Football: The Golden Bears by position

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of Cal’s 2014 football team:

QUARTERBACK: Jared Goff is entrenched as the starter after setting Cal records for passing yards in a game (504) and a season (3,508) last season as a true freshman. He wants to improve his completion percentage, maintain drives and execute better in the red-zone. Luke Rubenzer has beaten out fellow freshman Chase Forrest for the No. 2 spot, and provides the Bears a running threat at the position. But it’s not clear if Rubenzer will be taken out of his redshirt year unless injury forces him in a fulltime role.

RUNNING BACK: This should be an improved position with Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad both back from a year ago and freshmen Tre Watson and Vic Enwere adding new dimensions. Coach Sonny Dykes wants a straight-ahead power element in the run game and hopes the new depth will allow the Bears to keep a fresh man in the backfield late in games.

WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END: Cal’s receiving corps is the most talented and deepest position on the team. Led by juniors Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs, who have combined for 209 receptions in two seasons, the Bears have as many as seven established targets they can plug into the two wide and two inside receiving slots. Also back after grabbing five TD passes is Kenny Lawler. Expect a breakout season from Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The coaching staff lamented a year ago it felt like it had no more than four O-lineman it could trust. Now that number is eight or nine. The unit has improved its strength, and there is versatility which will allow players to shift positions, if needed. The only fall camp position battle was at right tackle, where Jordan Rigsbee held off JC transfer Dominic Granado. The offense will only be as good as the progress this group shows.

DEFENSIVE LINE: The return to health of junior defensive end Brennan Scarlett gives the Bears a potential big-time pass rusher. Otherwise, this remains perhaps the team’s most uncertain position group. Everyone is high on defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil, but will his surgically repaired knee hold up? Are the club’s other DTs, most of them new or unproven, ready to go? It’s pretty much guesswork and a leap of faith so far. The jury is out.

LINEBACKER: The Bears took some early hits here, including the loss of projected starting middle linebacker Nathan Broussard to a season-ending knee injury for the second straight year. But Cal recruited hard here to create depth, and those numbers must translate into performance. Michael Barton, Hardy Nickerson Jr., and freshman Devante Downs will all see time at the MLB position. Jalen Jefferson is set at one of the outside spots, and Ray Davison is getting lots of work on the other side.

DEFENSIVE BACK: Injuries wrecked this position group a year ago, but things seem to be coming together. Former cornerback Stefan McClure is adapting nicely at one safety and senior Michael Lowe has gotten high marks from the staff at the other spot. Avery Sebastian, coming off an Achilles tear, also is in the mix. Sophomore Cameron Walker, forced to play strong safety last season at 170 pounds, has returned to his natural corner spot, to be joined by Cedric Dozier, Darius White and Darius Allensworth.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Cal’s injury epidemic impacted special teams as hard as any area because young players not ready for prime time were called into action. The Bears expect improvement, especially in punt coverage and punt return, both of which were ghastly a year ago. James Langford, a senior transfer from Cal Poly, seemingly has won the placekicker job vacated by Vincenzo D’Amato, who converted 33 of 43 field goals the past two seasons.


Football: A week by week look at Cal’s schedule


– Saturday at Northwestern, 12:30 p.m.
The Bears will try to snap a 16-game losing streak to FBS opponents when they visit Big Ten country.

– Sept. 6 vs. Sacramento State, noon
The Bears routed the Hornets 41-3 in 2005 in their only previous clash with the FCS opponent.

– Sept. 20 at Arizona, tba
Cal’s 33-28 home loss to the Wildcats last season was the closest it came to victory in Pac-12 play.

– Sept. 27 vs. Colorado, tba
The Buffaloes prevailed 41-24 at Boulder last year in the first measure of two programs with new head coaches.

– Oct. 4 at Washington State, tba
The Bears’ most recent Pac-12 victory came nearly two years ago at WSU, but Cougars won 44-22 in Berkeley last season.

– Oct. 11 vs. Washington, tba
Cal gets its first look at Huskies under coach Chris Petersen, architect of powerhouse Boise State program.

– Oct. 18 vs. UCLA, tba
Quarterback Brett Hundley provides first of two meetings in a seven-day span vs. Heisman Trophy candidates.

– Oct. 24 vs. Oregon at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, 7 p.m.
QB Marcus Mariota is sure to make Cal’s first visit to 49ers’ new stadium a challenging assignment.

– Nov. 1 at Oregon State, tba
Cal is just 3-12 vs. Beavers since ’99 and has allowed 111 points in the past two matchups.

– Nov. 13 at USC, 6 p.m.
Bears get 12 days to prep for Thursday night bid to end 10-game losing streak to Trojans.

– Nov. 22 vs. Stanford, tba
Major goal for Sonny Dykes is to make Big Game competitive: Stanford 163-58 in past four meetings.

– Nov. 29 vs. BYU, tba
Independent Cougars get breather vs. Savannah State the week before visiting Berkeley.


Football: Cal facts


2013 RECORD: 1-11, 0-8 Pac-12 (6th in North)
COACH: Sonny Dykes, 2nd season
BIG DATE: The Bears open at Northwestern, hoping to avenge a 44-30 loss in their debut a year ago and score their first win over an FBS opponent in the Dykes era. A victory could have a huge impact on the team’s confidence and alter the trajectory of their season.
KEY DEPARTURES: Two linebackers who could have impacted this team left early, with Nick Forbes taking a medical retirement and Khairi Fortt jumping to the NFL. Cornerback Kameron Jackson made an unexpected early leap to the pros at a position where Cal had few established replacements.
DIFFERENCE MAKERS: The receiving corps, led by Bryce Treggs (77 receptions last season) and Chris Harper (70 receptions), should be the strength of the team. Transfer Trevor Davis caught 45 passes in two seasons at Hawaii. QB Jared Goff had a productive freshman season and the offensive line is expected to be substantially improved.
FRESH FACES TO WATCH: Freshman Tre Watson and Vic Enwere both are expected to be part of the rotation at running back. Freshman linebacker Devante Downs and JC cornerback Darius White are batting for jobs.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: If the offensive line holds and the defense makes a leap forward under new coordinator Art Kaufman, the Bears will be markedly improved. But against a daunting Pac-12 schedule, how much will that improvement show? Earning four wins won’t be easy, but would have to be considered a major step in the right direction for what is still a young team.
WORST-CASE SCENARIO: The Bears have improved their depth, but still don’t have enough proven players at some spots – especially on defense — to overcome the kind of injury epidemic they faced a year ago. If attrition takes its toll or the Bears come out of the gate slowly, they could face another grim season.
BOTTOM LINE: This team will be much-improved over a year ago, but the arc of this season could be determined early. Success out of the gate could fuel confidence and momentum that Cal badly needs. The Bears must score some victories early because the schedule is relentlessly ferocious beginning in mid-October.


RADIO: 810-AM (Joe Starkey, Mike Pawlawski, Todd McKim)
TICKETS: 1-800-GO-BEARS or www.calbears.com


Football: Recent Pac-12 slow starters


Cal surrendered 181 first-quarter points a year ago, putting the Bears in a deep hole virtually every week. Here’s a look at how the Bears compares in that regard to two other recent woeful Pac-12 teams:

Cal 2013: The 1-11 Bears held the lead for a total of 9 minutes, 36 seconds out of 660 total minutes in their 11 losses against FBS opponents. In other words, they were ahead in those games just 1.45 percent of the time.

Washington State 2009: The 1-11 Cougars never held a lead in regulation all season. Never. Their only victory came on a field goal in overtime against SMU. WSU was outscored 176-6 in the first quarter.

Washington 2008: The Huskies were 0-12, but actually held leads for more than 74 minutes during the season. They lost one game in overtime and another by just one point.


Football season preview: Golden Bears aren’t paying attention to pessimistic outside views

Cal coach Sonny Dykes says you get what you deserve in football, and everything about the Golden Bears’ 2013 season was authentic.

On their way to a 1-11 record without a victory in the Pac-12 Conference, the Bears held the lead in their 11 games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents for a total of just 9 minutes, 36 seconds.

“Yeah, I didn’t know it was that long,” said Dykes, who endured the worst debut season of any Cal coach in history, but managed to retain his sense of humor.

A year later, Dykes and his players expect more. They aren’t interested in incremental improvement. Every national publication and the conference media picked the Bears to finish last in the Pac-12 North, where three of their five rivals are preseason Top-25 teams.

Still, the Bears are undaunted.

“I don’t think we’re taking a baby step this year,” sophomore quarterback Jared Goff said. “People may say you need a few years of rebuilding. I don’t believe in that at all. I think we’re ready to do some great stuff.”

“No one’s expecting anything from us,” said wide receiver Chris Harper. “People are going to be amazed.”

Dykes, whose 20 years in college coaching provide him a greater perspective than his players, acknowledges the uncertainty. “I don’t think any of us know.”

But his memory needs to stretch only to last season to find two stunning turnarounds that offer encouragement.

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Football: PK James Langford has some famous ancestors

There are some strong bloodlines running through the Cal football roster. Quartererback Jared Goff’s father played major league baseball. Linebacker Hardy Nickerson Jr.’s father starred in the NFL.

Placekicker James Langford has bragging right over all of them.

When he lines up for his first field-goal try next Saturday at Northwestern, Langford will have the genealogical backing of Ty Cobb and Harry S. Truman.

Langford, a senior from Pleasanton, figures those genetic connections can’t hurt. “Obviously, they performed under pressure situations as well,” he said.

A third-year transfer from Cal Poly, Langford admitted after Saturday’s final practice of fall camp that he wasn’t sure about his exact relation to the owner of baseball’s highest career batting average or the nation’s 33rd president.

His father Jim confirmed that both Cobb and Truman are direct relations on his side of the family. Cobb is a cousin to James Langford’s great-grandfather on his grandmother’s side, and Truman is cousin to James’ great-grandmother on his grandfather’s side.

Don’t worry, James was confused, too.

“It’s a cool thing being related to all these great people,” he said. “Now that we’re talking about this, I feel like I should know more about it.”

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Football: De La Salle vs. Jesuit moved to Berkeley


The high school football game between De La Salle-Concord and Jesuit-Carmichael, originally scheduled for Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, has been relocated to Memorial Stadium next Friday night. Kickoff is 8 p.m. and the game will be televised by ESPN2.

Two high school games scheduled for the news 49ers’ facility were scratched because of the stadium’s turf issues.

Tickets for the game will be general admission and will be on sale on the day of the contest through the ticket stations at both the north and south ends of Memorial Stadium. They are priced at $10 for adults and $5 for youth.

Tickets purchased in advance through Levi’s Stadium will NOT be honored. Fans with those tickets should contact Levi’s Stadium.

Gates on the west side of the stadium (Gate 2 through Gate 6) will be utilized and they will open at 7 p.m., one hour before kickoff.

As with all events on the Cal campus, fans are encouraged to use public transportation. A limited number of on-campus parking lots will be open for day-of-game permit purchase, primarily the Foothill, Upper Hearst, Lower Hearst and Underhill lots.

Fans attending the game should note that only bags 14”x14”x6” or smaller will be permitted and that no backpacks will be allowed inside the stadium.


Football: Six named team captains

Six players, including quarterback Jared Goff, were named team captains Saturday after a vote of their teammates,

Fullback Lucus Gingold, running back Daniel Lasco, safeties Michael Lowe and Stefan McClure and defensive end Brennan Scarlett also are Cal team captains, coach Sonny Dykes announced.

“We have developed a tremendous amount of leadership on this team and these six guys are right at the top of that group,” Dykes said. “It is a tremendous honor to be recognized as a leader by your peers, and we’re all looking forward to the leadership this group will provide this season.”


Football: Michael Lowe shows coaches he’s serious

Safety Michael Lowe met new Cal defensive backs coach Greg Burns for the first time back in January after spending a month at home in Maryland during the holiday break.

“I made a bad first impression,” Lowe said. “He said he didn’t think I was taking it seriously.”

That’s because Lowe returned to school 20 pounds over his playing weight. “Mom cooks very well,” he explained.

Burns, hired by new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, said Lowe had been described to him as a player with “potential.” He admits he wasn’t sure what to think about him.

“He was a little out of shape initially,” Burns said. “We told him the things he needed to do. By the end of the summer he had accomplished everything that we asked.”

That includes absorbing the new defensive playbook, demonstrating the leadership the coaches sought from the senior, and shedding 20 pounds.

At 5-foot-11, 203 pounds, Lowe has been good enough that no one has wrestled away his position during a competitive fall camp. So Lowe will be in the starting lineup Aug. 30 at Northwestern?

“That would be safe to say,” Burns said this week. “Haven’t made that official decision yet, but right now Lowe has clearly said it loud and clear that he’s ready for it.”

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