2016 Cal football preview: games 10-12

Michael Tao/File

Let’s take a peek at Cal football team’s final three-games slate to wrap up the 2016 season — a stretch that will quite possibly be the toughest stretch the team will face all season.

Game 10: Washington State Cougars

2015 record: 9-4 (6-3 Pac-12)

Easily the most improved team in the Pac-12 this past year, the Cougars soared to heights not previously seen during head coach Mike Leach’s tenure. Junior quarterback Luke Falk had a career year, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 4561 yards and 38 touchdowns. Though he was often criticized for making decisions too quickly in his reads and throwing after the receiver made his break — and many thought he couldn’t be successful at this level — Falk used his booming arm strength to prove doubters wrong. If he plays as well as he did last year, this team could be plenty dangerous in the late-season fight for the Pac-12 North crown once again. With main targets in Gabe Marks and River Cracraft returning to campus, there will be a lot of firepower from the Washington State offense that should allow it to compete with any team in the conference. The Cougars should be able to protect their home field against Cal in one more good old-fashioned shootout between two teams with high-octane offensive systems.

Prediction: WSU edges out Cal in a shootout, wins by a touchdown

Game 11: Stanford Cardinal

2015 record: 12-2 (8-1 Pac-12)

Alabama’s Derrick Henry may have won the Heisman trophy last year, but it’s hard to argue that he had more of an impact on his team than Christian McCaffrey did. McCaffrey beat Barry Sanders’ record for all-purpose yards in a season and was nothing less than an absolute beast in just about every facet of the game. To put things into perspective, not only did McCaffrey rush for more than 2000 yards, but he also had more than 1000 kick return yards and two passing touchdowns. The Cardinal is McCaffery’s team, and it’s really hard to envision such a ground-heavy offense with so much talent in the trenches — and one of the best all-around players to ever play the game at the collegiate level — not being the obvious frontrunner for the Pac-12 North crown. Cal played Stanford well last year, but red-zone woes held it back from truly having a shot at winning. This year, the talent gap between the two teams has widened after Goff’s departure. But with a rivalry this fierce, both teams generally come to play. Stanford will be the heavy favorite, but don’t completely rule out an upset in Berkeley.

Prediction: Stanford controls the game on the ground, comfortably wins a low-scoring affair

Game 12: UCLA Bruins

2015 record: 8-5 (5-4 Pac-12)

Entering the 2016 season, the Bruins will be touting perhaps the most talented quarterback in the nation in Josh Rosen. After an extremely successful freshman campaign, the star sophomore should be in store for yet another great year. With Rosen leading the way for a talented roster, UCLA should once again be one of the top teams in the Pac-12 South. On the other hand, Cal always plays UCLA extremely well at Memorial Stadium and that shouldn’t change this year. The Bruins are a talented team, but their youth makes them beatable. With extreme determination, and perhaps a bit of luck, the Bears could pull off an upset in their final home game and end their Pac-12 schedule on a high note. In years prior, UCLA has struggled to keep all of its players on the field, as durability problems have led to numerous injuries and made it difficult for the Bruins to play up to their full potential. It is hard to look this far into the future and make a prediction, given that the team that trots out Week 1 could be immensely different from the team that is on the field in Week 13. That being said, this year Cal definitely has a chance to break UCLA’s three-game win streak against them. And with injury concerns likely to be looming as well as the potential for this to be Cal’s last shot at reaching bowl eligibility, the Bears should make the most of this opportunity in front of their home crowd.

Prediction: Cal edges out UCLA in the final minutes

Season overview

It is hard to gauge exactly how many wins this team comes up with because of how well-rounded and talented the entire Pac-12 is. The Bears have a decent shot of going bowling again, but if you look at their schedule, it isn’t easy to pinpoint six games that they should definitely win. Cal could play everyone tight and look like a good and competitive team but still only win three games because of how good the teams they play will also be. That being said, the Bears seem to have the raw tools, and if they can gel a little faster than anticipated and overperform relative to their expectations, it’s not impossible to imagine them again being one of the better teams in the conference.

Contact Adam Kreitzman at [email protected].