What is your record prediction for Cal? Which game do you believe is a nearly guaranteed loss, and which game do you believe the Bears have the best chance to upset?
Shailin Singh: 8-4. It will be an amazing feat if the offense manages to be worse than last season, and the defense is deeper and more experienced at nearly every position after a dominant last season. In my opinion, going into Eugene to face No. 11 Oregon will be the toughest game of the season. Quarterback Justin Herbert could go first overall in next year’s NFL draft, and the Ducks are loaded with new defensive talent as well, so the Bears may need a miracle to take that one. On the other hand, Cal will get another chance at beating the No. 23 Washington State after losing a thriller last season in Pullman. The Bears stomped the Cougars on national television in 2017, and being back in Berkeley again should bode well for a Cal upset.
Spencer Golanka: 7-5. As it was last season, the performances of Cal’s defense will dictate where this team lands come the season’s end. The more time opposing offenses spend on the sideline, the better for quarterback Chase Garbers and his young offense after a lackluster 2018. I expect the Bears to earn a memorable away victory (against Washington, Oregon or Utah) and a shock home loss (to UC Davis, North Texas or Oregon State), because there’s nothing more “Cal” than that.
Emily Ohman: 8-4. Aside from the practically unwinnable games at Utah and Oregon, most matchups on the schedule for Cal are games that could swing in favor of either team. Squads like Arizona State and UCLA have yet to show the full potential of their remodeled offenses, but then again, so do the Bears. If Cal can come out of the gates strong by taking advantage of No. 13 Washington’s sea legs and stifling the offenses of Ole Miss and Arizona State, I think the Bears’ chances of upsets later in the season are even higher. No matter how much Cal’s stalwart of a defense contributes, the offense needs to show up in order to give the Bears the wins they need.
Josh Yuen: 6-6. The 2019 road schedule offers its fair share of challenges. Even though I expect Chase Garbers to make significant improvement as the starter under center, I have a hard time seeing a path to eight or nine wins. It will take at least two big road wins without dropping games against North Texas, Arizona State and Washington State to make that a reality. Six or seven wins isn’t necessarily a step back, but perhaps a high floor.
Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin has said that, going into the season, the wide receiver race is wide open. Which receiver(s) do you believe will emerge as Cal’s go-to weapon(s) as the season progresses?
SS: Apart from Nikko Remigio, who is the only obvious key cog to the receiving core at this point, there are four to five guys who could settle into starting roles by the time midseason rolls around. Although Remigio has the ability to play on the outside, he is best suited for a slot role, and Baldwin should aim to put receivers who can stretch the field on either side of him. Jordan Duncan will likely get most of the early season reps due to sheer experience, but the potential in some of the younger guys could push him out of a starting spot after a few games. Makai Polk and Trevon Clark are both tall bodies who can go up and grab contested balls, but Kekoa Crawford offers a better current combination of size and speed, not to mention his experience at an elite Michigan program. He has the capability to settle into a role as one of Garbers’ most trusted receivers as the season progresses.
SG: Ricky Walker III. Walker, who earned a scholarship Saturday after being a walk-on, was named one of three starting receivers by Cal last week. His surprise inclusion as a starter on the depth chart may mean that he’ll play a more integral role in Baldwin’s offense. After switching to wide receiver from defensive back before last season, Walker could have a breakout year as he settles into his starting role and builds off of his appearances in 10 different games last season.
EO: Fall camp saw a number of receivers shine, highlighting the depth at Garbers’ disposal should he be able to utilize it. One such standout was junior Jeremiah Hawkins, a veteran ranked second in both career receptions (24) and yards (257) for the current Bears squad. Wilcox himself is particularly optimistic about Hawkins’s camp performance, saying that the wide out “is playing his best football since (the current coaching staff) has been here and is more consistent catching the ball,” making him a good prospect for the position. If he can be consistent with beating corners and opening himself up for deep plays, he could become an integral part of Cal’s emerging arsenal of wide receivers.
JY: I’m eager to see what type of production Baldwin gets out of his transfer receivers Trevon Clark and Kekoa Crawford. Coach Wilcox has accentuated that the two biggest indicators to winning a game are explosive plays and turnovers. Cal had eight plays that went for more than 30 yards in all of 2018, and while Garbers shoulders a lot of responsibility in 2019, the receivers unit faces arguably the most pressure of any position group. Clark and Crawford are expected to play an integral role in the offense and I’m eager to see if they can push Remigio and Jordan Duncan for reps.
Cal has many defensive starters who are eligible for the NFL draft next year. Which player do you believe will improve his draft stock the most this season?
SS: While Camryn Bynum and Ashtyn Davis get most of the media hype for Cal’s stone wall of a secondary (deservedly so), safety Jaylinn Hawkins is coming off one of college football’s most dominant games of the season at the Cheez-It Bowl to cap off a strong season. At 6’ 2” and 210 pounds, Hawkins has the prototypical body of an NFL strong safety, and his Pac-12-leading 6 total interceptions prove that he has the ball skills and instincts to go with the athleticism. I expect Hawkins to earn serious consideration as a top 4 round pick heading into the 2020 NFL draft.
SG: Ashtyn Davis. With no high school football resume, Davis stumbled upon head coach Justin Wilcox and his staff as a 0-star recruit after quitting the Cal track and field team in 2015. His emergence as arguably the deadliest piece of Cal’s nationally ranked secondary unit was unexpected but warranted based on his consistently stellar performances. In 2019, the Santa Cruz native rightfully has the eyes of his opponents and the national media on his every move. I believe Davis will rise to the occasion, as he has so many times before, and use his lack of career game film to his advantage. Each snap can make or break his rise to the next level, and I think Davis wouldn’t have it any other way.
JY: Kuony Deng. The guy has yet to take a game snap for the blue and gold, but he’ll fit into the team’s aggressive scheme right away. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter values versatility, and Deng’s athleticism will allow him to contribute at the inside linebacker position and as a pass rusher in certain packages. Virtually all of Cal’s starting secondary, along with Evan Weaver and Cameron Goode (should he declare for the 2020 draft), will be in the conversation for next April’s draft, but Deng’s stock should skyrocket as long as he stays healthy.
Shailin Singh, Spencer Golanka, Emily Ohman and Josh Yuen are the 2019 football beat writers.
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