Sunday, August 30, 2009

CFI Countdown: #11 California Golden Bears

2008 Record: 9-4 (Pac-10 6-3)
Bowl Game: Won Champs Sports Bowl vs. Miami, 24-17
Location: Berkley, California
Stadium: California Memorial Stadium (72,516)
Head Coach: Jeff Tedford
Overall: 59-30 (8th season)
@ California 59-30 (8th season)
Link to Cal Football Page

Outside of USC—first in scoring defense, second in scoring offense—the 2008 Cal Golden Bears were the most balanced club in the Pac-10 with the second-ranked scoring defense and fourth-ranked scoring offense. Obviously that wasn’t the case when they gave up 42 in the Arizona desert to the Wildcats and were held to three points in Sunny Southern California by the Men of Troy. If they can avoid those mishaps, the third ten-win season and maybe even the first Pac-10 title of the Jeff Tedford era could be in the offing.

When the Bears Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Andy Ludwig (1st season)
Scheme: West Coast Offense
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: C Alex Mack, TE Cameron Morrah, FB Will Ta’uf’ou, OG Norris Malele, QB Nate Longshore

Before we get to all-everything junior tailback Jahvid Best, let’s discuss the quarterback situation. After working wonders with gunslingers (and future first round picks) Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers, quarterback guru Tedford has seen ups and downs at the critical position. Junior Riley Skinner won a three-way battle for the starting nod and the best thing that could happen to the Golden Bears is he stays there all season long. Skinner doesn’t lack talent, but has yet to put it together on a consistent basis. Of course, the best pass he may make this season is the shortest one—a hand-off to the explosive Best. The diminutive back needs only a sliver of space to take one to the house as his great moves in the open field and breakaway speed strike fear in opponents. Sophomore Shane Vereen is a very solid backup and should be able to give Best a breather when needed. Their backs can’t be the only playmakers which means they need someone at receiver to step up—whether it is returning starter Verran Tucker, leading returning receiver Nyan Boateng, or talented sophomore Marvin Jones. The line loses center Alex Mack but could be better as a unit in 2009.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) RB Jahvid Best (JR), 2) WR Nyan Boateng (SR), 3) OT Mike Tepper (SR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Bob Gregory (8th season)
Scheme: 3-4
Starters Returning: Eight
Key Losses: LB Zack Follett, LB Anthony Felder, LB Worrell Williams, DE Rulon Davis

Even though they lost three of their four starting linebackers, junior Mike Mohamed—who can play inside or out—may have been the best “sub” in the country. Off the bench as a sophomore, he delivered enough tackles to finish second on the team in that department. His speed and athleticism should make him the top playmaker on the Golden Bears defense. If Mohamed doesn’t emerge as the number one weapon, don’t be surprised if it is super sophomore Mychal Kendricks, another speedy playmaker primed to bust loose. At 300 pounds Derrick Hill anchors the line from the nose position, flanked by big and powerful ends Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan. Both bring the size necessary for this scheme, as well the ability to get into the backfield. Saving the best for last, Cal’s secondary will rival any in the Pac-10. Senior corner Syd’Quan Thompson has gotten better each season since his rough freshman campaign, while junior Darian Hagan could be just as good.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) CB Syd’Quan Thompson (SR), 2) LB Mike Mohamed (JR), 3) DL Tyson Alualu (SR)

The Schedule

The Golden Bears have a pair of interesting out of conference games. At home, they’ll try to avenge last season’s eight-point loss to Maryland, while on the road the Bears will venture into Big Ten country to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in their new stadium. If Cal is going to be a challenger to USC, these are games that shouldn’t give them too much trouble. They follow up their Minneapolis road trip with a one to the great northwest to take on the Oregon Ducks, with USC at home the week after that. Can they avoid looking past Minnesota to Oregon and looking past Oregon to USC? If they can split the two Pac-10 games, the Bears will have done well. Other games of interest include home contests against Oregon St. and Arizona, as well road games at UCLA, Arizona St., and Stanford. Other than the Evergreen state (Washington, Washington St. & Eastern Washington), the schedule is challenging.

Pivotal Point

If the Golden Bears are to improve on their nine wins from a year ago they must become road warriors, or at least stop being road pushovers. Cal was a perfect 7-0 at home in 2008, but an abysmal 1-4 on the road, dropping games at USC, Arizona, Oregon St., and Maryland. Their lone win away from home was against a 1-11 Washington St. squad. This year they face six road tests, playing more than half of their conference games away from home. In 2006 they lost at Washington, Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona—four of the sites for this year’s trips. The last time they won more than half their road games came in 2005, when they went 3-2.

CFI Final Analysis

Headman Jeff Tedford built his reputation as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, both at Fresno St. and Oregon where he tutored several quarterbacks to the pro ranks before taking over as the head coach for the Golden Bears. He basically picked up where he left off, building a strong offense in Berkeley. This year it is the defense that is the sure thing, as Cal should be strong against both the run and the pass with playmakers at every level. But will they get enough offense? Is Riley the answer at quarterback? Will a number one wide receiver emerge? Is the O-Line going to step up? The 2009 Golden Bears will get enough affirmative answers to give USC a run for their money.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys

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