Pac-12 Punt-around: discussing Cal football’s chances of improving

Michael Tao/Senior Staff

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Our football writers are here to break down everything that is Pac-12 football. Before the season kicks off, we take a look at Cal.

Riley McAtee: I have this weird sense of optimism for the upcoming season. Maybe it’s just the high that every sports fan gets in the week before a season. I mean, when I look down the roster I can still see that it’s pretty devoid of talent and depth at every position except wide receiver, yet I can’t help but imagine that the Bears will get better this year.

I really think the offense is in line to take the biggest step up. Again, that receiver unit is actually pretty good, and these “air raid” systems are historically slow-developing. Who cares that the offensive line is a mess? Just get it out quick and you’ll be fine, Goff!

I’ll punt it to you guys. Am I just crazy, or is a 4-8 finish out of the question?

Sean Wagner-McGough: Hey Riley. You’re a little bit crazy, but only just a little bit. As far as your belief that the Bears will be better this year, you’re right. But then again that’s not really saying much.

The offense is also where I’m optimistic for Cal. I think when you look at offenses at any level of football, year-one to year-two is huge in terms of improvement. When I look at Jared Goff this season, I’m going to be eyeing his completion percentage and yards per attempt. Last season, Goff completed roughly 60 percent of his passes and averaged 6.6 yards per attempt. Obviously those numbers need to go up.  You mentioned something about the air raid and quick passes. If that’s going to be the offense at Cal (it is), and if Goff is supposed to posses an accurate arm (he’s supposed to), then the completion percentage needs to skyrocket.

Now, I did a bit of research. In 2012 — Dykes’ last year coaching at Louisiana Tech — the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback, Colby Cameron, completed 68.8 percent of his passes. He also averaged 7.9 yards per attempt. I think those are some numbers to keep in mind in terms of Jared Goff this season.

Michael Rosen: I think we can all agree that Riley is certifiably insane in just about every way. His football opinions, though, are relatively sane.

He’s right — the receiving core is stacked. An ESPN Pac-12 blogger argued for the unit as the best in the conference, and while I’m not ready to go that far, I’ll get on board with the general sentiment. Treggs and Harper’s probably the best duo, and I anticipate both finish with over 1,000 yards receiving.

But I’m not about to say they’ll go 4-8.

Shannon Carroll: I think Riley might be on to something. Weird, I know.

The Bears are talented; they have the possibility to surprise some people. On the schedule, there are games you just have to assume Cal wins — Colorado, Sacramento State — and I think the Bears have the possibility of putting together a great game and coming out with a win against another team, maybe even a really good one. That kind of thing does happen, although if you looked at Cal’s football record the past few seasons you might not think so.

Are the Bears going to be near the top of the Pac-12? I don’t think that’s even close to possible this year. Seriously. I think me discovering I’m the long lost heir to the Belgian throne is more likely. But, do I think that this team could be taking the right steps to get there eventually (the top of the Pac-12, that is, not the Belgian throne)? Absolutely.

The way I see it, this year is still a transition for the Bears. It’s incredibly rare that a new coach can come in and take a team to a championship, and it usually only happens when the roster is brimming with talent from every which angle. That’s just not the case here. It’s only Dykes’ second year and Kaufman’s first.

McAtee: Speaking of Kaufman and the defense, is it unreasonable to think that the defense, with a proven coordinator and a medical ward of players back from injury, will take a step up this year? I’m convinced that last year’s unit was the worst in college football by far, and there’s no way that Cal will be that bad again. Just by regression toward the mean, the defense will be better. At least a little bit.

Rosen: You mention the defense getting better as a product of regression to the mean, Riley — what if the defense actually overachieved last year? Point is, I don’t think the defense got unlucky or anything last year. I think they just weren’t very good. And unless Mustafa Jalil or Jalen Jefferson takes a big, big step forward or the entire defense takes a bunch of incremental steps forward, I think it will continue to be pretty damn bad.

Wagner-McGough: The defense will take a step up. But like I said, that’s not saying much. In my eyes, the defense — especially the secondary — is still the biggest obstacle for Cal. I think getting rid of Andy Buh and handing it over to Kaufman, who, like you mentioned, is a proven coordinator will help shore some things up. But at the end of the day, this is still a defense with zero depth in the secondary. I’m not sure how optimistic I can be when someone like Cedric Dozier is expected to be seeing a decent amount of playing time this season.

As far as my prediction, I’m going with three wins this season. One against Sacramento State, another against Colorado, and I have no idea where the other win is, but I’m predicting it’ll happen.

Rosen: But who knows, really. College football is as unpredictable as it gets, almost impossible to project year-to-year. We know Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley are really good, but that’s about as much as I’m comfortable saying about anything in the Pac-12 at this point.

Carroll: I just have this feeling that this year, guys like Goff are more in control and with a solid year under their belt are really going to shine. I just think it’s important for a team to have some stability, and last year’s injuries and a true freshman quarterback at the helm made that a bit hard.

You guys have already hit the major points: an “air raid” offense that needs to develop, a strong receiving corps, a new, talented defensive coordinator and fewer injuries. You don’t all have the number of wins right. It’ll be four.

And, as we all know, girls always have good intuition.

I kid. Mostly.

McAtee: Even by college football standards, this team feels particularly unpredictable. There are just so many unknowns with this team. I guess we’ll get a good idea on Saturday. By the way, the forecast is calling for a 70 percent chance of rain. Here’s Jared Goff’s reaction when asked about last year’s rain game up in Oregon during Tuesday’s press conference:



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