Football: Predictions — No. 7 Cal

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.

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.

  • Pablo

    I like coming into a season a bit underrated. It tones down the expectations, and lets the lads just play.

    Riley has had many moments of good play. There certainly is precedence for a senior qb to finally “get it”. I have faith he will follow in this path.

    This team will beat expectations and finish second or third in the conference based on a good mix of veteran players (jordon, mohammed, riley, msg et al) plus an upgrade in young talent. All this is couple with a strong upgrade in coaching talent.

    Can’t wait for the season. Time to shock some people.

  • MoreNCsarecoming

    Could be another dismal year. Will the natives will be restless?

  • spartan

    This kills me. As a De La Salle supporter, there a are a number of DLS players who should be going to Cal but are taking their talents to Oregon, Oregon State and other Pac 10 schools. I just do not get it…..someone please help me…..

  • GldnBear71

    Yep. My thoughts exactly RoseBowl1929

  • MoreNCsarecoming

    GB71 – now I understand why Martin wanted out. Why put all of that effort into a 7th place team notwithstanding receiving class credits toward a Social Welfare degree.The chance to play for a perennial NC is just too tempting.

  • Bears

    I think this is a fair assessment JO.
    Cal has not shown a lot the past few years for anyone to pick them anywhere other than from 4-7th place finish. Question is are our players just mediocre and is our program middle of the pac or are they better than that and ready to make a run at top 3/4 finish in Pac and push the program back into the spotlight? No idea what the team is capable of this fall.
    Go Bears!

  • Bud

    You are dead wrong, JO. Cal will finish 2-3 in 2010, then make a very strong BCS run in 2011. I’m surprised that you don’t see that all the elements are there for success; it’s just a matter of creating a passing game & getting more pressure on opposing QBs. The addition of Keenan Allen & Pendergast’s more aggressive D will go a long way to fixing those problems. Honestly, I appreciate sports writers’ attempts to be neutral in their reporting/analysis, but I think you are being far, far too negative regarding the Bears.

  • I guess you can say that Sentreal Henderson left $C for Miami for the same reasons. A chance at winning a NC.

  • brian

    if Riley can become more accurate like 60% instead of his 50 % he had last year this team wins at least 10 games,Marvin Jones will lead the nation in recieving yard

  • MoreNCsarecoming

    I will make another prediction. You are going down against Nevada. Remember your beatdown by the lowly Terps. Repeat.

  • LB

    The Pac 10 is wide open this year, but I think predicting Cal at #7 is pretty harsh, bordering on crazy.

    Cal gets UCLA, ASU, Oregon, Stanford and UW at home. Those teams have a combined ZERO wins in Berkeley since Jeff Tedford took over in 2002. Oregon, Stanford and UW will hardly be pushovers, but the fact that none of them have come out of Memorial Stadium with a win in the Tedford era means something. If Cal even wins only four of those five, beats Washington State, and drops every other game, I think most would consider that a pretty terrible season, and Cal would still finish better than #7 in conference.

    The defense lost some of the big names, but the front seven are going to be a force — the D line and LB units will be deeper, more experienced, and more talented than last year. The DB’s are a legitimate concern but there is plenty of talent back there.

    At QB, Riley will be one of only two senior returning starters in the conference (the other being Locker). Experience means a lot at the QB position, especially in a complex offense like Cal’s. The OL should be improved from last year, as long as it stays healthy. The RB spot is still very solid (probably top 3 in the conference) – Vereen is a more durable and consistent starting RB than Best was, and is still very explosive (not quite as explosive as Best, but few are). And at WR, we are also returning starters — Marvin Jones is an emerging star, Lagemann has great hands and finds ways to get open, and there is a lot of untapped potential in guys like Calvin and Isi. And don’t forget about Keenan Allen…he will make his presence felt right away.

    So, in answer to the question — yes, I think there is plenty of reason to believe that Cal football will be better this year. I see Cal finishing anywhere between first and fifth, depending in large part on Riley’s development, staying healthy on the offensive line, and the performance of Hagan and the young DB’s. I think seventh would be a huge disappointment, and finishing seventh would not constitute “meeting expectations.” Third or fourth, maybe. But not seventh.

  • Larry

    …”depending in large part on Riley’s development”–LB

    Riley is a SR, so he should be as “developed” as he will ever be.

    8-4 is the worst they will go, 10-2 or 11-1 is a possibility with a bit of luck.

  • LB

    @Larry — I’m talking about development over this offseason. He should be better than he was before. If he has made strides, Cal has huge upside and should be thinking Rose Bowl. But even if he is no better than he was last year, Cal should still win 8 games (3 OOC, 5 in conference), which should be better than #7 in the Pac 10. I think it would take a disaster to do worse than that.

  • shaka

    All the naysayers are suffering from a Martin hangover. Take an aspirin or some hair of the dog. It’s just an wa opinionated guess when you net it out. Scoreboard will tell.

  • Easy Ed

    Hey Moron,

    We all can predict that one team WON’T be Bowl eligible this year!

  • Forest Peter

    He Jonathan: 7th? Is that a prediction or prejudgment?
    We’ll see in December if you are a genius or cynical s.o.b. What’s wrong with having a good running game?
    Will Stanford be as good without Toby? What about Oregon without their J.D.? Why was S.C.’s defense so soft in the middle? Will Barkley pan out? Other teams have questions, too. There is a season to be played. Go Bears.

  • covinared

    I would rather go into the season predicted to be 7th than facing the first of 2 years bowl ineligibility. We have something to look forward to other than playing for caught cheater’s pride.

  • rollonubears

    there’s no reason we can’t win all our home games this year. we should beat nevada as well, and the usc game doesn’t matter, so it really comes down to a couple tough road games. i think arizona could be our biggest test of the year, but we’ll finally get that monkey off our back. this is gonna be a great year. really looking forward to that reno trip, too. go bears.

  • MoreNCsarecoming

    rollonubears Says:
    July 25th, 2010 at 6:38 pm
    there’s no reason we can’t win all our home games this year and the usc game doesn’t matter,

    This is the kind of comment you expect to hear from a Cal stater fan. The object of sports is to be the best. A team is the best when it beats all opponents. Therefore if you beat the best you are the best. USC will play for pride this year and relish its spoiler role. I wish I still had my contact in the program so that I cold tell you how much the players want to win this year but USC is all about greatness and a winning tradition. The NCAA will try to destroy our morale but it won’t work. I can’t wait to read at the end of the year where every Pac 10 team will have an asterisk stating how they lost to us and finished behind us in the standings.

    This should be another Year of the *.

  • GldnBear71

    Rose Bowl 1929/MoreNCsarecoming

    Kiffin’s foot-in-mouth antics at Tennessee are well documented. It will be interesting to see how many games he can win on the field, especially in view of USC’s increasingly dire situation as the scholarship restrictions steadily mount up over the next several seasons.

  • BlueNGold

    Being the optimistic person that I am, I would rather see Cal with a mid tier to low preseason ranking and work up to a higher one during the regular season, than the opposite, which has happened the last few years. So, my very humble prediction is that Cal will finish in the top 4 of the Pac.

    By the way, any person (?) who honestly believes that Cal football fans really give a flying fugg whether the u of sleazy cheaters is going to play for pride, its winning tradition and to relish its spoiler role is simply delusional. Either that, or the diarrhea mouth is running out of its seemingly endless supply of taunting and trash talk material.

  • BlueNGold

    “Winning any way other than the right way is not winning at all” Pat Haden, newly appointed athletic director of the u. of sleazy cheaters

  • charlie

    LB Says: Great post. I think 7th is selling Cal short. Cal, once again will be competitive this year. The OL will be better, the passing game CAN’T be worse. The RB play will be solid. The Defence, with a new cordinator, will be better.

    A 7th place finish is a “worse case scenario” in my book. I see Cal finishin in the top half of the Pac 10…ANYTHING is possible this year.

    Go Bears!!!

  • 66Bear

    Is it too late to emphatically state that I agree with all that believe that the Bears are better than seventh in the conference? But that said, I like the Bears’ chances even better playing in the underdog role. Go Bears!

  • Armondo

    The prediction of Cal finishing 7th in the Pac 10 is ridiculous. I truly think that the Bears will shock mostly everyone this season. USC is not able to go bowling in the next 2 years. Their morale will be low, and Lane Kiffin will be flaky with them as well like he was at the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers. Cal will be WAY better than SC this season. GO BEARS!!!