Bears, Beavers, bowl eligibility: Can Cal mount a comeback?

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What did last week’s win over Colorado tell us about Cal?

Ryan Chien: In the context of Cal’s chances for a bowl game, most likely nothing. For eligibility, the Bears would have to pull off wins in four of their next five games. With a slate of matches lined up against the likes of Oregon State, USC and UCLA, the chances are slim to none. However, Cal — in particular, its defense — has shown flashes of greatness. Though the team was favored heading into last Saturday’s matchup, holding Colorado to only three total points is impressive in its own right. Yes, the Buffaloes were missing core pieces due to injuries and suspensions in quarterback J.T. Shrout, top kick returner Maurice Bell and wide receiver La’Vontae Shenault. And yes, presumably due to such misfortune, the Buffaloes rank dead last among FBS teams in terms of total offense. But before Cal’s first conference victory against Colorado, the Bears gave up an average of 27 points per game. A near-shutout might just be the kind of momentum the Bears need moving forward against the Beavers. 

Kabir Rao: Last Saturday’s win showed that Cal has potential. If the Bears can put it all together and play a complete game, they can compete with most teams on any given day. Certainly, that can be said about almost any football team, but Cal has the veteran experience and talent necessary to make good on that statement. The only problem is that it is extremely rare for the blue and gold to sync up all three phases of the game. All wins should be celebrated, but some should be celebrated less than others. The Bears’ dominant performance came at the hands of a Colorado team that sports the worst total offense in the FBS. To even sniff bowl eligibility, Cal will need to play complete games against much better opponents.

Maria Khan: Seeing as the predicted point differential was about 8.5 points in favor of Cal, the fact that the Bears managed to hold the Buffs to a mere 3 points illustrates a few things: One, Cal’s offense is not as bad as we thought. And two, Colorado’s defense was lackluster at best. The win against the Buffs solidified redshirt senior quarterback Chase Garbers as Cal’s lead rusher in all of history. Breaking Joe Kapp’s all-time record, Garbers rushed a total of 96 yards for 10 carries to show real strength on the ground. Cal’s defense was also on fire, as it managed to sack Brendon Lewis a total of six times. Whether that displays a not-so-great quarterback or a pretty great defense is up for debate. But for now, we know that Cal has potential, its defense has potential and, for all the offense’s many faults, it also has potential. 

What does Cal’s sparsely populated student section say about the program as a whole?

RC: While the attendance rates at Cal football games have yet to reach their full potential, it may be worth attributing such scarcity to one of two reasons. The first: Berkeley students have bigger and better ways to spend their free time over the weekend. The second: Berkeley students are tired of seeing their team lose. Whether it’s one or the other — maybe even both — it would be difficult to blame them. When headbands and long-shot giveaways with prizes in the form of FTX cryptocurrency are the main incentives for going to a football game, there’s clearly a wider issue at hand. Wins have been few and far between, and with an overall record of 2-5, Cal football is still very much stuck in a rough spot. It’s about time the Bears dig themselves out of it and entice fans to cheer them on — after all, the blue and gold faithful can only remain loyal for so long.

KR: To be honest, Cal has never been a football school, let alone a big sports school. That is, unless the Bears are doing well. In 2019, Cal began the season 4-0, sitting pretty as the No. 15 team in the nation. A primetime clash with conference foe Arizona State was the place to be Sept. 27, 2019. But four straight losses quickly brought the Bears — and their fans — back down to Earth. A year and a half later, fans were welcomed back into Memorial Stadium. The student section was as electric as it has been in memory during Cal’s season opener against Nevada. But last Saturday, that same section’s emptiness spoke volumes. Students are willing to show out as long as the team holds up its end of the bargain and wins football games.

MK: Nobody wants to see their team lose again. And again. While Cal and football have yet to be synonymous in any way shape or form, the packed student section in the beginning of the season against Nevada and the barely populated section against Colorado can be attributed to the fact that watching a losing team lose is just no fun. Although it might be too early to say as the big-name games such as USC and Stanford have yet to happen, the sparse audience during the last few games is most likely because Cal students would rather have fun pregame rather than wallow in postgame despair. 

How will the Bears fare against the Beavers this Saturday and what will make the difference?

RC: Despite its previous No. 10 ranking in a Pac-12 preseason media poll, Oregon State stands near the top of its conference’s North Division with an overall record of 5-2. Among Pac-12 teams, OSU leads the way in total offense with 445.6 yards per game. Among the nation’s FBS teams, it ranks as the seventh-best on the ground with an average of 5.85 yards per rush. All of this is to say: The Bears’ defense has to be near-perfect to emerge victorious Saturday. But as easy as it is to lambaste Cal football, it’d be ignorant to completely rule them out. Against Colorado, the Bears’ secondary, led by safety Elijah Hicks, only gave up one pass completion further than 10 yards downfield. Meanwhile, on Cal’s offensive side, Garbers went 22-29 on passing attempts and accumulated 96 rushing yards. Overall, he averages the fourth-most passing yards per game of any quarterback in the Pac-12 at 245.3. In other words, Cal has all the right individual pieces — those pieces just need to execute altogether.

KR: It will be a tight game. Cal has not beaten Oregon State since 2018. In both of their losses since, the Bears have eclipsed the Beavers in total offensive yardage. Yet both times, the blue and gold lost by four points. In those games, the result came down to whether Cal’s defense stepped up, and this Saturday’s matchup will be no different. Oregon State boasts the best offense in the Pac-12, as the unit is averaging an eye-popping 35 points per outing. Particularly strong is the Beavers’ rushing attack, led by running back B.J. Baylor. The Bears will be riding the wave of last week’s win and playing at home should help, but if they hope to have a shot Saturday, their defense will have to be nearly perfect.

MK: While the defense managed to sack Colorado’s quarterback a total of six times, that is not exactly representative of a fantastic defensive playbook. It could be that the Buffs’ freshman quarterback was simply not up to par. If the Bears truly want to notch another win to their very empty belt, defense will be key. While Cal’s run game has been nothing to shout from the edge of Strawberry Canyon about, it is an aspect that has the most potential. Regardless, this matchup is looking to be an extreme challenge for the blue and gold defense-wise. While the Buffs’ were easy to bully at a measly three points, the Beavers are looking like a whole different kind of challenge.

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