Quarterback - #8 Aaron Rodgers
As much as I hate to admit it, Aaron Rodgers sure doesn't look like the "puma" this year. He's looked calm and poised and able to guide this suddenly prolific offense with ease. Because Cal has a very balanced offensive attack, Rodgers isn't asked to do everything by himself, but what he's asked to do, he excels at. He's thrown for 614 yards in the season's first two games, completing passes at a ridiculous 74.1% and averaging 10.59 yards per pass. Rodgers has six touchdown passes at the early stage in the year versus only two interceptions. He'll always be a pass-first quarterback, but we've seen quarterbacks scramble time and time against this USC defense and Rodgers is smart and quick enough to take advantage of holes in the defense. If the Trojans aren't getting pressure on Rodgers with their front four, they must utilize the blitz. Rodgers has a rocket arm and extremely talented receivers at his disposal and, if given time, will march his team up and down the field with regularity.
Running Backs - #30 J.J. Arrington and #24 Marshawn Lynch
Explosive. This Cal running attack is absolutely lethal and it's headlined by these two speed merchants. J.J. Arrington has burst onto the college football scene this year and easily qualifies as the scariest running threat the Trojans have faced this year. He gets the bulk of the Bear carries this year, averaging 18 rushes a game. He's turned those 54 carries into 466 yards, and for all of you non math majors out there, that's an astounding 8.6 yards per carry. After the success Cal had on the ground against the Trojans in 2003, you can bet Arrington will see more than 18 carries in this game. And if the Trojans want to come out of this game with a ‘W,' that 8.6 yard average will have to come down. And just when you think you've got Arrington figured out, here comes Marshawn Lynch, who actually has a better rushing average than Arrington. So far this year, Lynch has been an automatic first down, averaging 10 yards each time he's touched the ball on a carry. He is a burner and the Trojan defense will need to keep him, as well as Arrington, in their sights at all times. One slip up, and either one of these guys can, and will, take it to the endzone.
Wide Receivers - #15 Chase Lyman, #6 Geoff McArthur
Make no mistake, the Bears have other quality receivers, but when you've got two guys as talented as Chase Lyman and Geoff McArthur, why bother? Continuing the theme of big-play offense, Lyman has 12 receptions this year and is averaging 32.2 yards per catch. At 6'4" with speed, he's a terror for any defensive back. Lyman has already been on the receiving end of four Aaron Rodgers touchdown passes (as well as a half back option pass) and has emerged as an alternative receiver to take some of the pressure off the Bears biggest receiving threat, Geoff McArthur. While Lyman definitely has taken some pressure off, it's hard to say if McArthur needed that relief. Last year, as really the only receiver Rodgers looked at, McArthur proved he could get open despite any type of coverage. In 2004, he's been used mostly as a possession receiver, hauling in 7 passes for 84 yards and yet to cross the goal line. While his numbers might not blow you away, rest assured, he can. The Cal passing game must be neutralized by pressure from the Trojan's defensive line. Trojan defensive backs will have problems, as all teams will have problems, trying to contain this passing attack if Rodgers is given time to throw.
Tight End - #88 Garrett Cross
Cross has become a valuable asset to Aaron Rodgers in the passing game. He's hauled in 8 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown this year. The Trojans have done an admirable job in covering the tight end this year, but this will again be their toughest challenge. Rodgers will look for Cross over the middle, as illustrated in the 2003 game where Cross caught 7 balls for 41 yards and a touchdown. The Trojans cannot solely concentrate on the two talented receivers and leave Cross open to run wild.
Safeties - #20 Matt Giordano, #23 Ryan Gutierrez
Matt Giordano and Ryan Gutierrez are a couple of safeties that won't wow you with spectacular plays, but they will get the job done consistently. They rank one and two in tackles for the Bears with 25 and 22 respectively. Giordano has recorded an interception and a sack on the year while Gutierrez has stepped up and assisted on 4 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Trojan tight ends, especially with Dominique Byrd healthy again, must win the battle in the middle of the field against these safeties.
Cornerbacks - #13 Daymeion Hughes, #11 Harrison Smith
Daymeion Hughes and Harrison Smith are tough as well as imposing corners. They each stand at 6'2", eliminating any advantage a wide receiver might have in the height department. After facing two run first offenses, the Cal cornerbacks proved what they can do while limiting pass happy Oregon State to just over 200 yards through the air. Both Hughes and Smith are sure tackles as well. Hughes has totaled 8 tackles on the year while Smith is right behind with 7. Two blocked punts by Smith in 2003 shows that he can get it done on special teams too.
Linebackers - #9 Joe Maningo, #59 Sid Slater, #40 Wendell Hunter
Joe Maningo will be at the center of the Bear defense and for good reason. He's got good speed for a linebacker and can get to any spot on the field. He can be brought on the blitz or drop back and stick with a running back out of the backfield. He's totaled 14 tackles so far but is one of those players who will take up blocks and open holes for his teammates to make plays. Sid Slater plays next to him and is one of the guys benefiting from playing with Maningo. Statistically, Slater has been the standout of the linebackers with 20 tackles, 3 coming behind the line of scrimmage. While Wendell Hunter didn't see action in Cal's first two games, he was a monster against Oregon State. He's one of the best athletes in Cal's linebacking corps and is capable of making big plays.
Defensive Line - #54 Steve Kelly, #76 Lorenzo Alexander, #72 Tom Sverchek, #90 Ryan Riddle
The defensive line for Cal has done a good job this year against the run and in pressuring the quarterback. They don't have anyone who will be up for national awards but they play well as a unit. Collectively they're limiting the opposition to just over 100 yards rushing per game, but that includes the results of 53 rushing attempts by Air Force. Steve Kelly is a converted linebacker who has made big plays this year. He's got 6 tackles including one sack and an interception returned for 21 yards. Lorenzo Alexander and Tom Sverchek are an identical 6'3" and 300 pounds and capable of plugging the middle of the opposition's offensive line. Sverchek has busted through the line for 1.5 sacks this year. Ryan Riddle mans the other defensive end position and has been quite active this year for an end, picking up 13 tackles and 3.5 sacks. This front four for Cal must be contained and constantly put on its heals for the Trojans to effectively and continuously move the ball.
Special Teams Bears
Kicker - #47 Tom Schneider
Tom Schneider has had a relatively easy season thus far for the Bears. His only job has been to trot out onto the field and punctuate touchdown drives with extra points. So far he's made 18 out of 19 extra points and is yet to try a field goal. However, the Bears have two other kickers capable of field goals and it's apparent that they feel David Lonie has a strong leg as he was asked to try a field goal from over 50 yards but missed. If this game comes down to a kick, will no game experience for any Cal kicker in 2004 hurt them?
It's obvious that this is the most talented and complete team the Trojans have faced this year. However, the fact that the Bears must come to the Coliseum should have Trojan players excited and Trojan fans a little more relaxed (at least until game day). It will take the Trojan's best effort of the year to beat the Bears. We all know that the Trojan's best effort is far superior to anything that any opposing team could put out on the field. The Trojans must come out of the tunnel with a knock out blow. If they allow Cal to stay in the game late, it could come down to kicks. However, if the Trojans play how we know they can, a win shouldn't be too hard to muster. And so, 2004 Trojans. If you'll please put away your playbooks and take out a clean sheet of confidence, your midterm begins… now.
Erik McKinney is a senior majoring in creative writing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org