Cal Football can, in many ways, be compared to a student entering their sophomore year of college. To this point in head coach Justin Wilcox’s brief tenure, the Bears seem to have found their bearings. But, like many of those entering their second year of college, they’ve still got some work to do in perfecting the art of their game, particularly after they’ve lost a few key members of their pack. Heading into year No. 2 at the helm, Wilcox has a firmer grasp on his personnel — and has quite a few promising players at his disposal.
Quarterbacks: redshirt junior Ross Bowers, redshirt sophomore Brandon McIlwain, redshirt freshman Chase Garbers
Yes, this list has three names, but it’s likely that the first two are the only ones that will end up mattering. Bowers and McIlwain have had a fierce competition throughout fall training camp and have displayed different skill sets along the way. Bowers has always been more comfortable in the pocket, while McIlwain excels at extending plays with his feet, exhibiting a fearlessness on the run. It’s likely that Wilcox will stick with what he knows and slot Bowers in the starting role, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see McIlwain get some looks in the red zone.
Wide receivers: redshirt senior Vic Wharton III, redshirt junior Kanawai Noa, redshirt senior Moe Ways, junior Jordan Duncan, sophomore Jeremiah Hawkins
Is this even disputable? Last season, Noa and Wharton stunned coaches and spectators alike by becoming two of the Bears’ most lethal offensive weapons. The two are all but certain to start once again for Cal’s offense, and will likely continue the trend of being Bowers’ go-to receivers. What will be more interesting is seeing which receivers see the most playing time besides those two. Duncan showed some chops at training camp, and it’s likely that he and Hawkins will see the most playing time of the second-stringers, although Ways could work his way into the mix as well.
Running backs: redshirt senior Patrick Laird, redshirt sophomore Derrick Clark, junior Marcel Dancy
Laird’s outbreak season last fall was astonishing, and he’ll easily be pulling the weight at the tailback position for Cal. What’s left to surmise is who will fill in at backup, with Vic Enwere and Tre Watson no longer a part of the fold. At the moment, the second spot on the depth chart is up for grabs, but will likely go to either Clark or Dancy.
Fullback: senior Malik McMorris, redshirt senior Justin Norbeck
Tight end: redshirt senior Ray Hudson, redshirt senior Ian Bunting, sophomore Gavin Reinwald
This one will be interesting. With Hudson granted a sixth year of eligibility and the transfer of Bunting from Michigan, Cal is suddenly flush with tight ends. Both players bring experience to the position group, but in differing ways, as Bunting has top-notch Big 10 chops while Hudson is a true Bears veteran. Behind Hudson and Bunting comes Reinwald, who saw playing time in all 12 games for the Bears last season. It’s unlikely that he’d start for Cal, but he’ll contribute some positive minutes.
Safety: redshirt junior Ashtyn Davis, redshirt junior Jaylinn Hawkins, redshirt senior Quentin Tartabull, redshirt sophomore Evan Rambo
While Davis and Hawkins will undoubtedly earn the starting roles for the Bears, Rambo and Tartabull, both of whom bring a wealth of experience to a rather young Cal defense, will likely earn quality playing time.
Cornerback: redshirt sophomore Camryn Bynum, sophomore Elijah Hicks, junior Traveon Beck, junior Josh Drayden
Hicks and Bynum have come a long way from last season, a year in which they started as inexperienced freshmen on a defense that was trying to pull itself up by its bootstraps. These two are really the Bears’ most talented options at the cornerback position, although Beck and Drayden have showcased their ability to stick with Pac-12 receivers in the past.
Linebackers: redshirt sophomore Cameron Goode, redshirt senior Jordan Kunaszyk, junior Evan Weaver, senior Alex Funches
The core four are perhaps the most polished group of any position on the team.