying him 2.3 million a year? Developing a quarterback and coaching an above average offense is the reason he's so well compensated, and it's Cal's offense that has really sunk this season. That's a pretty damning failure and it's been a consistent refrain since Nate Longshore's injury and Jahvid Best's departure to the NFL.
Kodiak: I don't think you have enough space for all the hand-wringing over Tedford and the past few years. To summarize, I think that he hired poorly at several key assistant positions. Then, he and these assistants whiffed on a number of important recruits. (like the Oline and QB) There's the sense that recruited talent has not been developed, particularly at the QB position. And to top it all off, the product on the field is sloppy, undisciplined, and not appealing to watch. Our last two recruiting classes were just fine. Unfortunately, there's some serious systemic issues that go well beyond blue-chippers.
Berkelium97: Tedford has had far too many chances to solve this program's woes by hiring new assistant coaches. We have repeatedly failed to get someone who can actually coach QBs (given our track record of QB coaches) and/or recruit good QBs (given our track record of missing on every QB from the 2008, 2009, 2010, and possibly 2011 classes). Eventually it becomes clear that the problem is not the assistants, it's the guy evaluating and hiring these assistants.
If seat sales at Memorial Stadium continue to suffer, how soon might California be looking at cutting other sports like baseball again? And is this really what will drive the decision to retain or replace Coach Tedford?
NorCalNick: I think it's pretty unlikely that sports will be on the chopping block, in part because donors just raised a ton of money to save those sports, and in part because Pac-12 TV money should gradually start coming in. It also doesn't hurt that the state passed Proposition 30 to help fund UC budgets (amongst other things.) Granted, Prop 30 money won't be going directly to athletics, but if it failed and the UC system had to enact draconian budget cuts, it would have looked pretty bad if athletics wasn't a part of those cuts.
But Cal does need a strong football program to gradually pay off stadium costs and to help pay for future facility improvements for other sports, and the athletic department will probably take the long view in that regard and realize that a strong football program now will pay needed dividends in the future.
Berkelium97: This is one of the biggest reasons Tedford will likely be let go after this season. Nearly all of us believe Tedford deserves more time to enjoy the renovated facilities whose existence he made possible. Unfortunately, we need a successful football team to be able to pay off the $321m in renovations. If you've watched any Cal home games in the past month, you've noticed a big, empty section where the mega-donors usually sit. If their donations dry up, we're going to be in serious financial trouble.
No one wants to go through the process of putting sports on the chopping block again. In order to sustain those sports, we need tons of football income and signs are growing increasingly clear that this is not going to happen if Tedford is retained.
Will there be an exodus of non-senior players from Berkeley after this year's disappointment? Or are the younger players still committed mentally? And how might that change one way or the other with different decisions about what to do about the head coach?
NorCalNick: I'd like to think that there won't be, but you never can truly be certain. Likely who the new coach is might have something to do with how things go down. But as we discussed above, I haven't seen the players quit and there hasn't been any whispers of player dissatisfaction, so hopefully that's a sign that if the athletic department makes a good hire that they players will stay loyal to the program and their university.
Berkelium97: I'd be surprised if there was an exodus if Tedford stayed. I would be less surprised if several transferred following a new hire. I'd like to think many players would stay--many recruits praise Cal's academics when they sign, so hopefully that plays a role in retaining them. The nice facilities may also play a role in retaining players. Again, we can't know until we hire a replacement, however.
Thanks, guys! That's a lot of great insight!
It could be an interesting evening, with a lot of ramifications for a long time, come Saturday night.