End of season shootaround: Bears return to hibernation

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Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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Cal’s season ended the way it began — with a cancellation due to COVID-19. The Bears finished 1-3 after a difficult season that was marred by special teams errors and close losses. By the time the blue and gold won their first game, a 21-17 upset over then-No. 23 Oregon, the season was already coming to a close. After two cancellations, that culmination became official.

2020 will largely be remembered for the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on college football, but there are still things for Cal fans to take away. The Daily Californian’s football beat writers break down what came and went from the Bears’ season.

What will Bears fans remember 2020 for, besides COVID-19?

Emily Ohman: Although Cal had only one win this season — a monumental one at that — the squad’s youngest players showed up and showed out in every game the Bears played. Sophomore receiver Makai Polk had a dazzling, career-high-tying 52-yard sideline completion against Oregon State and used his length to score a touchdown later on in the game, marking the third of his collegiate career. Running back Damien Moore led the team with 188 rushing yards and became the first true freshman halfback to tally more than 100 rushing yards in a single game since Marshawn Lynch. Bears fans may not have seen many of the starters they’re used to seeing take the field this season, but they should be impressed by the sheer talent and big splashes the younger players who have suited up in their place have made.

Shailin Singh: The win over Oregon was a fantastic note to end on, but Cal’s loss to Stanford in the 123rd Big Game will surely stick in the minds and hearts of fans until next season’s rematch. The blocked extra point, which came after yet another clutch fourth quarter drive led by quarterback Chase Garbers, was about as heartbreaking as anything you’ll see in a Cal game. Because of poor special teams play, instead of vying for a three-peat in 2021, the Bears will yet again find themselves trying to win the Axe back.

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen: There were plenty of moments — a last-minute trip to UCLA, cancellations, a blocked field goal in the Big Game — but the moments that may be remembered best were Cal’s two game-shaking, fourth-quarter fumble recoveries against Oregon. The Bears were heavy underdogs, dressed in their all-blue uniforms under the lights of Memorial Stadium on a 2nd and 10 in the fourth quarter. Kuony Deng wrapped up Tyler Shough at Cal’s 46-yard line, the ball slipped from his hands and like a tidal wave breaking on some long-lost shore, Cal’s defense swept up the rock and turned the tide of a football game.

Who was Cal’s most valuable player over the course of these four games?

EO: After last year’s victory at the Redbox Bowl, Cal fans patiently waited through the Bears’ hibernation to see what kind of punch quarterback Chase Garbers would pack come fall. The redshirt junior seemed to pick up right where he left off last year, looking increasingly confident as the man under center as he led the team to a total 1,272 yards of offense this season. His 315 passing yards and three passing touchdowns against Oregon State are especially impressive considering they came in just the second game of the season, under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and without many offensive starters. Cal faithful should look forward to having the seasoned veteran back next year with (hopefully) far fewer variables in play.

SS: Last season, Cameron Goode finished third in the Pac-12 in sacks, and he evolved into an even more dangerous force this year. In Cal’s four games, Goode racked up eight tackles for loss, which is tied for third in the Football Bowl Subdivision on a per-game basis. He had a phenomenal performance against Oregon, consistently finding himself in the backfield shutting down run plays before they could even develop. The redshirt senior was also able to replicate his previous success in getting to the quarterback, tallying three sacks on the season as Cal’s top pass rusher. Goode clearly has NFL potential (and draft eligibility) already, but he could boost his draft stock even further by coming back and putting together a full season of dominance in 2021.

JKS: The Bears had plenty of underclassmen step up this season — Damien Moore emerged as a backfield threat, Muelu Iosefa staked his claim as the future of Cal’s inside linebacker position and the blue and gold offensive line was exceptional despite injuries and absences — but the man of 2020 has to be Cameron Goode. He was a threat to opposing quarterbacks and flashed the type of ability required to move up draft boards, but he also balanced consistency with big play potential. Goode managed to do everything — breaking up passes, leading his team in sacks and racking up tackles for a loss — but he also had two key fumble recoveries and narrowly missed out on an interception. When Goode was on a roll, the good times were rolling at Memorial Stadium, and the outside linebacker will be a presence sorely appreciated by an NFL team should he decide to enter the draft.

How does this season affect Cal moving forward?

EO: Although this season proved a logistical nightmare, fans and players benefited from having a season in any capacity, so 2020 didn’t do much harm other than raise everyone’s blood pressure a bit. It was also a great way for the team to test out Musgrave’s offense on the ground and get a feel for the play-action and bootleg plays he’s privy to. With spring, summer and fall camps ahead, the Bears can fine-tune an offense that they already saw play out on the main stage and that proved capable of besting the conference’s toughest teams.

SS: On paper, Cal severely underperformed this season compared to preseason expectations. The Bears, however, should be right back in Pac-12 North contention moving forward. The team was able to develop a slew of younger players thanks to many starters having to quarantine throughout the season, and that experience will only benefit the team’s depth in 2021. The loss of captain Camryn Bynum will obviously hurt, but apart from him, expect the vast majority of Cal’s top players from this year to return next season, as 2020 did not count against anyone’s NCAA eligibility.

JKS: 2020’s football season was, in many ways, an anticipated disaster. Between the positive COVID-19 tests, the canceled games and the risks taken even by a Cal football program that was extraordinarily and wonderfully cautious, this season will always have an asterisk, and a 1-3 finish almost feels surreal. There are positives for the Bears to take away — as much as that last place finish in the Pac-12 North may seem disappointing, Cal was, in reality, two, maybe three, plays from a Pac-12 Championship game. One less interception against Oregon State, one more kick against Stanford and then, who knows? But there are also notable drawbacks. Wilcox’s head coaching record against Pac-12 opponents fell to 11-20 over his four seasons in charge. Garbers did not quite take a full step forward. The Bears will lose players to the draft. Ultimately, 2020’s abbreviated season was similar to the rest of the year — bizarre, hopefully anomalous and defined by COVID-19.

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