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LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- With the Pac-12 Media Days coming up, and California set to face the music on Wednesday, we took a look at 10 storylines leading up to the 2014-15 football season.
The wide receivers … Harper and Treggs and Davis … Oh My! Chris Harper is finally healthy again (and named a third-team preseason All-Pac-12 receiver by Athlon and Phil Steele, as well as being named to the CFPA Receivers Trophy Watch List), and Bryce Treggs is going to try his hand at inside receiver after catching 70 balls last season to lead the team. The addition of speedy Trevor Davis to the outside corps, and the acrobatic Maurice Harris, gives the Bears perhaps the most robust receiving group in the Pac-12, and that’s not even adding Darius Powe, Kenny Lawler, Stephen Anderson and freshman Erik Brown to the mix.
Who’s going to run: Lasco, Muhammad, Enwere or Watson or other? Cal brought in two running backs in this class in Tre Watson and Vic Enwere, not counting the possibility of John Porchivina or Devante Downs being used in some capacity, and they return Doak Walker Award Watch List member Daniel Lasco, powerful back Jeffrey Coprich, Jr., and kickoff returner and speedster extraordinaire in Khalfani Muhammad. It’s going to be a crowded backfield, and the run game was by far the weakest element of the Bear Raid last season, ranking ninth in the Pac-12 and averaging just 122.2 yards per game. Only two teams averaged fewer rushing yards per carry.
Back and … not black and blue. How will the Cal offensive line re-shuffle with the return of center Chris Adcock? The Bears seemed to get into a good rhythm up front over the last four games of the season, with then-true freshman Chris Borrayo taking over left guard and moving Jordan Rigsbee to center. Adcock is the better center, and was brought in as a center, not to mention the fact that Matt Cochran is back and healthy, as well, so what does that mean for that position, and right guard? The line will undoubtedly be stronger with the addition of Adcock, but exactly what will it look like?
Goffense? How much of a leap will sophomore quarterback Jared Goff make after missing time with a dislocated shoulder this offseason? Will the Goff we saw in spring – the Goff who had just gotten back to Square One by the end of camp – be the Goff we see this fall? He’s on the Davey O’Brien Quarterback Award Watch List, the CFPA Quarterback Trophy Watch List and the Maxwell Award Watch list after breaking Cal single-season records for passing yards (3,508), most yardage gained (3,508), total offense (3,446), passes completed (320) and passes attempted (531) in 2013 when he was one of three players on the team to start all 12 games and became the first true freshman quarterback in school history to start a season opener. He also threw 18 touchdown passes to tie for 10th on Cal’s all-time single-season list. In addition, Goff broke a single-game school record with 504 passing yards against Washington State and became the second quarterback in Pac-12 history to throw for 450 yards or more in a game three times, adding 450 in his collegiate debut against Northwestern and 485 against Portland State. He also threw for over 300 yards against both Ohio State (371) and Washington (336) to give him five 300-yard passing games, equaling Cal’s single-season record and tying for fourth all-time.
Heavy Hearts: How does the tragic death of defensive lineman Ted Agu affect the defense, the staff and the entire team? Do the Bears rally behind the banner and use his passing as fuel, or, as some rumblings have indicated, will his death change some players for the worse? If Agu can inspire from beyond the grave, it will come through the mouths of the older players, including defensive tackle Austin Clark (returning for a sixth year) and defensive end Brennan Scarlett.
Frankly, my dear … Scarlett is going to be key to the performance of the defense. There are few true game-changers in this conference – even fewer on the defensive line -- but he’s one of them. He’s not been healthy in more than a year, but his length, speed, explosion and leadership can make a huge difference up front, where Cal is thinnest. Will Scarlett be what the coaches and fans hope and want him to be? More importantly: Will that be enough?
Meet the new guys: Instructing Scarlett and the rest of the defensive line will be coach Fred Tate, late of Cincinnati – came with new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman to replace Barry Sacks and Andy Buh, who presided over historically one of the worst defenses ever in college football. In 2013, Kaufman's defense ranked ninth in the nation in total defense (315.6 yards per game) and 16th in scoring defense, allowing just 21.0 points per game as Cincinnati went 9-4. Replacing Randy Stewart is Greg Burns, who has immediately found a close bond with his defensive backs corps. Will these new coaches – plus Garret Chachere returning to coach linebackers, which he’s done for much of his career – be enough to turn around a fantastically horrific defense? Is there enough talent to do so?
A little thin at … The Bears improved depth at defensive tackle (where they lost Agu, Jacobi Hunter, Deandre Coleman and Viliami Moala) by adding James Looney from Wake Forest and Chris Palmer from Lawrenceville (Ga.) Naval Academy Preparatory School after Signing Day, but the middle of Cal’s defensive line is still very untested. Harrison Wilfley did not play at all at the position last year, though he practiced there. Clark is coming off a season-long injury. So is Mustafa Jalil. JuCo transfer Trevor Kelly looked like an animal in spring ball, but has yet to take a Division I snap, and the same goes for former Wazzu signee David Davis. Both Marcus Manley and Tony Mekari redshirted last season. And … that’s all the defensive tackles on the roster.
Defensive back was another sore spot coming into this offseason, what with the two most veteran and arguably most talented backs -- Avery Sebastian and Stefan McClure -- both missing significant time last season (in Sebastian’s case, all but a quarter and a half of football). Not a single one of Cal’s returning cornerbacks is over 5-foot-11, and to remedy that, the Bears brought in A.J. Greathouse and JuCo corner Darius White. Safety – where 5-foot-10, then-160-pound Cameron Walker played last season (he’ll return to corner this year at 180 pounds) – is another question mark. McClure is listed there, but is expected to play corner, and Sebastian, well, we don’t know how well he’ll bounce back both physically and emotionally, though he’s been a leader for the defense in years past. Damariay Drew played well at times last year, and improved as the season went on. Other than that, the only other safety with significant experience is Michael Lowe. The corners have told BearTerritory that their unit will surprise people this year, and, Darius Allensworth has said, will be the best part of the defense. We’ll see how his boast turns out, but until then …
How about those linebackers? I’ll always remember, three years ago, forgetting to add Jalen Jefferson into my way-too-early depth chart, and his father texting me and ripping me a new one. This is a memo to David Jefferson: You were right, I was completely, utterly wrong. Jalen Jefferson has become arguably the heart and soul of this defense, and he’s been the most healthy, the most consistent and the most intelligent defender Cal has had over these past two seasons. Jefferson was named to Athlon’s preseason All-Pac-12 team. He’s played in 19 games and started 18 over the last two years, co-leading all active Bears defenders in the latter category and compiling career totals of 111 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss (-30 yards) and 4.5 sacks (-23 yards).
Besides Jefferson, Cal has Edward Tandy, Ray Davison, Michael Barton -- who got plenty of time last year – and Jason Gibson, who’s returning to his linebacker roots after having to serve as an emergency defensive back. Nathan Broussard comes back after missing the entire season with a tear in his left ACL suffered during kickoff drills last fall camp, and was one of the front-runners to start before he got sidelined. Not to be forgotten is Hardy Nickerson, Jr., who rested most of the offseason with foot surgery after playing most of the 2013 campaign on a gimpy hoof. Adding reinforcements are Downs and Porchivina. The linebackers are certainly the deepest unit Cal has on defense.
Sonny forecast? Head coach Sonny Dykes has made his adjustments, thanks to his piles of notebooks from last season. The Bears have now had more than an entire year with the same strength staff. There was one injury from last spring – a spring game ankle sprain to Rigsbee. He completely re-jiggered the defensive staff. Will those changes be enough? Cal is set to hire a new Athletic Director before the football season, and it will be an AD who doesn’t have any skin in the game when it comes to Dykes and his staff. The biggest thing an incoming athletic director can do to cement his or her position is the hiring of a football coach. If Dykes cannot win more than five games this year, and show considerable improvement from his 1-11 opening campaign which did not see a single win against an FBS team, it’s hard to think a new athletic director will be very enthused about keeping him and his staff around for a third season. In reality, he’ll probably get a third year, but it is a very real possibility that Dykes will be coaching for his and his staff’s jobs in 2014.
10 Cal Football Story Lines for 2014
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