Sept. 5: Grambling State
Score: 59-10 Cal
Cal has come a long way from when it was the type of team that struggled to put away an average FCS team, as the Bears narrowly defeated Portland State by one touchdown in 2013. The Bears will get their bid for bowl eligibility rolling with an easy win here.
This will be Jared Goff’s first chance to prove he is worthy of consideration for the Heisman, and he’ll get the hype train rolling early with big numbers against the Tigers. Expect Goff to pass for five-plus touchdowns and for the game to be over by halftime.
Sept. 12: San Diego State
Score: 45-17 Cal
The Aztecs are going to have a good season, but they’ve got a while to go before they can match up with a team like Cal. Even on their bad days, the Bears are a powerhouse compared with San Diego State. The Aztecs shouldn’t be a threat. This game’s probably going to be an easy win, which Cal can use to give its backups playing time, and Memorial Stadium could be half empty midway through the third quarter.
Sept. 19: @ Texas
Score: 24-21 Texas
This game will pit two teams against each other that excel at one side of the ball while having huge deficiencies on the other side. For the Longhorns, that means presenting the Bears with one of the toughest defenses they’ll face all season. Cal will really feel the loss of center Matt Cochran — who is no longer with the team — for the first time in this game, as Texas has the sort of pass rush that can exploit any of the Bears’ holes on the offensive line. The Longhorns, who were 12th in the nation with 40 sacks last season, will have offensive problems of their own to address. This game will ultimately be decided by the fact that it’s being played in Austin.
Sept. 26: @ Washington
Score: 31-28 Cal
Life’s going to be a lot easier for Cal against the Huskies with star linebacker Shaq Thompson and quarterback Cyler Miles gone. With Thompson going to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and Miles retiring, Washington is not going to be the same team that blew the Bears out, 31-7, last year, but the Huskies, led by head coach Chris Petersen, still run a very potent offense, and they will put up points on the board. Cal probably won’t be shutting them down, and like they may have to do all season, the Bears will need to outshoot their opponent to win.
Oct. 3 (Homecoming): Washington State
Score: 49-24 Cal
It’s really not possible for this year’s matchup to top last year’s fixture, which the Bears won, 60-59, on a missed 19-yard field goal with less than a minute left in the game. In that game, offensive records of all sorts were broken, as Washington State’s Connor Halliday set an NCAA record for passing yards and Goff set a new Cal record for passing yards. Now, with Halliday gone and the Cougars again forced to rebuild, the Bears will have a chance to win this game a little less dramatically.
Oct. 10: @ Utah
Score: 38-17 Cal
Because of an average of 388.1 yards of total offense per game last year, the Utes were the lowest-ranked offense in the Pac-12. The main focus for Cal will be containing running back Devontae Booker — who rushed for 1,512 yards last year on 5.2 yards per carry — on a Utah team that ran on nearly 60 percent of its plays. The Utes are limited offensively. But in the past, teams with limited options still managed to find a way to score against Cal. If the Bears can focus on closing running lanes, making Booker work for every inch he gets and forcing Utah to pass, they shouldn’t have a problem putting the Utes away.
Oct. 22: @ UCLA
Score: 37-28 Cal
The Bruins are going to look a lot different without quarterback Brett Hundley, who left for the NFL. Much of UCLA’s offense revolved around the skill set of Hundley and his ability to run and pass the ball effectively. Cal almost had enough to beat the Bruins last year, even with Hundley there. If the Bears’ defense closed out on screen passes and made its tackles on special teams, Cal probably would’ve won. The Bears will need to ensure that they don’t get complacent, and they need to fix their holes from last year’s game. Otherwise, UCLA will have a chance to hang on throughout the game and steal this one, even with a new quarterback leading the huddles.
Oct. 31: USC
Score: 42-28 USC
The Trojans, who were ranked 10th in the USA Today Coaches Poll, are one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 this season. Even with the game set to take place in Memorial Stadium, it’ll be hard for Cal to get past this talented Trojans team. USC will be led by Cody Kessler, who is fighting with Goff to be the conference’s best quarterback, and Su’a Cravens on defense. The Trojans also have a stellar offensive line that will make it hard for Cal’s already-weak pass rush to really affect Kessler, leaving him open to pick apart the Bears’ secondary.
Nov. 7: @ Oregon
Score: 51-38 Oregon
Cal’s going to be a lot better this season, but it’s not going to be that good. Oregon might not run the Bear Raid, but its spread offense, which emphasizes the zone read, is going to come up with the same result: a lot of points, even without quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft. When it comes to scoring a lot and playing fast, the Ducks are Drake, and the Bears are Meek Mill. Both teams are going to be neck and neck. Cal is bound to make one mistake, and Oregon’s going to be charged up to capitalize on these mistakes and respond with back-to-back scores.
Nov. 14: Oregon State
Score: 52-21 Cal
The Beavers — who have rarely, if ever, given the Bears an easy win — are likely going to be having a transition season in 2015-16. Oregon State lost its head coach, Mike Riley, to the University of Nebraska and lost its quarterback, Sean Mannion, to the NFL’s St. Louis Rams. All of the Beavers’ replacement options for Mannion are freshmen, and to further compound the problem, the team has only 11 seniors to help smooth the new quarterback’s transition. Even more troubling is the fact that the Beavers have only two starters returning on defense. Inexperience is not the formula for success against an offense like Cal’s, so it won’t be a surprise to see Goff, Daniel Lasco and the Bears put up big points. The only thing Cal will need to make sure it doesn’t do is get caught looking ahead to the next week’s game against Stanford.
Nov. 21: @ Stanford
Score: 28-17 Stanford
As usual, Stanford’s going to be playing conservative, run-first, boring and efficient football. This game’s going to be a lot different from what Cal fans will see throughout the rest of the season. The Cardinal will play the time-of-possession game and wear the Bears’ defense down. Stanford’s 3-4 sets are going to be a problem, and Goff’s going to be working under duress for most of the game, with Stanford’s elite defensive line in his face. Stanford will have one of the best defenses Cal encounters this season, and the Cardinal will score enough to give the Bears their sixth consecutive Big Game loss.
Nov. 28: Arizona State
Score: 35-31 Arizona State
This loss would push Cal to 1-4 in its last five games of the season, but that sort of result is to be expected with the back-loaded nature of the Bears’ schedule. The Sun Devils, who were ranked 23rd in the Coaches Poll and could find themselves needing to win this game to win the Pac-12 South, will give Cal a big challenge to close out the season. Arizona State’s offense will be led by a new starter in quarterback Mike Bercovici, but he had really impressive performances in his limited playing time last season. The offense will also have sparkplug DJ Foster, whom other teams will be afraid of every time he touches the ball. Despite these challenges, this is a more impressive group of Bears than Cal fans have seen in the last few years. Cal will keep itself in the game, and this one very well may come down to the wire and whoever has the ball last with a chance to make the winning play.
Final projected record: 7-5 (5-4 Pac-12)
Final scoring differential: Bears average winning games by 10.08 points
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