Following a narrow 17-24 loss to No. 9 Oregon, what has Cal football shown to be its biggest strength?
Will Cooke: Cal plays to the level of its opponent, which is both a strength and a weakness. The defense, in particular, came ready to play against Oregon, holding the Ducks to just 10 points through the first half and keeping the game within reach for Garbers and company. The offense, though stagnant before halftime, outplayed the Ducks to start the second half and was just yards away from forcing overtime seconds before time expired. But when Cal plays mediocre teams such as Washington State or Sacramento State, it tends to look ill-prepared and flat-footed to start the game. Seeing as Colorado is 2-4 and nowhere near Oregon’s quality, one might expect Cal to outplay the Buffs from the outset. But based on recent performances, that expectation may be naive.
Maria Khan: The game against Oregon showed that, contrary to popular belief, Cal does have potential. Being able to threaten the No. 9 Ducks like that does not happen unless there is some real talent on the team. Sophomore Jeremiah Hunter’s awe-inspiring receptions, sophomore and team rushing leader Damien Moore’s 547 career yards, as well as redshirt senior Daniel Scott’s snatching of many pick-6s are all exemplary of the fact that the Bears might have some shining stars. Collectively, they may be able to drag the blue and gold out of their dark and dreary record. However late into the season it might be, big players completing a few big plays gives Cal fans hope that there might be an option for redemption.
Kabir Rao: Cal has run the football effectively this season. The Bears boast a surplus of talent at the running back position and each back in the rotation seems to understand their role. Moore has led the group but senior Christopher Brooks and redshirt sophomore DeCarlos Brooks have made the most of their carries as well. Cal’s defense has been good, but not as great as it has been in years past, and the blue and gold’s passing game has been inconsistent at best. Through it all, however, the Bears’ rushing attack has remained steady – Cal has rushed for well more than 100 yards in every contest this season and had scored at least one rushing touchdown per game until last Friday’s showdown with Oregon.
With six games under Cal’s belt, what is the significance of this upcoming game against Colorado in the context of the rest of the Bears’ season?
WC: The result of this game will likely have no impact on the rest of Cal’s season seeing as a bowl berth is improbable. But it will certainly have an impact in the offseason when Wilcox and his staff (presuming that they are still around) hit the recruiting trail. Losing to Colorado would cement the Bears’ place as the worst team in an already overlooked conference, and would make it even more difficult to convince talented recruits to commit and stay committed. A win would provide some damage control for a program that has trended downward for the past season and a half.
MK: This game has absolutely nothing to do with striving for a bowl game because there is no realistic chance that Cal will make it to that point. Yet, it could be argued that this game’s significance is more than most. If the Bears leave Strawberry Canyon clutching a tragic loss to their chests, especially to a lackluster team such as the Colorado Buffs, there is no question that team morale will be in the absolute bottom of the trenches. If Sacramento State is the only manageable win for the blue and gold, the “Division 1” next to “Cal” will become an empty title. The Bears have something to prove — mainly that they are able to play football at a level slightly better than flag and a teeny bit higher than powderpuff. Right now, they are not looking too hot.
KR: The Bears are simply playing for pride at this point. In order to reach the six-win minimum required to become bowl eligible, Cal would have to win five of its remaining six games. With teams such as UCLA and Oregon State still on the docket, it’s hard to imagine a world in which the Bears are playing post-November football. At the halfway point of the season, Cal still lacks a definitive identity; beating a 2-4 Colorado squad likely will not do much to change that. A win would not mean much, but a loss could have major implications for the future of this football program. If the Bears lay an egg against the Buffaloes, serious questions need to be asked –– if they aren’t already being asked –– about whether this coaching staff is the right one to bring Cal football back to its glory days.
Cal sits at the bottom of the Pac-12 North Division standings, but so does Colorado in the Pac-12 South. Which team should be favored to win Saturday?
WC: Cal is favored, but not by much. Colorado’s two wins this season, blowouts over Northern Colorado and Arizona, hardly indicate that the Buffs’ offense will be a problem for a Cal defense that has slowly but steadily improved this season. Oregon’s back-to-back touchdowns in the fourth quarter two weeks ago proved that Cal’s defense is still prone to fatigue and mental lapses, but it should have no problem against Colorado, which ranks fourth to last in the nation in total offense. With that being said, the Buffs’ secondary limited Texas A&M to 10 points and 191 yards passing earlier this season — the same Texas A&M team that upset then-No. 1 Alabama, 41-38. It’s hard to use the “who beat who” model to predict future results, especially in college football. But it’s clear that Colorado’s defense is solid. Cal will win this game, but it’ll be a close defensive battle.
MK: Despite its win against Arizona, Colorado does not have the potential to nudge the Bears off-kilter. The Buffs have been the subject of many controversies, whether that be due to a freshman being its starting quarterback, an offensive lineman charged with felony assault or the discussion of firing coaches. The Buffs’ defense leaves much to be desired, as the team lost to Arizona State, Minnesota and USC each by 30-plus points. While Cal hasn’t embarrassed itself to that degree, it does sit at a tragic 1-5. All of this is to say: The game between Cal and Colorado is looking like a match of equals, as both teams have had historic trouble with finishing and following through. The score differential will most likely be that of a single touchdown. Whether that is in Cal or Colorado’s favor remains to be decided.
KR: Cal should be a better football team. The Bears lead the Buffaloes in nearly every statistical category and boast a fourth-year starting quarterback in Chase Garbers. But if this season has taught us anything, it’s to not put too much stock into what teams look like on paper. Cal has dropped contests to Nevada and Washington State, both of which the blue and gold were favored to win. Why should fans expect anything different this weekend? Before the start of the season, the Bears were supposed to be competing for the conference championship, not sitting alone in its basement. Essentially, Cal should be favored to win Saturday, but don’t be surprised if Colorado leaves Memorial Stadium victorious.