Predicting future events is an inherently flawed process.
Take the first game of the World Series. Every baseball writer with a soapbox named the Tigers heavy favorites over the Giants in game one.
Applying a rational framework, the prediction made sense. Justin Verlander is an animal; the Giants’ offense leaves something to be desired. Barry Zito sucks, and Detroit has Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the middle of the lineup.
But then Pablo Sandoval hits three dingers and Zito breezes through the Tigers lineup, and the logical sequence that made so much sense in your head blows up in your face.
Unfortunately for prognosticators, logic rarely applies to sports.
Cal football pundits used some good ol’-fashioned logic to justify their preseason projections. Most guessed a seven- or eight-win season, thinking the stout defense would keep games competitive and the talent at the skill positions on offense would be enough to compete for second place in the Pac-12 North.
Some thought the offensive line to be a bit of a weakness, but there was by no means a consensus opinion on the quality of the line. ESPN’s Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller rated the Cal O-line as one of the best in the conference.
No one foresaw that same line allowing more sacks than any other team in the country through eight games.
Or opening up zero holes for the running backs versus Stanford last week.
Unexpected variables will disrupt predictions, and there’s nothing to account for their emergence.
Midway through the season, however, you’d expect most variables to settle down and the projections to get a little easier.
But not for the Bears.
Quarterback Zach Maynard gives his best Jekyll-and-Hyde impersonation every week. Some weeks, he looks like a legitimate dual threat, mixing accurate and confident midrange throws with a first-down scramble every now and then.
And then there are games in which Maynard’s as inaccurate as a Fox News broadcast.
The aforementioned offensive line hasn’t been uniformly horrible. Cal rushed for 318 yards against Washington State, mostly on the strength of the line opening up gaping hole after gaping hole.
But allowing seven sacks in a game — as in the USC tilt — will kill any offense’s chances of keeping a game competitive.
Sometimes, coach Jeff Tedford’s play-calling tailors to his offense’s strengths. Ample play-action rollouts and three-step drops relieve pressure on the offensive line and utilize Maynard’s strengths as a mobile quarterback.
That appeared to be the idea in both tilts against UCLA and Ohio State, the Bears’ two best offensive performances of the year.
Against ASU and Stanford, however, Tedford came out of the gate with a playbook of inside runs and drop-back passes. The offense stagnated, and Maynard spent the rest of the game continuously dropping back and completing passes outside of his comfort zone.
Even the defense refuses to establish an identity, allowing 27 points to a middling Arizona State offense but holding a potent UCLA attack to 17.
This across-the-board inconsistency renders projecting a result against Utah difficult.
Who knows if the O-line can contain defensive tackle Star Lotulelei?
Will Maynard submit a decent performance or throw a couple embarrassing picks?
Can the defense take advantage of its obvious edge over the Utah offense, or will its tendency to allow one big play per game give the Utes insurmountable momentum?
Nobody can say for sure.
At least there is one certainty with this Cal team: Keenan Allen will do something cool.
That’s enough for me to keep paying attention.
Michael Rosen covers football. Contact him at [email protected]