No. 7: Cal. The Bears finished in sixth place in the Pac-10 last season (tied for fifth with USC; lost head-to-head matchup). Is there really any reason to believe they will be better this season? There were only a few bright spots from their disappointing defense, and two of those — defensive end Tyson Alualu and cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson — have taken their talents to the NFL. Meanwhile, the offense looks like it could be a lot like last year — strong running game, suspect passing game.
Kevin Riley enters his third year as Cal’s starter at quarterback. Despite criticism in some circles, Riley is 15-8 in his career as a starter and is the Pac-10′s active leader in touchdown passes with 37.
Riley’s receiving corps is a huge question mark. Marvin Jones established himself as a dependable threat last season, but that’s where the dependability starts and stops. Among returning receivers, only four are on scholarship — Jones, Jeremy Ross, Alex Lagemann and Michael Calvin. Ross and Lagemann have showed signs of potential but can they be counted on to produce over an entire season? Calvin can’t ever seem to stay healthy, although reports are he’s looked strong this summer.
Cal almost certainly will need one or two of its five new receivers to provide competition and perhaps make an impact immediately. The leading candidate to do that is top recruit Keenan Allen, who could compete for a starting role immediately.
There are no worries with Shane Vereen returning at running back and Anthony Miller at tight end. But despite four starters returning to the offensive line, it’s in a state of flux. Injury-prone Matt Summers-Gavin is moving from left guard to left tackle. Returning starter Justin Cheadle could be pushed by sophomore Brian Schwenke at right guard. Although Chris Guarnero returns at center, he could also get a look at guard if Dominic Galas makes a run at center. Or Galas could move to guard.
The defense will need an infusion of young players to produce to improve over last year’s performance, and those prospects took a hit with incoming freshman linebacker Chris Martin’s decision to transfer to Florida. Fellow freshman linebacker Cecil Whiteside,w ho long with Martin and Allen were considered the jewels of Cal’s recruiting class, may not play this season as well because of academics.
Cal hopes to benefit from the more aggressive philosophy being introduced by new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, but they will need the skill on the field to execute the schemes. Cal’s down linemen should be given more freedom to make plays under Pendergast, and that should make talented defensive end Cameron Jordan happy. Mike Mohamed, who led the Pac-10 in tackles last season, is one of the conference’s top linebackers. But there are no sure things lining up next to him.
Shortcomings in the secondary was a major reason Cal’s pass defense ranked 111th nationally last season, and the loss of Thompson doesn’t exactly enhance hope for improvement. Sean Cattouse is a potential big-time playmaker at safety, but he is the only returning starter in the defensive backfield. The Bears desperately need cornerback Darian Hagan to return to his 2008 form. Redshirt freshman Steve Williams is a potential star and could be a key in rebuilding the secondary.
The Bears know they can count on punter Bryan Anger. The competition at kicker between Giorgio Tavecchio and Vince D’Amato continues.