With the start of practice looming on Monday evening, here are five reasons Cal fans should be excited — and worried — about the 2013 football season:
1. A FRESH START
Excited because . . . As much as anything, the Bears needed this. Jeff Tedford was a very good coach for most of a decade and he didn’t suddenly get stupid. But things weren’t working anymore and they likely weren’t going to turn around without a change. Players who initially were unhappy with the switch — a normal reaction — now are on board with Sonny Dykes and his staff. The Bears enter fall camp with an optimistic tone and the sense that big things are once again possible.
Worried because . . . Everything is new and we won’t know until Aug. 31 whether the Bears are absorbing it. The fast-paced Bear Raid offense requires great timing and precision. Defensive coordinator Andy Buh has switched from the popular 3-4 alignment to an old-school 4-3 and fights inexperience in the secondary. Can the element of surprise give Cal an edge vs. Northwestern or will the work-in-progress be overmatched by a Top-25 team?
2. THE SCHEDULE
Excited because . . . Well, duh, would you rather make the trip to Memorial Stadium to watch Cal take on Nevada and Southern Utah or Northwestern and Ohio State? A no-brainer. No Big Game at Berkeley this season, but a visit from USC. These are the kind of high-profile matchups that fans clamor for. The opportunity to be tested by the best. Big crowds, big excitement, big possibilities.
Worried because . . . Get real, this is a killer schedule for a rookie coach. Northwestern is coming off just its second 10-win season in more than a century. Ohio State is ranked No. 2 in the nation, a legit threat to Alabama for the national title and won’t arrive here overconfident after the scare the Bears gave the Buckeyes in Columbus last season. Bottom line: Cal could play well and be 1-3 entering October.
3. THE BEAR RAID
Excited because . . . The Bears’ uptempo, spread option attack — even while evolving in its early development — promises to be entertaining. Everyone who complained about how conservative the Bears seem to have become in recent seasons should celebrate this departure. Especially when Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin go for it for the first time on fourth down from midfield. And they will.
Worried because . . . We don’t have a clue about how well the new offense might work immediately out of the chute? Does Cal have the necessary personnel to make it go? Can the Bears block well enough, especially in the running game? Will the young receivers deliver? Can tight end Richard Rodgers, having dropped 25 pounds, find a new home as the “Y” slot receiver? There are a lot of moving parts and they will need to move in unison and at a fast tempo.
4. THE QUARTERBACK
Excited because . . . Few camp stories are more compelling than a quarterback battle, and the Bears have three candidates for the position — Zach Kline, Jared Goff and Austin Hinder. One of these neophytes will be under center when the season begins and there will be growing pains. There’s also the potential for the start of something special with a young quarterback who could be around for a while. Watching it unfold will be intriguing — and no doubt less excrutiating than the Zach Maynard/Allan Bridgford show ultimately became.
Worried because . . . Imagine the scene on the evening of Aug. 31: A packed stadium under the lights, a national television audience and a Northwestern team that was 10-3 last season with 17 starters returning. This would be a challenge for any quarterback. But the Bears will send one out who NEVER has played a college football game. Memo to coaching staff: Choose wisely.
5. BRENDAN BIGELOW
Excited because . . . Anyone who watched Bigelow sprint away from Ohio State defenders last season on the way to 160 rushing yards on just four attempts spent the rest of the season wondering why he didn’t touch the ball a dozen times every week. The backs in front of him are gone and Bigelow will get his shot. A streamlined playbook will allow him to rely on his instincts rather than get bogged down by formations. Dykes wants to do everything fast and few players in the Pac-12 are faster than Bigelow.
Worried because . . . We still await evidence that Bigelow can be an every-down back. He averaged 9.8 yards per carry last season, but had more than six carries in a game just once. Can he be a workhorse or is he purely a situational back? There also are questions about his durability. Bigelow tore an ACL as a high school senior and underwent offseason surgery to repair a meniscus tear that kept him out of spring practice.