1. Sofele the Star
A year ago there were serious concerns whether Isi Sofele could or would be the kind of featured running back the California offense has demanded under head coach Jeff Tedford.
There were concerns about his size and durability, leading the Bears to bring in several recruits and a junior college transfer to add to the competition. Though Sofele came out of spring as the presumptive starter, the doubts continued all the way to Pac-12 Media Day.
But once the season began, the 5-foot-8, 180-pounder put all questions to rest. Sofele rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns against Fresno State and never looked back.
He finished the campaign with 1,322 yards, fifth-best in the conference, and his average of 101.69 yards per game ranked 22nd nationally.
More impressively, Sofele proved to be a true workhorse, carrying the ball 20 or more times in eight games.
The one area Sofele can improve on is being a receiver out of the backfield, as he only caught six passes for 33 yards. Even that might be a minor quibble.
In short, Sofele more than lived up to the legacy of forerunners like Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best and Marshawn Lynch. However, the presence of Oregon star LaMichael James and Washington all-around standout Chris Polk assured Sofele wouldn't earn top honors in conference.
With Polk and James off to the NFL, Sofele should have his chance at recognition this season. Consider that he averaged 5.25 yards per carry, better than Polk and Utah's out of nowhere sensation John White IV.
If Sofele nears the 300-carry mark, he should easily top 1,500 yards, perfectly positioning him for first-team All-Pac-12. He already demonstrated impressive durability and should be even better given an offseason to reload, more aware of the physical toll that pounding takes on his body.
The goal for Sofele should be to assert himself as one of those two all-conference selections. Based on what he demonstrated last season, it seems like a more than reasonable goal.
2. Mr. Anderson
C.J. Anderson came to Berkeley from Laney College as a potential challenger to Sofele as the starting back, but carved out his own niche as a decent reserve.
During Cal's November surge, he really seemed to put it together, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and scoring five touchdowns, three in the regular season finale at Arizona State. Tedford has always enjoyed a solid one-two punch, but that backup has usually flashed more explosiveness. Think Lynch behind J.J. Arrington.
At 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, Anderson would be the natural choice to step in if Sofele were to be injured.
3. Looking Forward
With Sofele and Anderson set to exit after this season, running back would seem like a position of major need moving forward, but the Bears have only offered one recruit –Justin Davis of Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln – to date.
It is still very early in the process of assembling the Class of 2013 and plenty could change, but it seems like the coaching staff is reasonably confident with the group it has going forward. Spring will offer the likes of Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco the chance to solidify that standing.
Bigelow would have been an elite prospect if not for a series of knee injuries. He was able to contribute returning kicks last season as a true freshman, averaging 20.6 yards per attempt. If he can regain his once promising form, Bigelow might be the successor to Sofele.