Cal will be plenty familiar with some of the biggest coaching hires from this offseason, highlighted by the visit to Columbus and new Buckeyes leader Urban Meyer.
In Pac-12 play, the only new arrival the Golden Bears won't face is Arizona's Rich Rodriguez.
Set A Trap – Oregon, Nov. 10
The West Coast edition of the Game of the Century is Oregon at USC, a battle of likely preseason top five teams. The following week the Ducks arrive in Berkeley, where they barely escaped in their last visit.
Regardless of whether Oregon is coming off a win or loss, the huge emotional expenditure will leave them vulnerable to an upset.
Avoid A Trap – at Utah, Oct. 27
Forget about the struggles the Utes had this season. Their quarterback situation was a mess after Jordan Wynn went down for the year with another shoulder injury, but Jon Hays improved greatly with experience.
Add in the punishing running of John White IV and a sound defense, Utah will be more than capable of knocking off Cal if they are looking back at the Big Game or looking ahead to the following Friday night.
The Season Will Be A Success With A Win – Washington, Nov. 2
Steve Sarkisian has done a great job upgrading the Huskies' offensive personnel. Quarterback Keith Price set the school record for touchdown passes in a season in his first year as starter, while tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins looks like a future All-American.
With any sort of defensive turnaround under new coordinator Justin Wilcox, Washington will be the clear No. 3 in the conference. However, a Cal win would give the Bears the inside track to be that next team behind Oregon and USC, the clear Pac-12 frontrunners.
The Season Will Be A Failure With A Loss – Arizona State, Sept. 29
The Sun Devils are a dysfunctional mess. Just look at their November implosion, the bizarre coaching search and inexplicable hire of Todd Graham from Pitt embody a program that has no idea what in the world is happening.
Talented but undisciplined linebacker Vontaze Burfict has declared for the draft and the rumor mill is buzzing about quarterback Brock Osweiler, who was emotional discussing the departure of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone for UCLA after the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas loss.
Losing to Arizona State to end September at 2-3, with defeats likely at Ohio State and USC, could doom Cal to a losing season and two months of speculation about Jeff Tedford's future.
Key To The Season – Stanford, Oct. 20
With all the pieces Oregon returns next season, a berth in the conference championship is beyond a long shot for the Bears. But beating your archrival, gutted by the loss of quarterback Andrew Luck, offensive tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro, would be just as rewarding.
Seven or eight regular-season wins capped by the return of the Axe would reestablish that Cal is back on the right track.
Best Case Scenario – 10-2
Zach Maynard takes a step forward in his second season as the starting quarterback, while the defense is able to maintain its form even without inside linebackers Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt.
The Bears ambush rebuilding Ohio State, come up just short against USC and Oregon, and find themselves just outside the top 10 going into the Alamo Bowl.
Worst Case Scenario – 4-8
The Pac-12 is vastly improved, Maynard isn't and Cal is throttled in a disastrous campaign that dooms Tedford.
Early Prediction – 7-5
This doesn't feel like a team yet capable of taking that next step forward and winning the toss-ups or challenging road games in conference.
The lack of bye weeks is troubling, as is the turnover on the offensive line and in the defensive back seven. Leadership on defense has to be replaced and Maynard needs to show he is capable of winning games if the running game isn't on track.
Still, the core nucleus of Maynard, running back Isi Sofele and wide receiver Keenan Allen and gifted defensive line will put the Bears back in the postseason. If that's enough given the huge capital expenditures on facilities and success other programs around the Pac-12 are having is up to the administration and fans to decide.
Sept. 1 Nevada at Cal
Sept. 8 Southern Utah at Cal
Sept. 15 Cal at Ohio State
Sept. 22 Cal at USC
Sept. 29 Arizona State at Cal
Oct. 6 UCLA at Cal
Oct. 13 Cal at Washington State
Oct. 20 Stanford at Cal
Oct. 27 Cal at Utah
Nov. 2 Washington at Cal
Nov. 10 Oregon at Cal
Nov. 17 Cal at Oregon State