Countdown to Cal Kickoff: Previewing 2015

With Pac-12 Media Days finishing off with the Bears on Friday, we take a look at Cal headed into Sonny Dykes's third season at the helm.

SPECIAL FALL CAMP OFFER: Get THREE months of PREMIUM access for the price of ONE until Monday!

• 2014 record: 5-7, 3-6 in Pac-12
• Picked by media to finish third in Pac-12 North
• Cal returns 34 players with starting experience, totaling a combined 228 starts (Offense: 16 returners, 111 starts; Defense: 17 returners with 105 starts; Specialists: 1 player, 12 starts)
• 88 returners, 53 letterwinners
• 11 players with starting experience lost, with a combined 74 starts in 2014
• Biggest losses: OL Chris Adcock, OL Matt Cochran, WR Chris Harper, S Michael Lowe, DE Brennan Scarlett (graduate transfer to Stanford), S Avery Sebastian (graduate transfer to Notre Dame)

Offensive MVP: Quarterback Jared Goff. Already the holder of 19 school passing records, Goff is set to shatter even more in his junior season, with one of the best stables of wide receivers in the nation at his disposal, headed by Trevor Davis, Kenny Lawler and Bryce Treggs. Last year, he notched 3,973 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes, 527 passing yards against Washington State, a school-record 92-yard completion against Colorado (thanks to running back Daniel Lasco), was the Pac-12’s leading passer (5th in the nation), and was in the national top-10 in six categories.

Defensive MVP: DT Mustafa Jalil. The Bears' most veteran DL is fully healthy for the first time in a while, and he's ready to take a leadership role. Jalil has always had the skill set to be a monster in the middle, but now that he's got the service time to really emerge as a leader, and he has his health, he should be a real impact player.

Top NFL Prospect: Quarterback Jared Goff. Goff has superior downfield vision, and has shown the ability to make every throw on the field. He has a greater grasp of the offense now than in his first two seasons, and is trusted enough to change plays at the line of scrimmage. Let’s take a look at the preseason watch lists he’s already on: Maxwell Trophy, Walter Camp Award, Davey O’Brien Award and the Manning Award.

Part of what makes Goff so good at this point is that he's started to truly understand the offense from the inside, out.

“I’ve wanted to learn defenses, learn protections, really get better at the cerebral part of the game, making calls at the line – more advanced calls than I made last year, and making throws that I wasn’t able to make last year, taking some more chances,” Goff said last spring. “It just comes with experience, becoming more comfortable. Coach [Tony] Franklin has allowed me to do a lot of stuff, but I don’t try to do too much [changing plays at the line]. I don’t try to do anything I’m not comfortable with, an that’s part of the spring, is I’ve become a lot more comfortable with stuff.

“This is my third year coming up, so it’s starting to slow down a little bit, like everyone says. You get to the point where you feel like it’s slowing down, and I can make some more calls and do some more stuff at the line, if I have to.”

Goff “almost never” changed plays at the line as a freshman, and last year, he did it “a little bit more,” but it wasn’t changing plays. It was more changing singular routes, and this year, he has the freedom to do more.

“If I see something, and I’m confident with it and coach Franklin’s OK with it, then we change the play,” Goff said.

[SPECIAL OFFER: From now until the end of the day on Monday, we're offering a sale! Get three months of BearTerritory for the price of ONE! Miss the big AAU coverage bonanza? Want to get in on fall camp? Now's the time! Details HERE!]

Breakout player: WR/KOR Trevor Davis. Davis may be more well known as a kick returner, thanks to his pair of TD take backs against Washington State, but he's probably the fastest man on the Cal football team, and a true downfield threat. Folks may like what they've seen of him in the return game, but he's going to open eyes as a senior wide receiver.

Fan Favorite: Quarterback Jared Goff. Goff has Cal in his blood, as his parents both went to Berkeley, and his father played both football and baseball. Goff has the all-American looks and an open, friendly disposition that draws in both teammates and fans of all shapes, sizes and creeds. He’s far from the perfect golden boy, but he’s beloved by his teammates.

Top 2015 Signee: CB Jaylen Hawkins. Notice that we’ve changed Hawkins from an ATH to a CB, to reflect the latest Cal roster release. Hawkins was rated as a four-star wide receiver, and the No. 176 player overall in the Scout 300. He won't be playing wide receiver, though, as Cal needs help in the secondary, and Hawkins was brought in as an athlete. Hawkins can help the Bears much more at cornerback, and that's where he'll start his Cal career.

Impact Freshman: Offensive lineman Semisi Uluave. Uluave eschewed his Mormon mission to come to Cal, and that may not only just work out for him, getting to spend more time becoming college ready. It will also help the Bears, who need help at the right tackle spot, and potentially at center. Don't be surprised if he winds up starting at either of those spots from Day One.

Biggest problem spots: Cal’s pass rush was anemic last year. There’s no other word for it. The Bears were dead last in the Pac-12 in sacks with 16 – a full half-dozen behind Colorado. The Bears’ adjusted sack rate last year was 43.6, when 100 is considered “average,” by Football Outsiders. The Bears will have now-experienced rush ends Jonathan Johnson and Noah Westerfield in the rotation, DeVante Wilson having already been through an impressive spring, and a very deep rotation in the middle, with Mustafa Jalil and James Looney starting out at defensive tackle, backed up by veterans Trevor Kelly, Tony Mekari and Marcus Manley.

The porous defensive backfield once again contributed to a dead-last finish in Division I football in terms of passing yards allowed last season. The Bears will get injured safeties Griffin Piatt and Stefan McClure back, and will see spring standout Darius White take the next step. They'll also add eight new defensive backs from the recruiting class – free safety Derron Brown, cornerback Jaylinn Hawkins, cornerback Malik Psalms, safety Khari Vanderbilt, cornerback DePriest Turner, cornerback Antoine Albert, safety Billy McCrary and safety Evan Rambo. Not only that, but the Bears added cornerbacks coach John Lovett to the mix, who will now help coach the defensive backs along with safeties coach Greg Burns.

Biggest Strengths: Running Back. With Tony Franklin now handling the running backs, quarterbacks and his duties as offensive coordinator, the run game could be a bigger part of the Bear Raid than we've seen in the first two years. The depth chart at running back is the deepest of any position, including wide receiver. Lasco ran for over 1,000 yards in 2014 -- the first time a Cal running back has turned that trick since 2011 -- and is for the second year in a row on the Doak Walker Award Watch List. Behind him is the versatile Tre Watson, as well as the big jackhammers in Vic Enwere and newcomer Lonny Powell. Speedy Khalfani Muhammad -- who remains, at 170 pounds, troublingly small -- has great straight-line acceleration, but he may get edged out by the bigger, more durable backs.

Wide Receiver. Wow. Where to start? You have Stephen Anderson and Ray Hudson formally listed as tight ends, with Anderson arguably the most versatile pass catcher out of all the receivers, and Hudson a big blocking presence, and Goff's roommate. Bryce Treggs is the active leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Kenny Lawler catches anything in a 10-foot radius, it seems. Maurice Harris and Darius Powe have been said by Goff to be the real breakout stars to watch. We've already talked about Trevor Davis's playmaking abilities. Oh, and then there are freshmen Austin Aaron and Carlos Strickland who figure to make some sort of impact. This group is deep, and probably the best in the conference, if not the nation, top-to-bottom.

Must-Win Game: @ Stanford. Cal has not won the Big Game since 2009, and Stanford has done a few big dances on the Bears' collective face since then. A win on the road against the Cardinal will do a lot to show that this program is indeed moving in the right direction. Plus, former Bears defensive end Brennan Scarlett will be on the other sideline, after transferring to Stanford, so that means there's a little extra mustard on this rivalry.

MEMBERS GET 10% OFF TICKETS: Get 10% off tickets to games, concerts and more with a Scout membership!

JOIN UP!: Take advantage of all the perks of having a Premium Membership, including Fantasy advice, access to your favorite pro teams’ insiders, hunting, fishing and more!

Biggest game of the year: @ Texas. Cal can make a lot of waves early by downing the Longhorns on the road, just like the Bears did last season by upsetting Northwestern. Like the Wildcats, the Longhorns aren't quite the team most folks think of when they think 'Texas,' but they still have plenty of brand recognition.

Best Road Trip: @ Oregon. Eugene is my personal favorite trip, for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to) Rennie's Landing (and the incomparable Rennie's Lemonade), Voodoo Donuts (the bacon maple bar is a must-have) and Papa's Soul Food Kitchen (the smoked pork patty was recently featured on the Food Network).

Best Place to Watch a Cal Game in Berkeley: Pappy's. And this used to be by default, until it was announced on Thursday that The Bear’s Lair would be returning at the end of August. It remains to be seen how much of the old spirit of that pub will return, but for now, Pappy's has a great feel, with tons of memorabilia and Cal paraphernalia lining the walls. The real tragedy is that over the last several years, now, the Bear’s Lair has been in limbo, Blake's closed down, and Raleigh's burned down, leaving just Pappy's and (ugh) Kip's. Don’t get me wrong: Pappy’s is getting better all the time, and it’s really coming into its own, but anyone who watched a game over a plate of Raleigh’s cheese fries knows it’s just a pretender to the throne.

Best Tailgating Spot: Pick a fraternity, any fraternity. My personal favorite is Alpha Epsilon Pi, because you get free burgers, dogs and beer with your parking spot. If you're able to get into the Bearents tailgate in the Clark Kerr parking lot, though, you're in for treats from across the nation.

Season Outlook: The third years under Sonny Dykes have been landmark years at his previous two stops. At Arizona in 2009, the Wildcats went 6-3 in conference play, their best conference finish under Mike Stoops. At Louisiana Tech in 2012, Dykes led the Bulldogs to their best finish since 1997, and a massive jump in offensive yards per game, going from 394.6 in 2011 to 577.9. In the third year of the Sonny Dykes era in Berkeley, the Bears are under a lot of pressure to succeed.

“The process is normally, you teach them what to do, then you teach them how to do it, and then you can really get good at the little things,” Dykes said during spring. “The little things are what make a difference between winning and losing, especially in a league that’s as competitive as the Pac-12, and so we’re trying to get good at the little things. The guys know what to do, they know how to do it, now we’ve got to be good at the details.”

MEMBERS GET 10% OFF TICKETS: Members of BearTerritory Get 10% off tickets to games, concerts and more!

JOIN UP!: Take advantage of all the perks of having a Premium Membership, including Fantasy advice, access to your favorite pro teams’ insiders, hunting, fishing and more!

Season Prediction: 8-5, win in a bowl game, Las Vegas Bowl over Utah State. The Pac-12 is loaded again this year, but I still think the Bears can pull out seven regular-season wins and a victory in a bowl game, because the offense is just going to be too good not to. Cal was picked third in the Pac-12 North behind Stanford and Oregon, so this isn’t as crazy as it sounds. All the defense has to be is passable, and I think they can do just that, after two years of horrid secondary play.

Cal will win the conference if … Oregon's search for a new quarterback to succeed Marcus Mariota yields a JUGGS machine (or equivalent talent), if USC's Cody Kessler blows up his knee/elbow/back/neck, if Anu Solomon has a huge sophomore slump, if Josh Rosen isn't as good as advertised (and UCLA’s offense completely implodes), if Arizona State's running game completely collapses and Utah decides to leave every would-be touchdown at the one-yard line. The Bears are a long way from winning the Pac-12.

I’m most looking forward to _______ this football season: Watching sure-fire NFL talent Jared Goff work in his third season with one of the most talented and versatile groups of wide receivers in the nation, with a running game that’s set to be far more potent than last year.

Fall Camp Schedule
Fri., Aug. 7 (3:30 pm)
Sat., Aug. 8 (3:30 pm)
Sun., Aug. 9 (3:30 pm)
Mon., Aug. 10 (3:30 pm)
Tue., Aug. 11 (3:30 pm)
Wed., Aug. 12 (12:30 pm)
Fri., Aug. 14 (3:30 pm)
Sun., Aug. 16 (10:15 am)
Mon., Aug. 17 (10 am)
Tue., Aug. 18 (10:15 am)
Wed., Aug. 19 (10 am)
Thu., Aug. 20 (10:15 am)
Fri., Aug. 21 (10 am)
Sat., Aug. 22 (8:30 am) ... Golden Bear Day (1 pm), Pigskins & Pearls (3 pm), Pac-12 Networks Training Camp Show All practices above scheduled to be open to the public and take place at Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif.; All times Pacific; Schedule subject to change

Podcast: Jared Goff Wants the Axe and Roses

VIDEO: Jared Goff at Pac-12 Media Day

Pac-12 VIDEO: Dykes Talks OL, Secondary

Pac-12 Media Day Live

Countdown to Cal Kickoff: Previewing 2015

Scout NOW: Breaking Down Cal's New CB Coach

Cal Adds John Lovett to Coach Cornerbacks

Bear Republic Podcast: Camp Countdown

Bear Republic Podcast: The Goffense

The Pac-12 Wide Receivers Rankings

Perspective: Where Does Goff Stand? Top Stories