WSU in Week 6: California

CAL HAS BEEN everyone's favorite Pac-12 whipping boy this offseason when it comes to previewing the 2014 season. And after their 1-11 season a year ago -- featuring only a slim win over an FCS team -- no wonder. But things aren't always what they seem.

First and foremost, Cal suffered through an egregious amount of injury last season.

There's still talent in Berkeley and if they stay healthy, and catch a few breaks, Cal could put together a surprising bounce-back season in 2014. That said, they'll need a lot of breaks to go their way for that to happen.

Only six practices were open this spring so there's some level of mystery to where Cal is at. Head man Sonny Dykes said post-spring that defensive end Brennan Scarlett, one of those who was injured last year and didn't play, had a bang-up spring session and that everything on defense starts with him.

Other players who missed much or all of last season that Cal is counting on to provide a boost include defensive back Stefan McClure, safety Avery Sebastian, linebacker Nathan Broussard, and d-lineman Mustafa Jalil.

At QB, Jared Goff is back from offseason shoulder surgery and the clear starter at QB. He set school records for most yards in a game (504) and a season (3,508) but that also tells you 1) how stats sometimes don't mean a whole lot and 2) how bad the Cal defense was in 2013.

Goff has a trio of promising wideouts in Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler to throw to – and there's some depth behind them too.

But Cal's version of the Air Raid relies more on the run than does Mike Leach's and there are questions on both the offensive line and at running back. If Tre Watson explodes onto the scene his freshman season, some of those concerns will be alleviated.

But if Cal has to deal with even an average amount of injuries, let alone the large number they dealt with last year, it could be another very tough year in Berkeley – wide receiver is one of the few positions where there looks to be a good amount of quality depth.

Cal lost 10 games by two or more touchdowns in 2013, going winless against D-I/FBS competition for the first time since 1900. So they can improve substantially but still come out on the losing end on Saturdays this season.

The front seven was downright porous last season and while they should be better, it's hard to see them being solid, with the d-line holding the most questions on the entire defense.

New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman will make things simpler – more blitzing and more man coverage. That will bring success at times, and some long scores and lopsided losses otherwise.

Still, Cal could get five or even six wins nest season if pretty much everything goes their way. They could also post 10 losses.

Senior center Chris Adcock is the key to the Cal offensive line, and Goff's success. If he and the o-line can give Goff time, Goff and a solid group of receivers can keep things interesting.

But oh that defense.

Cal's line is unsettled on the interior, to put it kindly, and the linebackers are green, though Hardy Nickerson should help a bit. That means WSU, and others, can concentrate on muting Scarlett and away they go.

And while Cal's secondary returns all four starters, they were burned early, often and big time last year. How much can they improve?

Cal has one of the toughest schedules of any team in 2014. But Goff could take a big step forward, the running backs are fleet and the offense should be better.

But whether that will matter in the win column, especially given the state of the defense, is firmly up for debate.


Cougfan Top Stories