2015 Opponent Primer: California

Jun. 5 -- The Bears return 17 starters from last year, and Sonny Dykes' offense is rounding into form...

It's the deep offseason right now, so we thought we'd put together some advance primers on the 2015 opponents on UCLA's schedule. We've already previewed Virginia, UNLV, BYU, Arizona, Arizona State, and Stanford. Next up: UCLA's seventh opponent of the season, California.

California
Oct. 22, The Rose Bowl

2014 Record: 5-7 (3-6)

2014 Recap: The Bears looked like one of the biggest surprises in college football through the first half of last year, going 4-1 through the first five games, with the lone loss coming on a game-winning Hail Mary from Anu Solomon against Arizona in Tucson. The offense looked really good, with great receivers and an excellent quarterback in Jared Goff, and it appeared that the Bears would be a fun team that should win seven or eight games. Then, the wheels fell off a bit. California went 1-6 over the last seven games, with the only win coming against Oregon State. In fairness to the Bears, they were somewhat competitive in many of those losses, particularly against UCLA (lost 36-34), USC (38-30), and BYU (42-35). The defense was really weak most of the year, and the offense over the last seven games wasn't enough to make up for the issues on the other side of the ball.

Returning Starters: 17 (9 defense, 8 offense)

Notable Recruits: WR Carlos Strickland , WR Jaylinn Hawkins ,
OG Semisi Uluave , JC DE DeVante Wilson

2015 Projection: The 2014 season was a clear step up for the Bears, despite ending on a sour note. After going 1-11 in 2013, with the only win against Portland State, the Bears were actually competitive in most of their games, and actually beat legitimate FBS opponents. Considering that Cal returns most of its starters from a year ago, it's probable that the Bears take another step upward this year.

The offense, with Jared Goff and most of the skill position talent returning, should be one of the better units in the Pac-12. Goff is probably the best returning quarterback in the Pac-12 this year, and he has some excellent targets to throw to, since Cal has done a nice job of recruiting receivers. This might be Goff's last year at Cal, since he'll be eligible for the NFL Draft after this year, and he'll likely end his career there on a high note.

The question mark, despite nine returning starters, is the defense. Cal had a really hard time stopping anyone last year, and it's the classic question of whether returning a bunch of starters from a bad unit is even a good thing. The Bears had one of the worst defenses in college football last year, giving up an average of 6.3 yards per play, and improving that is going to be the big difference between another so-so year and actually getting to a bowl.

Cal has one of the tougher schedules in the Pac-12 this year, having road games against Washington, Utah, UCLA, Oregon, and Stanford in conference, as well as a non-conference road game against Texas. The Bears should be able to handle Grambling State and San Diego State, and then in conference Cal shoudln't have too much trouble with Washington State or Oregon State, but Cal will have to somehow scrape together two more wins from those road games listed above and home contests against Arizona State and USC in order to achieve bowl eligibility. Unless the defense has improved significantly, that might be tough to do.

Outlook for UCLA: At this point, UCLA will be fresh off an early-season meat grinder, with BYU, Arizona, Arizona State, and Stanford in four consecutive games. Cal represents a step down in competition, but the Bears are dangerous enough that this isn't a pure cupcake game at home.

This will be the second consecutive Thursday night game for UCLA, which is beyond weird (thanks Larry Scott!). Given that we expect Cal's defense should still be pretty bad next year, Josh Rosen could set some personal passing records in this one. UCLA's defense will get a major test against the explosive Cal offense, and going against this offense should provide us a look at how Tom Bradley will adapt to the varying schemes in the Pac-12.

Taking care of business in this game and the next three is absolutely critical to UCLA's chances this year. Odds are, at this point, UCLA will have at least one loss, and if the Bruins want to stay alive in the Pac-12 South race, they'll need to sweep through the soft middle of the schedule, which begins against the Bears and continues against Colorado, Oregon State, and Washington State.

Next up: Colorado...

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