Cal Football: Why Golden Bears Will Cause Pac-12 Fits in 2012

Oren FriedmanCorrespondent IIJuly 2, 2012

Cal Football: Why Golden Bears Will Cause Pac-12 Fits in 2012

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    Heading into this upcoming season, the California Golden Bears are nobody's pick to make a splash in the Pac-12.

    With the return of Matt Barkley to powerhouse USC, and Chip Kelly always fielding a strong squad in Oregon, the Bears have largely flown under the radar this summer.

    Without the hype comes none of the pressure, as coach Jeff Tedford is expecting a comeback season from the Bears in their return to Memorial Stadium this fall.

    Here are four reasons why the Golden Bears will cause fits in the Pac-12 this season.

Dynamic Running Game

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    Heading into his senior season, running back Isi Sofele hopes to add to his already-stellar Cal career. 

    Last year, Sofele paced the Bears' running game, quietly finishing with 1,322 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. Next year should be no different, as the Bears will rely on their running game to open up the pass.

    Along with Sofele, running back C.J. Anderson will lead one of the most dynamic backfields in the Pac-12. 

    The bruising 5'11", 214-pound back finished with eight rushing touchdowns last season and will be a goal-line force in 2012.

    Sofele plays more like a scat back, using quick lateral movements to break a defense open, while Anderson prefers to barrel his way through defensive lines. Together, the two make up a hybrid duo akin to the New York Giants' backfield of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs from a few years back.

    Look for Tedford to be calling the run early and often next season.

Defense with Nothing to Lose

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    With 2011 defensive stars Trevor Guyton and Mychal Kendricks playing in the NFL, the Bears will have to depend on a young defense to get stops next season.

    Anchored by junior defensive end Deandre Coleman, this defense will have a lot to prove in 2012.

    Sophomore linebacker Chris McCain will be the man in the middle, while defensive backs Marc Anthony and Josh Hill will lead the secondary.

    Expectations for the defense are low, and this should have the Bears playing loose and free.

    With nothing to lose in 2012, the Bears could be able to duplicate their defensive success from last season, giving the offense more scoring opportunities.

Keenan Allen

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    Junior wide receiver Keenan Allen will be the most electric player on the roster next season.

    With a knack for the big play, Allen will be among the elite wide receivers in the country in his third year in Berkeley.

    A likely finalist for the 2012 Biletnikoff Award, Allen should compete with USC receiver Robert Woods for the crown of best receiver in the Pac-12.

    Eligible for the 2013 NFL draft, Allen will be looking to impress NFL scouts with an explosive season in 2012. 

    Whether it is over the middle, on the outside, in the Wildcat, off a screen or something else, Allen will be the beneficiary of most of the Bears' passing success.

    Cal will only go as far as its best receiver. A huge year from Allen could have the Bears surprising the nation next season.

Matured Maynard

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    Cal starting quarterback Zach Maynard really came into his own at the end of last season.

    After an erratic start in which Maynard was often indecisive, the transfer student looked more composed by the end of the year.

    From his first division matchup at Washington in September to his final division game at Stanford in November, the difference in Maynard's game was night and day.

    Against the Huskies' suspect defense, Maynard completed just 53.5 percent of his passes in a 31-23 loss in Seattle.

    By the time of the Big Game in November, Maynard had significantly matured. In a valiant performance at Stanford Stadium, the southpaw converted 20-of-29 passes for 280 yards and two scores in a near upset of the Cardinal.

    With a sound running game, it will be on Maynard to pick his spots and find his receivers in stride next season.

    More comfortable with the offense, Maynard's decision making and poise will be crucial for the Bears in 2012.