WSU in Week 6: Cougs face new Cal Air Raid

EVERYONE, IT SEEMS, is down on Cal. Based on last season's 3-9 implosion that ended with Jeff Tedford's dismissal, most are picking the Bears to finish fifth or sixth in the Pac-12 North. But there's more to consider than just last season's trials when Washington State travels to Berkeley in Week 6…

A good portion of Cal's problems last year were mental. They packed it in towards the end, surrendering 47.75 points and 472.25 yards per game over their last four contests.

No, Cal wasn't stuffed to the gills with talent in 2012 like they were a few years back. And no, they're not going to be one of the most talented teams in the Pac-12 in 2013 either.

But they sure as hell have more talent than they showed in 2012. The cupboard is not empty in Bekeley for new coach Sonny Dykes.

They'll return 13 starters this season (7 offense, 6 defense), as well as their kicker and punter.

THE GAME BETWEEN Washington State and Cal may define both teams' seasons. Win, and a better than predicted finish is there for the taking.

For WSU to beat Cal, they'll have to beat the Air Raid.

Dykes tutored under Mike Leach for seven seasons at Texas Tech. There won't be a lot of surprises here, whoever wins in Week 6 will be the team that executes best and is the most ready at the snap.

Cal will go no-huddle and run plays fast. Very fast.

Like Leach, Dykes keeps his Air Raid relatively simple. The base offense consists of roughly 20 plays -- three screens, six runs and 12 or so pass plays. And Dykes will run more than people expect, his Louisiana Tech offense averaged 227 rushing yards per game in ‘12. Dykes ran the ball 52 percent of the time.

THE STARTING QUARTERBACK job is up in the air. The Bears are deciding between Zach Kline, Austin Hinder and Jared Goff. Some think Goff, a freshman who enrolled in January, has a slight edge.

None of the QBs set the world on fire this spring. And so regardless of who is under center, the Bears may run more than some pundits are predicting. They have a huge o-line to do it behind.

It's a young line, two-plus starters are back and it was certainly porous at times last year. But it is big, the starters average about 320 pounds. Only one o-lineman in the two-deeps is under 300 pounds.

Cal must replace last season's top runners (Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson) and wide receiver (Keenan Allen). The wideouts figure to have the easier transition, given the Air Raid offense. Brendan Bigelow has a lot of talent but will the offensive line be able to open enough holes for him to run through…

Bigelow averaged 9.8 yards per carry last year but also had problems staying healthy, ball security issues and less than stellar blocking in max-protect, all of which kept his reps down (44 carries).

The receiving group -- Chris Harper, Richard Rodgers, Bryce Treggs, Maurice Harris and Darius Powe, has a lot of potential but their production will rely in large part on if the QB has enough time and makes enough good decisions – both of which are far from certain.

DEFENSIVELY, CAL HAS work to do. The secondary was sieve-like last year and they'll have to replace two starters. Defensive Coordinator Andy Buh, who spent three years at Stanford (2007-09) two at Nevada (2010-11) and last year at Wisconsin, will move the Bears to a 4-3.

Last season's outside linebackers in the 3-4 will become d-ends.

That will mean plenty of speed on the edge, but not a lot of bulk and in some cases, a decidedly lighter presence on the outside.

Meanwhile, the smaller inside linebackers will move outside and the bigger inside linebackers become the MIKs.

Even when Cal was struggling to put up wins in 2010 and 2011, the defense was solid. The D fell apart in 2012 but it might not be a super long road back. The starting front seven in 2013 will be experienced.

Still, this will be a teaching year for Buh. He's said they'll succeed and fail more on their technique and fundamentals than they will on their scheme.

NOTABLE NOTE:
One of the biggest problems in 2012 for Cal -- turnovers. They gave the ball away 30 times. Dykes' final Louisiana Tech team turned the ball over only 13 times despite running 1,054 plays. That averaged out to once for every 81.071 plays.

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