Cal Football: 5 Reasons Cal Will Surprise in the Pac-12

Oren FriedmanCorrespondent IIJune 5, 2012

Cal Football: 5 Reasons Cal Will Surprise in the Pac-12

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    Coming off a 21-10 loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl, the Bears are thinking contention next season.

    With returning skill players Zach Maynard, Keenan Allen and Isi Sofele, Cal could prove to be lethal on offense. A young and hungry defense could also be the right remedy to end the Bears' recent mediocrity.

    While all the talk in the Pac-12 is about USC and Oregon, here are five reasons why Cal will make some noise next year.

Increased Maturity from the Offensive Core

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    Cal's offense never really found its groove last year and finished with a pedestrian 7-6 record. 

    With important skill players like QB Zach Maynard, WR Keenan Allen and RB Isi Sofele all returning, the Bears' offense could find its mojo early.

    Expect Maynard to eclipse the 3,000 yard passing mark next season and put up more consistent games akin to his 20/29 two touchdown performance in a near upset at Stanford last season.

    The Bears will also sport a two-headed monster in the backfield with Sofele starting and CJ Anderson coming in to spell him.

    Finally, Cal's most explosive player, Keenan Allen, should wreak havoc on opposing defenses all season with long catches and clever trick plays.

Young and Scrappy Defense with Nothing to Lose

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    Cal lost three defensive starters to the pros in the draft last season including the big man in the middle Mychal Kendricks.

    With low expectations, a hungry defense could come together and shock the Pac-12. 

    DeAndre Coleman will be leading the way in the trenches with Aaron Tipoti at his side.

    A quick secondary will be lead by the always dangerous Marc Anthony, featuring young workhorses like Kameron Jackson and Michael Lowe.

    If the offense is productive, this defense could exceed expectations in holding leads and playing together as a solid unit.

Better Chemistry Between Maynard and Allen

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    Last year Maynard helped Allen en route to an incredible 1,343 passing yards.

    As the Bears' best receiving prospect since DeSean Jackson, Allen could find himself in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft with a strong junior season.

    Unfortunately, Allen had his best stretch of the season during a three-game losing streak to Pac-12 forces Washington, Oregon and USC, respectively.

    Increased maturity from Maynard will have the quarterback more selective with his passes next season, while a judicious scheme will also open up the field and allow for this familial duo to score on some long home runs.

    With the right play calls, Allen should certainly find the end zone more than six times next season.

Depleted Competition in the Pac-12 North

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    While the Pac-12 was not the most dominant conference in the nation last season, it did finish with two teams in the top five in the final BCS standings.

    In the first three rounds of the 2012 NFL draft, rival Stanford had four players selected, including Heisman finalist and No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. 

    Without Luck, the Cardinal should take a significant step back in the standings.

    Similarly, Rose Bowl winner Oregon lost its top offensive threat LaMichael James to the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the draft. 

    While Chip Kelly is one of the best at replacing his skill players, Oregon could see a dip in production from its running game that was tops in the nation last year.

    This could be vital as the Bears look to rebound in the Pac-12 North next season.

Return to Memorial Stadium

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    Last season the Bears finished a solid 4-1 at their alternate home at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

    Yet it was never the same as playing in Memorial Stadium. The stands had open seats, and the baseball stadium never had the feeling of a college football home game.

    With a return to Memorial Stadium next season, the atmosphere should be electric. 

    Early home games against Nevada, Southern Utah, Arizona State and UCLA should have the Bears undefeated at home before their Big Game against Stanford in Berkeley.

    Without Andrew Luck running the show, expect the Axe to return to the East Bay and for Cal to get some redemption from its 48-14 beatdown at Memorial Stadium two years ago.

    The Bears will also be seeking revenge from last second losses to Washington (see 5:20) and the Oregon from the last time the teams squared off in Berkeley.