The 4-5 Cal Bears welcome OSU to California Memorial Stadium this weekend for a showdown of two...let’s say underperforming teams.
The Bears have pulled out some impressive wins over opponents like Ole Miss and Washington State this season, but have performed somewhat inconsistently. That includes a road loss last week to Colorado by 16.
To get a little better grasp of where Cal football is right now, I asked a few questions of Leland Wong, a contributor to California Golden Blogs: SB Nation’s Cal community.
1. Cal's record is 4-5 with three games left. Is this where you expected the team to be at this point in the year?
I think it's always a challenge to compare preseason expectations to what actually happens because our expectations should be allowed to change over the course of the season as we get more information. So fans will often say "you should be happy because they're doing better than you expected in the preseason", but that's a bit of a pointless exercise because we knew nothing about our own team or the opponents.
Personal tirade aside, Cal is in a better position than I expected personally. I foresaw about three wins, so we're already ahead of that, including a fun road win, a win over an SEC team, and an upset of a top-ten team. Of course, it's still possible for the team to lose out and winning four games wouldn't be much more impressive than three, but the team is exceeding my personal expectations.
2. What's been the best moment of the Cal football season so far? What's been the worst?
Upsetting Wazzu was nice, but opening the season with a comeback win on the road against a Power Five team was a spectacular way to start the season. Under Sonny Dykes (and even late-era Jeff Tedford), those are things that Cal struggled to do—we struggled to win on the road and often times the team would collapse under those circumstances. Head coach Justin Wilcox being able to do that (in his very first game as a head coach) was a spectacular statement.
We've saved the worst for last, which would be the loss to Oregon. There are worse losses in terms of the scoreboard or who was on the other side of the ball, but the way the Ducks beat us was downright demoralizing. Without a starting running back and after losing two quarterbacks, they still moved the ball at will against us and won by three scores.
3. Who is Cal's most important offensive player?
WR Kanawai Noa. Noa is not the flashiest player. He won't burn you with sprinter's speed. He won't make a highlight reel with a crazy backflip one-handed catch. But he's tough, gritty, and resilient. Playing in the slot, Noa has become one of our most dependable receivers. He's the kind of guy who seemingly uses his determination and will to pull the team downfield.
4. What's Cal's biggest strength defensively?
I'm gonna cheat and use an umbrella: Cal's whole pass defense. We managed to be Wazzu—Air Raid royalty—after all. Cal brought pressure with a varied set of blitzes to confuse the quarterback and the backend capitalized with picks.
5. With Cal's remaining games being OSU at home, then Stanford and UCLA on the road, do the Bears get to 6 wins and make a bowl?
It's going to be tough... With Oregon State in the midst of a resurgence under the tutelage of the same being that taught me electrical engineering, this game is less of a sure thing. Stanford is always difficult—unless their current running backs coach and former legendary Cal coach Ron Gould really is patiently waiting to destroy that team from the inside. And beating UC Los Angeles in Los Angeles will be no easy task, with or without Josh Rosen. It's certainly still a possibility, but I'm more worried than a sheep in Corvallis.
6. Outcome and final score prediction?
This won't be a gimme, but Cal takes the win, 35–31.
Thanks to Leland for providing some perspective on what’s going on in Berkeley.
To see the Q&A we did with Golden Blogs, click here.