For the first five games of last season, Cal rode a hot start and Jared Goff excelled in Sonny Dykes’ Bear Raid offense, to the extent that many wondered how far the Bears could go, even with a questionable run defense. Cal then got trounced on the ground by the likes of Utah, UCLA, USC and Stanford. With the exception of perhaps Utah, none of these teams look significantly weaker, whereas Cal — now without Goff and numerous defensive centerpieces from last season — appears to have faltered in the offseason.
Cal made use of its home turf last season, going 5-1 at home. But this season with the likes of Oregon, Washington, UCLA and Stanford — all ranked opponents — coming to Berkeley, the Bears may be in trouble. Road games at San Diego State and Washington State are no easy task, and a home opener against Texas could be a rude awakening as well. The Bears will come out victorious against Hawaii and Oregon State, and they will slide by San Diego State and Texas to finish 4-8.
— Vikram Muller
If everything goes right, there’s no reason Cal can’t go over .500 this year. While the Bears have a really difficult schedule, there are about five games they should be able to win. In a perfect world, Cal takes care of business when it is the favorite and pulls off one or two upsets against higher ranked teams.
But, in order for this to happen, Davis Webb and the young receivers need to pick up or at least be close to where last year’s offense left off. Last year’s defense at times looked good and made game-changing plays to help Cal win. But the Bears aren’t going to have the luxury of consistent tackling from players such as Damariay Drew, Stefan McClure, Hardy Nickerson and Kyle Kragen. On paper, there are a lot of unfamiliar names and question marks on the defense. For Cal to have a successful season, it is imperative that the offense shows up every week because the defense is probably going to need a few games before it can find some consistency.
There’s a lot of low-key talent on the Bears and they can surprise teams if everything falls into place. But this is still a transition year for Cal and six or seven wins will probably be its best-case scenario. Unless, like, Jared Goff comes back or something.
— Ritchie Lee
Listen, a 4-8 record obviously sounds bad. It’s a record usually reserved for the worst teams in college football — hell, even Cal was able to win five games in year two of Sonny Dykes’ tenure.
But this season, the Bears could be an average team and still lose the majority of their games. The main culprit? Cal has the nation’s fifth-hardest schedule this season and the back end of that run is killer, with six consecutive matchups against legitimate contenders for the Pac-12 title.
For a team with a hard schedule, having as shaky a defense as the Bears boast will not be doing them any favors. Cal has lost just about every key contributor from last year’s improved defense — most notably the majority of its linebacking corps, which now looks barren, and Drew, a safety.
Drew was constantly saving the Bears on defense last season, turning what could’ve been opposing touchdowns into 15-yard plays. Without him, Cal could very well be back to its old ways, trying to ride an explosive offense to victories. But with this schedule, that may not be possible again.
— Hooman Yazdanian
Some might still be holding onto hope that the Bears will make significant strides — now into their fourth season of Sonny Dykes’ tenure — even without Jared Goff’s arm to lead the way. Though the Bears have an offense projected to be above average, a host of talented freshmen and a more seasoned defense, there are too many unanswered questions surrounding Cal to be too hopeful about the team as a whole. After all, Dykes’ coaching has never been quite good enough to compensate for his players’ shortcomings. And for this defense, age and experience have never offset the dearth of talent.
One of the few defensive players who demonstrated legitimate ability last season, safety Damariay Drew, found his collegiate career come to a brutal end after tearing his ACL in spring practice. Though the team had remained mum on Drew’s future for months, Dykes confirmed Aug. 17 that the back had played his last game in blue and gold, a crushing blow for an already beleaguered defense. Cal is also hindered by playing in the Pac-12, projected to be one of the best conferences in the country this season and to boast several teams in the nine-win range. It’s all a turbulent formula for an inevitable regression for this squad.
— Michelle Lee