Of all teams in the Pac-12, California is quite possibly the team Oregon St. is most in competition with, as both are not only in the same Northern Division, they represent both critical opportunities for victories for each other, and viable threats to each other's season expectations.
In Sean Mannion and Zach Maynard, both teams have quarterbacks that are exciting every play, though how many of those plays are exciting for their fans vs. the opponents is both hard to predict, and at the same time central to how the game will go.
Both teams have serious questions beyond their quarterbacks to answer as well. Oregon St. returns a lot of young players, and while they gained experience, most of it wasn't that good. California brought in a great recruiting class, and will have a lot of youth on the field this well, especially on defense. Both teams will count on youthful players to grow up, and do it quickly.
And with at least a half dozen other teams in the Pac-12 with legitimate reasons to expect a bowl berth, there's a good chance that the Beavers and the Bears will not both be playing in the post-season.
Oregon St. has been dominant in the series of late, winning 4 in a row, and 10 of 12, before last season's 23-6 Bear victory at AT&T Park in San Francisco, which could account for why a majority of respondents to CGB's poll about this fall's visit to Reser by the Bears in the next to last game of the season for Oregon St., and curiously the last regular season game of the season for California, thanks to the conference's scheduling problems caused by Notre Dame, on Nov. 17, are predicting a win for the Beavers.
There's no getting around the fact that the key issue in the Golden Bears' success, or lack of it, is closely tied to QB Zach Maynard's accuracy. You mentioned he has made good strides, but what specifically has he done in the off-season to improve his mechanics and his consistency?
In recent years, now Pac-12 North teams that have risen towards the top had their star running back carry them, and truly become a "star" (see Jacquizz Rodgers, then LaMichael James, and then Chris Polk). It seems like it is now time for Isi Sofele to take his turn, and do the same thing. Can he do it? Will he do it? If not, why not?
LP: Not being based in California - I haven't heard of anything specifically that has been done differently, however, I think there's a lot to be said about entering your second year in an offense, not having to learn new terminology, blocking schemes, etc. In addition to learning a new campus, attending a much more rigorous university. Having only half of the issues thrown at Maynard this year (like new starters on the o-line, a lack of experienced wide outs) are much more manageable than trying to navigate new offense, new coast, new university all in one year. Its about increasing his comfort level.
LP: One of the big pieces of news out of our spring camp was the strong showing of JuCo transfer CJ Anderson. Anderson showed flashes last season, but again - seemed much more comfortable in the spring. I think the only reason Isi might not be our star running back - is that CJ is going to share carries with him quite a bit. No knock on Isi's abilities - he proved himself to be a viable star last year - but in the Tedford era, we've always liked to have a two back attack. Anderson/Lynch. Lynch/Forsett. Forsett/Best. Best/Vereen. Vereen - well, this is where it starts to break down. Can he do it? Yes. Will it do it? In a tandem with Anderson.
Isi Sofele (20) could be the next "star" RB in the Pac-12, but also might not have to
carry the whole load for California this year.
Berkelium97: Isi is certainly capable of carrying the Bears by putting together a 1500+ yard, 15+TD season. He is a reliable, experienced back who can be lethal in open space. He will not burn defenders with his top speed, but he is quick and elusive. He seems poised to capitalize on his excellent season last year. His biggest obstacle, however, will be the upstart CJ Anderson. Anderson came on strong in the second half of last season and during spring he made it clear that he will push Isi for the starting role. If Isi doesn't have a stellar season, it will be because Anderson has been performing well enough to take a large number of his carries. It's not tough to envision Cal boasting a pair of 1000 yard rushers this season.
Is the return to Memorial Stadium a) on schedule?, and b) going to be able to spark an uptick in the team?
LP: As far as we know and have observed, we'll be ready to play football in Memorial Stadium Sept. 1 vs. Nevada. I think, however, that we won't be completely moved in by then, but all of the functional necessities will be ready to go. Spark an uptick? Well, at the very least it will eliminate a lot of distractions that the team had to deal with last year with playing all the home games in San Francisco. In the Tedford era, we've been a pretty strong team at home - and even at at&t last year, that didn't really change. Our troubles begin on the road.
We have heard about restlessness in the ranks of the fans and alumni with Coach Tedford given the middle of the pack nature of the team in recent years. What developments would put him on the hot seat this year? What will ensure his seat doesn't get uncomfortably warm?
LP: Maynard having another high turnover year. Actually I think it's pretty simple. Wins and Losses. Wins and Losses. I think another issue is that early Tedford era teams never looked like they got out-coached or out-smarted or out-efforted - but from the fan's perspective, some of the games since 2007 have looked like we've lost on some of those factors, instead of just being out-talented. I think that leads to discontent.
Berkelium97: A win against Texas in the Holiday Bowl would have eliminated 90% of the hot seat talk during this offseason. That would have given Cal fans hope that the Bears are back on an upward trajectory after several down years. We remain uncertain whether we will be able to return to the days when we were competing for the Pac-10 title.
To unrustle our fans' jimmies and cool his seat, Tedford will need to do several of the following this year: Beat Stanfurd. Beat Washington. Play four tough quarters against Ohio State--we don't have to win, but we need a strong performance against a ranked team on the road. Ditto for USC, a repeat of 2010 is unacceptable. Get some consistency at the QB position--no more 5 turnover games! Finally, no blowout losses. Tedford suffered two blowout losses prior to the 2009 season. He had three in 2009 and three in 2010--we were not happy about that.
Basically, the Bears need to do what they did from 2003 until Nate Longshore's ankle exploded in Autzen in 2007: play fundamentally sound, consistent football.
Who do you want to hug? (Bears do do bear-hugs, don't they?) [This will follow the punch in the face question.]
LP: ROPE COACH!!!!
Berkelium97: We would like to hug everyone involved in the Memorial Stadium renovation project for finally bringing to fruition a project that we have been talking about for nearly a decade.
The glorious chairman Larry Scott is also deserving of a big ol' bear hug for everything he has done with the Pac-12 and the Pac-12 Network. After watching countless streams of Cal games that were Bay Area-only telecasts, we are very excited to be able to watch our Bears on television every weekend.
Who do you want to punch in the face?
Kodiak: The entire UW coaching staff.
What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?
Kodiak: We wanted a starting quarterback to distinguish himself, find three new starters on the Oline, and see someone step up to fill our vacated inside linebacker and safety positions.
Maynard solidified his position and separated himself as the undisputed #1QB. Oline is still a work in progress, particularly with regards to snaps. Lots of potential at safety and linebacker, but the young players showed themselves vulnerable to playaction and zone-read types of plays.
Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
Kodiak: Depending on personnel, there may be some tweaks to both offense and defense. We didn't have a lot of healthy fullbacks in the spring, so we were using a lot of double TE sets with a single back. We only had one healthy scholarship wide receiver and will be relying on 2-3 true frosh to contribute immediately in the fall. If we don't have enough quality wideouts, we might use more tight ends and split them out wide. 2/3 of our top tight ends are more comfortable as receivers than blockers anyhow.
On defense, we might have better depth/talent on the Dline than at linebacker. However, we've run a 3-4 the past several years. I wouldn't be surprised to see more formations with four down linemen so that we can get our best players on the field.
What players emerged on offense? On defense?
Kodiak: Backup tailback CJ Anderson, above, really opened some eyes. He may push for a starting role, and our returner starter, Isi Sofele, rushed for 1300 yards last year. On defense, Mustafa Jalil and Deandre Coleman look really tough at defensive end.
What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
Kodiak: Oline. We need a new left tackle, right guard, and perhaps center. If we continue to have issues with poor snaps, penalties, and porous pass protection on the edges, we're headed for another 7-win season.
Berkelium97: The biggest holes on the team heading into fall are literally that--holes in the depth chart. We do not have punter and we only have two receivers on the depth chart. We have no choice this fall--we have to rely on some of the incoming freshmen to step up and fill these roles. Keenan Allen is the only returning receiver who has seen significant action. We quickly need to develop some receivers if we want Maynard and the passing game to produce this season.
Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
Kodiak: Too many question marks, but I'd like to think contender. Generally speaking, this is a quarterback driven league. More specifically, senior QBs are usually the ones who make your team a contender. If we get the steady Maynard we saw during the 2nd half of last season, we have a chance to be good.
Glass half full says we get Good Maynard, Coach Michalczik works his magic and gives us a tough Oline, and we have enough young talent to reload on defense. Glass half empty says Maynard remains inconsistent, we can't block anyone, and our defense gets lit up like a Xmas tree because our young players are victimized by big plays.
Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?
Kodiak: Bryce Treggs. We're counting on him to step in and challenge for a starting position immediately. If the recruiting accolades are to be believed, he's a talent on par with Desean Jackson and Keenan Allen.
Berkelium97: Matt Cochran: he was the no. 3 rated recruit in the nation at center and he might be the only player on the team who can snap a football. We are in desperate need of some consistency at center.
Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fulfill those shoes?
Kodiak: Mitchell Schwartz was a four year Oline starter and an absolute rock at left tackle. It's unknown who will replace him. It could be a senior who has battled back from earlier injuries, Tyler Rigsbee, or perhaps a precocious true frosh like Christian Okafor or Freddie Tagaloa.
Any particular Pac12 match-up/rivalry you are looking forward to this Fall?
Kodiak: For obvious coaching staff movement reasons, we'd really like to destroy UW.
What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
Kodiak: Our top offensive player was out due to surgery on his ankle. Until we see him recover fully, that's a concern.
Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
Kodiak: CJ Anderson on offense. Jalil and Coleman on defense.
Berkelium97: Based on Jeff Tedford's comments and his performance at the spring game, Zach Maynard might be a pleasant surprise this fall. It sounds like he is much more consistent and is running the offense while making fewer mistakes. In the spring game his passes were on target and he didn't make the rookie mistakes that plagued him last year. He looks much more comfortable running the offense and delivering the ball. If he has a great year, we could be a legitimate threat for the Pac-12 North.
Who's got the best nickname on the team?
Thanks, guys, for the extensive insight into Golden Bear land. There's a whole LOT of football to be played before we link up with the CGB guys again right before Thanksgiving. Somehow, it seems that both bowl aspirations and employment prospects might be an issue at the time. Who is where in that equation is the question.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)