After a long offseason, a largely new team will take the field when the Bears kick off the 2023 season against North Texas on Saturday.
Through a long winter, Wilcox, along with newly hired offensive coordinator Jake Spavital saw the departure of several key components of the 2022 team. Starters such as linebacker Oluwafemi Oladejo, receiver J.Michael Sturdivant and quarterback Jack Plummer hit the transfer portal in waves, hence leaving many to wonder how the Bears — who had been middling, at best, in the recruiting process in recent years — could recover.
In response, Wilcox and Spavital, along with a strong effort from the Bears’ recruiting team, began to flip the script. Just days following the departure of former backup quarterback and once-presumed 2023 starter Kai Millner, Cal landed quarterback Sam Jackson V from TCU.
Thanks to a remarkable springtime recruiting effort, the blue and gold were able to bring in the 18th best transfer class in college football, according to 247Sports. This new-look Cal team, now galvanized by fall camp, will be led by an all-new starting quarterback in Jackson.
When Jackson takes the field against North Texas, it will be his eighth-ever collegiate game and his first-ever start. However, what he lacks in experience he certainly makes up for in creativity. The redshirt sophomore’s camp was distinguished by creative plays outside of the pocket.
At times during Cal’s team scrimmages, Jackson seemed uncatchable by pass rushers as he extended plays by scrambling. But at other times, Jackson’s hot feet nearly got him into trouble in the passing game, making this outing against North Texas an opportunity for Spavital and a seasoned group of receivers to help develop his confidence as a passer.
With Jeremiah Hunter, Mavin Anderson and Monroe Young serving as the veteran presence in the receiver room, they are also joined by Washington transfer Taj Davis, Illinois transfer Brian Hightower and walk-on Trond Grizzell.
Grizzell’s phenomenal camp placed him in the mix to start Saturday, and along with late addition Marquis Montgomery, Jackson has even more options on the outside.
Jackson’s play style also meshes well with a Cal offense that has found success with the run game, especially with the return of preseason All-Pac-12 first team running back Jaydn Ott. This season, Ott will be accompanied by a dynamic pair of backs that also made names for themselves during camp: Ashton Stredick and Isaiah Ifanse.
They, along with Ott, an offensive line that returns several starters and new blindside tackle and Stanford graduate transfer Barrett Miller, will anchor the offense. Pitted against a North Texas defense that gave up 444 yards and 32 points per game, the run game should be able to impose its will while Jackson gets his feet wet.
On the other side of the ball, the Bears’ defense has four new starters from the portal. David Reese, Patrick McMorris, Nohl Williams and Matthew Littlejohn all add talent to a group that was struggling to get off the field and gave up points in crucial situations throughout the 2022 season.
Led by defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon and his son, sixth-year linebacker Jackson Sirmon, North Texas’ dynamic offense stands as an early opportunity to set the tone for a new season. The Mean Green scored an average of 34 points per game, which is largely the reason why the Bears opened as just 6.5 point favorites.
If Cal’s defense can stand tall and begin to forge a new identity come game time, the Bears’ trip down south should notch the blue and gold with a win and valuable experience for next week’s home opener against Auburn.