Full of moody postgame press conferences, spit-flying locker room tantrums filled with four-letter words and blowout loss after blowout loss, Cal football’s one-win 2013 season was disastrous.
It’s over now, though. It’s been two months since the Big Game — the game that saw the Bears bow out of their season by giving up 63 points to their archrival, further solidifying their spot at the bottom of the Pac-12.
So what’s happened since then?
In the past two months, Freddie Tagaloa, Johnny Ragin III and Zach Kline transferred to fellow Pac-12 programs. And five juniors — Richard Rodgers, Brendan Bigelow, Kameron Jackson, Khairi Fortt and Viliami Moala — bolted for the NFL.
OK, so Tagaloa never developed into the kind of blindside protector Sonny Dykes envisioned. And Ragin only saw limited action. And everyone knew Kline — a former-four star quarterback recruit — was long gone before it became official. (Side note: Has anyone else had premonitions of Kline leading Oregon State to a win over Cal within the next couple of years?)
But what’s more concerning are the five players leaving early. That’s right: Five juniors from a 1-11 team — three of whom were part of the worst defense in school history, which surrendered nearly 46 points per game and 530 yards per game — have decided to take their talents to the NFL.
Starting with the offense, a Rodgers-less Bear Raid hurts Cal, even if his strengths as a tight end weren’t utilized correctly by the coaching staff. Despite a relatively disappointing season, Rodgers still finished third on the team in catches and receiving yards and averaged more than 15 yards per reception.
Shifting to the defense, losing Fortt is bad news. Fortt was one of Cal’s most consistent performers on the defensive side of the ball, averaging more than six tackles per game. Factor in the loss of Jackson and Moala as well as defensive lineman Deandre Coleman, who is graduating, and Cal’s defense is losing four of its top 10 tacklers.
The defensive changes weren’t just limited to personnel. After just one season as Cal’s defensive coordinator, Andy Buh was demoted from defensive coordinator to a position coach, and defensive tackles coach Barry Sacks and defensive backs coach Randy Stewart won’t return.
I don’t know how much blame should fall on Sacks and Stewart. Buh, on the other hand, needed to go as defensive coordinator, despite the injury plague that struck his unit. While injuries can cripple a coach’s chances of succeeding, Buh’s unit wasn’t just bad. It was arguably the worst in all of college football. Cal was ranked 124 out of 125 schools in both total defense and scoring defense.
The next step for Dykes — hiring a new defensive coordinator — is crucial. While Dykes is primarily known for his Air Raid offense, he’s also gaining the reputation of a coach who trots out underwhelming defenses.
In 2012, his defense at Louisiana Tech finished the season averaging 38.5 points allowed per game. In 2013, his defense was even worse. If Dykes strikes out again with his next defensive coordinator hire, it might just end up defining his legacy at Cal.
But don’t punch Dykes’ time card just yet. Though optimism is wearing thin after the debacle of 2013, it’s still only January. The season is months away. National Signing Day, spring ball and summer camp — there are plenty of opportunities for improvements to be made to lift Cal out of the conference cellar.