2015: 8-5 Overall (4-5 Pac-12 North)
2017 NFL Draft Prospects: OL Chris Borrayo, OL Steven Moore, QB Davis Webb
Positive progress was something not seen in Berkeley for some time during the final years of Jeff Tedford’s regime. But the said progress was in full-swing mid-way through the 2015 season as Sonny Dykes’ team, now in his third season at the helm of the Bears was 5-0, coming off impressive wins against both of the Washington schools. Unfortunately, Dykes’ best start to-date with the school would then turn into a 2-6 tailspin en route to a bowl win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl securing the school’s most successful season since the 2009 season.
To think that this was the same program that two years earlier had won just a single game during the 2013 season, its first under Dykes, all while starting a true freshman quarterback, Jared Goff. In his three years as the starting quarterback of the Bear Raid offense, Goff and company would improve their win total to five in 2014, than eight in 2015. His junior season would be his best as he lead the NCAA with 4,714 passing yards, while breaking the Pac-12 record for touchdown passes in a season.
All this production, and his maturation from a 18-year-old four-star quarterback, to a 20-year-old first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft is a feather in the cap of Dykes. Goff can also thank part of the $18.5 million of guaranteed money he’ll be receiving to his success in the final regular season game of 2015 against the Sun Devils at Memorial Stadium. It was in this game that he scorched the earth of Sun Devil pass defenders in the second half of the contest, completing 30 passes in the game for 542 yards and 5 touchdowns.
For the Devils it was just another example of how an injury depleted secondary, and an inability to force turnovers, helped Cal to overcome a 27-10 halftime deficit for the win, scoring 38 of its 48 points in the second half.
Fast forward to 2016, and Cal looks to be a different team all together as the offense gets an overhaul at both offensive coordinator and the skill positions while the defense, in its fourth season under Art Kaufman just looks to reach relevancy in the Pac-12.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR FROM THE BEARS ON OFFENSE
2015 S&P+ Offense: 13th in FBS
2016 Returning Starters Offense: 8
Percentage of Offensive Yards Returning: 23.1% (125th in FBS)
Career Starts Offensive Line: 89 (20th in FBS)
Make no mistake about it, the Sonny Dykes offense helped make Goff a rich man with the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL. Replacing him is Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb who fits the mold of a Air Raid pocket passer at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds with a big-time arm, and is the top senior quarterback in terms on NFL Draft potential according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. In what was thought to be a step-back, or rebuilding year at the position in the post-Goff Era, actually has turned into one of the strongest parts of the team with Webb becoming a one-year holdover until an impressive crop of young quarterbacks get their feet wet getting practice reps this fall.
A disciple of Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense, the transition in systems is thought to be minimal for Webb. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll be playing behind one of the more experienced offensive lines in the Pac-12 that could shape up to be the best position group on the team. As a unit in 2015, the group made huge strides in both its pass and run blocking and returns 4 starters in front of Webb.
Webb won’t have the established big-bodied targets at receiver that Goff did, as Cal will have to replace its top six pass catchers from 2015, and according to Pro Football Focus, 87-percent of its total snaps. Dykes’ did a masterful job of bringing in top-end talent in the off-season however and looks to insert highly-touted five-star true freshman Demetris Robertson and four-star freshman Melquise Stovall into the lineup for more explosive play potential across the field, not just down it. This should also help improve the Bears on special teams as well. As those two newcomers get their feet under them, look for Chad Hansen to take on much more of the load as the Bears most experienced receiver returning.
The young receiving corps will be helped by a deep and talented backfield with senior Khalfani Muhammad and junior Tre Watson on the Doak Walker Award Watch list, and Vic Enwere not too far behind them in terms of ability. Muhammad is the burner while Watson is more of a complete three-down back who is also adept at being a receiving threat out of the backfield.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR FROM THE BEARS ON DEFENSE
2015 S&P+ Defense: 82nd in FBS
2015 Havoc Rate: 100th in FBS
2016 Returning Starters Defense: 7
Percentage of Total Tackles Returning: 44.2% (116st in FBS)
The defense actually got better in 2015 under the leadership of Kaufman, but still managed to finish eighth in the conference in points allowed, thanks to allowing 6.1 yards per play, 102nd in the country. And when your offense scores as quickly as Cal does, your defense is going to see the field a lot either due to success or failure.
While the Bears do return 7 starters, they took major hits from a leadership and experience position in the off-season to this improving defense, especially at linebacker, where seniors Hardy Nickerson and Michael Barton transferred out. Junior Devante Downs, a former four-star recruit out of Washington, will be taking over middle linebacker duties, but has just one career start to his name.
The Bears will be relying upperclassmen DeVante Wilson and James Looney to apply the pressure up front in Kaufman’s 4-3 system to help protect a rebuilding secondary. In fact the Bears project to have their most experience at these four spots, whereas the Bears second level defenders look as green as it gets.
Veteran safety Damariay Drew suffered a knee injury in the spring which will put more stress on sophomore safety Evan Rambo to join the likes of Darius Allensworth and Cameron Walker in the Bears defensive secondary that is very green going into their week 1 opener against Hawaii.
The Sept. 10 game against Texas Tech looks to be the tune-up for the Devils Pac-12 opener against Cal. Whether or not Todd Graham has learned from previous mistakes against the Air Raid in 2015 should be evident in two of his team’s first four games.
Offensively, the Devils look prime to score some points against Kaufman’s inexperienced defense. Whomever starts at quarterback for the Devils looks to build some confidence against this defense with tougher tilts against the likes of USC and UCLA on the horizon.
Look for the Devils defense to try to contain an offense that ranked 92nd in the FBS in rushing yards per game, forcing the offense to be one-dimensional. The challenge of course will be how the Sun Devils rebuilt secondary can play in space against constant four wide receiver sets. Will they have improved at this point in tackling in space and overall communication on getting setup before the snap? If not, Webb has the arm to make it another shoot-out between these two schools, but he has also shown the propensity for forcing plays and turning the ball over during his days with Texas Tech. ASU offensive coordinator Chip Lindsay will be pressed to locate offensive firepower himself to keep up with what has traditionally been one of the better scoring offenses in college football over the last few seasons.
For more statistical information on Cal, please check out Gary Doran’s Advanced Stats Report.
**Havoc Rating was devised by Bill Connelly – “The percentage of plays in which a defense either recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble, or defensed a pass (intercepted or broken up). If QB hurries were a reliable stat (at the college level, there is far too much inconsistency in how they are recorded), they would be included here, too.”
**S&P designed by Football Outsiders – “Takes into account efficiency (Success Rates), explosiveness (IsoPPP), and factors related to field position and finishing drives. It is now presented in two forms: the first is a percentile, and the second is an adjusted scoring margin specific for this specific season’s scoring curve.”