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Football: Another Friday game for Cal

For the second straight season, Cal will play a Friday night game on ESPN. This time, it’s the day after Thanksgiving. The Pac-10 and ESPN announced today that the Bears game at Arizona State will take place on Friday, Nov. 25 at 7:15 p.m. Last year, Cal played a Friday night game on ESPN at Nevada.

Here is the complete ESPN/ABC schedule. You’ll see the two previous Cal games that were announced, the two Thursday night games – at Oregon and at home against USC. Other ESPN/ABC games will be added as part of the 12-day window guidelines during the season.

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Football: Recruiting notes

Rivals.com has released its top-250 for the 2012 class. You’ll see that quarterback Zack Kline, one of only two players yet to commit to Cal for 2012, is rated as the 40th-best overall player and No. 2 among quarterbacks. Also, Shaq Thompson of Sacramento is ranked as the 10th-best prospect in the country. Thompson, the younger brother of former Cal star Syd’Quan Thompson, previously gave an oral commitment to the Bears but has since backed off. However, it is believed he is still strongly interested in Cal and Berkeley is likely his ultimate destination.

Recent commit Michael Barton, a linebacker from De La Salle, did not make the Rivals list.

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Football: Spring practice review — running backs

HELPED HIS CAUSE: Mike Manuel. With all the supposed strong recruiting Cal has done at running back in recent years, it’s hard to believe a walk-on is firmly in the mix as we approach the summer. But that is the case with Manuel, a junior college transfer who opened a lot of eyes this spring, especially those belonging to coach Jeff Tedford. Certainly, Manuel took advantage of the absence of Dasarte Yarnway (knee) and a perhaps still-rusty Trajuan Briggs, who is recovering from ankle and back injuries. But even if Yarnway and Briggs are completely good-to-go when fall camp begins, Manuel won’t be going away. The only negative for Manuel is that he was a bit banged up during the final portion of the spring and his performance dipped accordingly.

WORK TO DO: Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson. DeBoskie-Johnson has the most seniority among the tailbacks, but he currently is looking up to Isi Sofele on the depth chart. DeBoskie-Johnson came into spring about 10 pounds overweight, mostly because he was behind in his conditioning after recovering from a knee injury suffered near the end of last  season. It will be a huge summer for DeBoskie-Johnson. If he can really get into shape, he has a chance to make an impact this season. Isi Sofele is the definitive No. 1 back at this point, but he’s not Jahvid Best or Shane Vereen. While explosive, Sofele doesn’t have a clear talent advantage over the rest of the running backs. DeBoskie-Johnson has potential when he’s healthy and in shape.

WHERE WE STAND: Tedford was surprisingly candid about his dissatisfaction with the team’s running back depth during the spring. He said other than Sofele, there was no other tailback on the roster ready to contribute at the FBS level. Part of that could be a motivational tactic, but Tedford is sincerely concered about the running back situation. He’s gotten used to guys like Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen and there don’t appear to be any players on the roster on that level. As recently as the final day of the spring, Tedford was still saying that the incoming running backs are going to have to contribute this season.

MOVING FORWARD: If Tedford could draw it up right now, Sofele would be the starter and one of the incoming tailbacks would be the backup. Ideally, the No. 2 back would be incoming freshman Brendan Bigelow, a supreme talent that Tedford has compared to Best. But the problem is Bigelow has suffered a pair of major knee injuries during the past 18 months, the second of which wiped out his entire senior season of high school. It remains to be seen how healthy he will be for 2011. Another freshman, Daniel Lasco, or Laney College transfer C.J. Anderson, could be in the mix as well. Yarnway’s knee remains a question. DeBoskie-Johnson and Briggs are the wild cards. Both have talent but weren’t able to make much headway during the spring. The good news for them is the opportunities will be there.

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Basketball: NBA draft decisions are in — How does the 2012 Pac-12 season shape up?

Sunday was the final opportunity for underclassmen to withdraw from the NBA draft, and decisions by Stanford’s Jeremy Green and Washington State’s Klay Thompson to exit school created a scenario perhaps no one could have ensvisioned:

Cal guard Jorge Gutierrez, known over much of his career for anything but scoring, will be the top returning scorer in the Pac-12 Conference next season.

In fact, the Bears will have three of the top six scorers in the league, at least from the 10 schools that competed in the conference in 2010-11.
Gutierrez will be No. 1 among those returnees at 14.6 points per game, Harper Kamp No. 3 at 14.2 and Allen Crabbe No. 6 at 13.4.

Kamp (5.6) and Crabbe (5.3) rank Nos. 7 and 9 among returning Pac-10 rebounders and Gutierrez 4.48) and Brandon Smith (3.91) will be Nos. 1 and 3 in assists.

Do these statistical riches categorize the Bears as favorites to win the first Pac-12 title?

By no means.

But they do underscore the very real opportunity for Mike Montgomery’s club to at least challenge for its second conference crown in three seasons.

First, let’s review who has decided to make an early dash for pro cash:

– Washington State junior guard Klay Thompson, who ranked No. 1 in the Pac-10 in scoring at 21.6 points per game.
– Arizona sophomore forward Derrick Williams, No. 2 at 19.5.
– USC junior forward Nikola Vucevic, No. 3 at 17.1.
– Washington junior guard Isaiah Thomas, No. 4 at 16.8.
– Stanford junior guard Jeremy Green, No. 5 at 16.7.
– UCLA junior guard Malcolm Lee, No. 14 at 13.1
– UCLA sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt, No. 15 at 12.8.
– Washington State junior forward DeAngelo Casto, No. 18 at 12.0.

Factor in three departing seniors, and that leaves just seven of the Pac-10′s top 18 scorers due back next season. And that doesn’t include Colorado sophomore guard Alec Burks, who averaged 20.5 points and is projected a  lottery pick after declaring for the draft.

So what do we make of the 2011-12 Pac-12 race? Who is the favorite?

After much thought, and some discussion with a couple colleagues who cover teams elsewhere in the conference, I have come to this conclusion:

There is no clear favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2012.

Sure, someone is going to win the thing, but we may not know that until the first weekend of March.

For now, here’s a look ahead, breaking down the teams into three categories:

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Football: Catching up on links

Some of this may be a bit old, but here are some things that made news while I was away last week:

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Football: It’s never too early…

The start of the 2011 season may be just under four months away, but apparently it’s not too soon to start drumming up interest for the season-opener against Fresno State at Candlestick Park. Next Monday, there will be a press conference at Candlestick to discuss the game, an event being staged by the independent promoter that is putting on the contest. Jeff Tedford, Sandy Barbour and some Cal players are expected to be there, as well as Fresno St. coach Pat Hill, athletic director Thomas Boeh and some Fresno St. players. I’ll be there, of course, to provide coverage.

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Football: Spring practice review — quarterbacks

NOTE: This is the first of position-by-position reviews of spring practice.

HELPED HIS CAUSE: Zach Maynard. The transfer from Buffalo — and also the half-brother of wide receiver Keenan Allen — entered spring practice as the big wild card. Coach Jeff Tedford was intrigued by Maynard’s dual threat ability but hadn’t seen him on the field at Cal yet. It also remained to be seen how quickly Maynard would get comfortable with the Bears’ offense.

Maynard still has a long way to go, but it’s obvious he’s the quarterback of Cal’s immediate future. Maynard finished spring practice taking all the starter’s reps and Tedford has raved about his ability and development during the spring. Maynard displayed the escapability and running ability that Tedford wants to see, and the coach is excited about the potential of the offense with Maynard behind center.

WORK TO DO: Brock Mansion. You could really name either Mansion or Allan Bridgford here, because it appears either one has some ground to make up on Maynard. But since Mansion is going to be a fifth-year senior, the sense of urgency is greater. The limited experience Mansion received at the end of last season helped him this spring, but obviously not enough to go into the summer as Cal’s No. 1 guy. Mansion may be looking at fall camp as a competition for the backup job, where his experience could give him an edge.

WHERE WE STAND: Tedford is expected to make some kind of announcement this week regarding the quarterback situation. He likely will name Maynard the starter with a disclaimer that the position will still be competitive in the fall and nothing is ever set in stone. Or he could simply say Maynard enters the fall at the top of the depth chart without definitively naming him the starting quarterback. Either way, it appears it’s Maynard’s job to lose.

MOVING FORWARD: Maynard must now spend the summer earning respect from his teammates and turning into the leader of the offense. Remember that Maynard not only sat out last season, but he wasn’t even enrolled at Cal while he worked on his academics at Contra Costa College. So before spring started he hadn’t been in the locker room with his teammates. Maynard has a special kinship with Allen, which undoubtedly making this transition easier, but he has to continue to develop a trust and relationship with the other receivers on the team.

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Basketball: Gutierrez voted team MVP

Junior guard Jorge Gutierrez was voted Cal’s most valuable player.

And although there were other significant contributors to the team — including Harper Kamp and freshman Allen Crabbe — it’s hard to argue about the selection.

Just for fun, though, I’d like to hear who you’d pick as the Bears’ MVP.

Here is Cal’s news release on its postseason awards.