With the 2021 football season about to take off, our football beat reporters share their predictions for the season.
Which player is poised for a breakout season in 2021?
Kabir Rao: If the rest of the Pac-12 didn’t already do so last season, they’ll have to take notice of sophomore running back Damien Moore this year. Moore burst onto the scene in the 2020 Big Game, becoming Cal’s first true freshman running back to rush for more than 100 yards in a game since Marshawn Lynch. Now tasked with the starting job ahead of veterans such as Christopher Brooks and Marcel Dancy, last season’s leading rusher should see both his touches and production increase.
Maria Khan: Anticipating key players that may or may have not have had stellar seasons in the past is something Cal fans do well. Sophomore inside linebacker Mo Iosefa is definitely turning heads with his potential. A first-team all-state star, Iosefa joined the Bears last season. He quickly showed up and out with five tackles during the Big Game against Stanford, as well as a key fumble recovery versus Oregon at season’s end. He is still fresh, and opportunities for growth are still ever-present, but Iosefa has already shown his talent for finding his way to the ball. He will be a huge asset in the upcoming season.
William Cooke: Fifth-year outside linebacker Cameron Goode is already one of the best pass rushers in the conference, and I expect him to be even more productive than he was last season when he led the team in both tackles for loss (8.0) and sacks (3.0) across just four games. If he keeps up the same pace this year, he could very well end up being one of the premier pass rushers in next year’s NFL draft. He did sustain season-ending injuries in both 2017 and 2018, so Goode’s potential breakout season hinges on whether or not he stays healthy.
Which matchup do you have circled on your calendar this season?
KR: The win column eluded the Bears for the first 11 months of 2020. It wasn’t until an electric December performance against powerhouse Oregon that Cal bore any resemblance to the team fans had envisioned for the fall. For the Ducks, the loss in Berkeley meant little as they still went on to be crowned conference champions. But that night signified the Bears taking a huge step in the right direction. A prime-time ESPN rematch in Eugene is exactly the type of test Cal needs to prove last year’s win wasn’t a fluke.
MK: In terms of chances of winning, circling games can be akin to a fool’s errand. Making the rounds in rumors is that Sacramento State will be the easiest game to win. However, I will not circle it for that same reason. An easy game doesn’t uncover the true inner workings of plays and does not show how the atmosphere is truly set up on the field. That can only be seen after the game unravels, with the opposing team pulling the thread. The USC matchup will be highlighted and bolded on my calendar, not only because it is one of the most electric games of the year but also because you can never see how a team rises until they are kicked to the ground.
WC: Call me crazy, but Cal’s most important game of the season is Oct. 23 when Colorado comes to Memorial Stadium. It should be a guaranteed win — the Buffaloes are projected to finish second to last in the Pac-12 South and have a particularly difficult nonconference schedule that includes No. 6 Texas A&M and Minnesota. But the mark of a solid program is not sneaking past a (probably) 1-4 Colorado team at home. A loss to the Buffaloes in Week 7 would be a huge blow and not one from which the Bears could easily recover.
What do you predict will be Cal’s record at the end of this season?
KR: 9-3. Some might say I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but this year really feels like it could be the one for Cal football. After an abbreviated and disappointing 2020 season, the Bears appear to have a chip on their shoulders. Give me a hungry Cal squad starting the season hot and consistently gutting out upset victories down the stretch. With a lot of help from the football gods, the Bears’ regular-season finale against UCLA might not be their last trip to the Rose Bowl this season.
MK: 8-4. I am trying my best to refrain from drinking the Kool-Aid, but perhaps a sip? While most predictions range around seven wins, with the Bears dropping a victory against Oregon, casting out the blue and gold in favor of the Ducks might be a little premature. If last year is any precedent, fans should keep an eye out for that game. Maybe it was a lucky win, or maybe last year’s unbelievable victory is what is keeping fans going. Regardless, it is never cliche to root for the underdog, especially if the underdog has a win to back it up.
WC: Anything better than 6-6 would be a miracle. Realistically, the Bears will finish 5-7, its five wins coming against Nevada, Sacramento State, Colorado, Oregon State and Arizona. The rematch of the infamous 2018 Cheez-It Bowl against TCU in Week 2 will be tough, especially after playing a strong Nevada side this week. Cal’s last three games, which are home against preseason No. 15 USC, at an improved Stanford that is projected by many experts to finish third in a competitive Pac-12 North and at a Chip Kelly-led UCLA that looked formidable in its blowout win against Hawai’i last week, will all more than likely end up in the loss column. And yet Cal has managed to pull off at least one incredible upset each season for the last few years. Who knows, maybe the Bears will swap a loss at Arizona for a win versus Oregon. Either way, mediocrity is surely on the horizon.