California Golden Bears
- Head Coach: Justin Wilcox (4th Season)
- 2019 Record: 8-5 (4-5 in Pac-12)
- Last Meeting: 10/19/19 - Oregon State 21, California 17
- Key Returners: RB - Christopher Brown Jr., LB - Kuony Deng, QB - Chase Garbers
Year four of the Justin Wilcox revival at California could see the Golden Bears emerge as legitimate challengers to Oregon in the Pac-12 North.
Wilcox has a fleet of returning talent on the offensive side of things and the party gets started in the backfield, where quarterback Chase Garbers and running back Christopher Brown Jr. link up for another go-round. While Brown Jr. paced the team with 914 rushing yards on 208 carries and 8 touchdowns last season (not counting his 4 scores in the receiving game), Garbers also scampered for 223 yards and 3 touchdowns, in addition to totaling 1,772 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air.
The duo is one of the few untouched returning quarterback-running back combos in the league, who will hope their blend of chemistry helps to push the offense into one of the Pac-12’s best.
Helping Garbers and Brown Jr. will be a mostly similar receiving core as well, which is spearheaded by Nikko Remigio, the team’s most versatile talent that also serves as a special teams stand-out. The group loses second-leading pass catcher Jordan Duncan, but brings back he rest of their experienced line-up in rising sophomore Makai Polk, redshirt senior Kekoa Crawford and 6’ 4” target Trevon Clark.
The trio combined for 56 catches, 817 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns in 2019.
In the trenches, the Golden Bears have enough pieces to make it work, but a rash of injuries have clouded the picture over the past few seasons. California simply needs all their guys to stay on the field and with five seniors in the mix, including potential all-league center Michael Saffell, it can be done. How pieces like tackle Will Craig and guard Gentle Williams bounce back from their time off will be crucial, as will the play of massive 6’ 6”, 335-pounder Jake Curhan, one of the team’s best natural blockers. Versatile line options Valentino Daltoso and Henry Bazakas round out this group.
On the defensive front, multi-tootled Luc Bequette is the focal point, as the 6’ 2”, 290-pounder earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last year. He’s a talented athlete who lives in opponent’s backfields and might only be better in 2020. Nose tackle Brett Johnson and defensive end Zeandae Johnson (unrelated) should also help the cause, the latter of whom was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 choice last year, in one of his few non-injury riddled campaigns since arriving on campus.
The hole at linebacker where Evan Weaver stood will be impossible to fill, as the 2019 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, consensus First-Team All-American and national leader in total tackles was a nightmare for opposing offenses. Yet, his departure allows Kuony Deng to step into the featured role as the team’s top returning tackler and flanked by serviceable option Cameron Goode, the line-backing core should be able to be as efficient as expected.
The situation in the defensive secondary isn’t much different. Third-round 2020 NFL Draft pick Ashtyn Davis and fourth-road selection Jaylinn Hawkins departures means that California must move on without their duo of signature pieces. However, the cupboard is far from bare, as 2019 2nd-team All-Pac-12 selection cornerback Cam Bynum can pick up some of the slack left behind, along with safety Elijah Hicks.
Overall, this is a California team who seems ready to make their name in the Conference of Champions. Wilcox’s construction of the program has been a quiet build to outsiders, as their overall growth hasn’t been publicized to the masses. But when you look at this Golden Bears program, they’re bordering on the edge of contention. It’s time to see if this group has what it takes to put it all together now.
Player To Watch
Nikko Remigio - Wide Receiver
A player who loves to help his team in any way possible, Remigio might not look like anything remarkable at 5’ 10”, 180 pounds, but he definitely is in every sense of the word. The punt return specialist and wide receiving talent always sits on the brink of breaking a huge play for the Golden Bears with his fantastic hands, elusive nature, great body control and breakaway speed.
- Date: Saturday, October 24th
- Time: TBD
- Location: Reser Stadium (Corvallis, OR)
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