Predicted to finish in the middle of the Pac-12 North, the Bears will need some herculean efforts come time for conference play.
Returning to the newly retrofitted Memorial Stadium will give the Bears a spark, but how sustainable will that be?
Simply, the Bears are not good enough to rely on a single player. Rather, they are a team that necessitates perfection from every player from the offensive line, to the secondary to the special teams in order to succeed against elite competition.
If the Bears really hope to silence all the naysayers, these players will need to play huge in each and every conference game next season.
With a young defense and a scrappy secondary, it will be on veteran DBs Marc Anthony and Josh Hill to lead the Bears' defensive backs next season.
Anthony and Hill are known for being leaders in the locker room and their voices will carry even more weight without safety Sean Cattouse.
If the Bears are to contain a potent aerial attack and stymie talented Pac-12 receivers like USC’s Robert Woods, they will need to start with Hill and Anthony leading the charge.
WR Keenan Allen has already proven his worth with an incredible sophomore year and will be in the discussion for the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s top receiver by the end of the season (via ESPN).
However, if Allen hopes to keep pace with USC all-world WR Robert Woods, or even Oregon and Washington’s lethal receivers, he will need to have well-timed routes and explosiveness all over the field.
Allen has proven to be a menace in all sorts of passing patterns during his two-year tenure at Cal.
Without WR Marvin Jones, the spotlight will be on Allen all season. How he handles double coverages and quick defensive backs will be a key storyline to watch.
Should Allen produce consistently, a lot of pressure will be taken off the Bears’ running game, as it will keep opposing secondaries locked in on the pass.
Allen will not be able to take a day off next year. From games against lowly Utah and UCLA to up-and-coming Washington, he will need to play big.
In terms of the home run play, it will be Allen all season, and he will need to have his fair share if Cal is to compete for a Pac-12 championship in 2012.
DE DeAndre Coleman will be anchoring the Bears’ young defensive line next season.
In the past couple years the Bears have always had at least one linemen that could consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and control the run game.
From Cameron Jordan in 2010 to Trevor Guyton in 2011, the torch has now been passed to the junior Coleman.
Coach Tedford has praised Coleman as possibly the best lineman that he has ever had (via ESPN). Considering that Jordan and Guyton both made it to the NFL, that comes as pretty high praise.
If the Bears are to remain elite at stuffing the run, and containing players like Oregon's Kenjon Barner and Arizona State's Cameron Marshall, then Coleman will need to have a huge year.
RB Isi Sofele has been a pleasant surprise for the Bears as he has served as a solid replacement for RB Shane Vereen, who was drafted by the New England Patriots in the 2011 NFL draft.
Topping the 1,300 yard rushing mark last season, Sofele’s stocky build allowed him to bruise small defensive backs while outrunning bigger linebackers (via ESPN).
Sofele’s play will be key next season as opposing defenses look to shut down Cal’s running game and turn the Bears into a pass happy offense.
It is imperative that Sofele read the field well—moving east to west and then breaking off for long runs.
Against stout run defenses like Oregon and USC, Sofele will need to be relentless on the ground.
RB CJ Anderson will have his share of carries and will team up nicely with Sofele in the backfield.
Ultimately, however, it is Sofele who will need to have consistent production in order to open the field up for QB Zach Maynard and the rest of the Bears’ offense.
The Bears’ top WR recruit Maurice Harris will need to prove himself against solid secondaries next season (via CalBears.com)
With the opposing defense's best DB lining up against WR Keenan Allen, it will be on Harris to assert himself as Cal’s No. 2 receiver.
The Bears found success by isolating receivers Allen and Marvin Jones on the outside last year. With Jones now in the NFL, secondaries will load up on Allen, forcing Maynard to find other options.
It is in this context that Harris will be called upon to produce. Known for being a fast and deep threat, Harris will be looking to get the ball in stride.
Against teams with quick secondaries like Oregon and Stanford, Harris's play will be crucial to the Bears' success.
Consistency from Harris will give Cal a nice balance in their receiving corps and open up the run.
At times a shoddy linebacker group that was torched by tight ends over the middle (see 2011 Big Game), the Bears need McCain to step up against teams with deft QBs.
A solid defensive line can only do so much before it needs help from its linebackers. McCain will need to be intuitive enough to wisely play the pass and sniff out the run. He will be critical against teams with elite quarterbacks such as Washington's Keith Price and USC's Matt Barkley.
In the chess game that is football, McCain will be working hard next season to analyze opposing quarterbacks' cadences, while stopping everything that goes through the middle.
The Bears’ offensive success will live and die with QB Zach Maynard next season.
After a rocky start, Maynard found his rhythm down the stretch putting up some impressive games against Arizona State and Stanford.
However, early in the season, Maynard was rather erratic. At times indecisive in the pocket, he would scramble and try to futilely salvage a broken play.
Maynard has the physical capabilities to wreak havoc on Pac-12 defenses. With a lanky 6'2" frame, a strong arm and impressive agility, the southpaw’s biggest challenge will be analyzing defenses and making the right decisions.
For Maynard, the game will be played between the ears next season, and his ability to keep his poise will be pivotal if Cal is looking to make a statement in the Pac-12.
Once Cal went down early, Maynard often tried to play hero ball, forcing the pass into tight spots and hurting the offense's efficiency.
This proved especially problematic against powerhouse defenses like USC and Oregon, leading to underwhelming completion percentages of 48.8 and 58.1, respectively.
Having success with the option last season, look for Maynard to team up with Sofele in the backfield and keep opposing defenses on their toes.
Maynard’s game matured tremendously from the Bears’ season opener against Fresno State through their regular season finale at Arizona State last season.
He will need to continue this upward trajectory if the Bears have any hope of moving into the Pac-12’s upper echelon.