While the Cal Bears are set for a successful and improved season, a handful of Pac-12 players are going to drive the Bears absolutely nuts.
The Pac-12 is loaded with talent this year. The conference boasts national championship contenders, Heisman Trophy candidates and sure-fire first-round picks.
This is bad news for the Bears, who have huge and noticeable holes. Most notably, the Bears are weak at defending the run and throwing the ball.
The following playmakers will expose these holes and could make football a living nightmare for the Cal Bears.
USC Safety TJ McDonald
USC Trojans safety TJ McDonald is one of the best safeties and playmakers in the entire nation. This year, his size, skills and athleticism are especially dangerous against the Cal offense.
The Bears are especially weak at WR depth this season. Keenan Allen, the team's best receiver and biggest playmaker, is outstanding, but he is only one man. USC's Nickell Robey is the best cornerback in the Pac-12 and will do an excellent job covering him.
With Allen covered, McDonald is going to create havoc in the backfield. He will undoubtedly deliver huge hits on smaller receivers, just as he did all of last season. But more importantly, McDonald will capitalize on QB Zach Maynard's weak arm by breaking up passes and maybe intercepting a pass.
Maynard should respect and fear McDonald when the Bears visit the Coliseum on September 22. McDonald is extremely dangerous in this particular game.
Oregon RB De'Anthony Thonas jukes a Wisconsin defender
Oregon Ducks RB De'Anthony Thomas is going to give just about everyone fits this year. He is set to give the Cal defense hell at Memorial Stadium.
The Bears defensive line is banged up at the moment. According to SFGate.com, the depth at D-line was so thin that LB Antoine Davis had to fill in at practice this week. If the Bears played the Ducks today, the lightning-quick Thomas would probably rush for 250 yards.
Luckily, the Bears don't play Oregon until November 10, so the defense has time to get healthy. However, the rushing defense is still highly suspect this year. The Bears plan to start two new linebackers and two first-time starting defensive ends, according to the post-spring depth chart.
Thomas' speed versus Cal's questionable defensive roster and health sets up the Bears for a rough night when the Ducks come to down.
USC RB Silas Redd
Silas Redd, the newest USC Trojan, will also be a matchup nightmare for the Bears defense.
Cal's rushing defense, as previously discussed, is one of the team's biggest question marks this season. In all likelihood, weakness and inexperience at linebacker and D-line will make it extremely vulnerable to a potent running attack.
If the Bears played the Trojans the first or second week of the season, they would have been OK. Redd will likely play second string for a few weeks until he gets accustomed to the offense.
However, the Trojans will play Cal in Week 4 of their season. By then, Redd, a 1,200 yard rusher, will know the playbook and will be completely integrated into the Trojans' offense.
Simply put, Redd is one of the best and most elusive backs running backs in the nation. After he easily blows past Cal's inexperienced defenders up front, it's anyone's guess.
The Bears have almost an entirely new defense this season. Unfortunately, this inexperience sets up the Oregon QB (whoever it may be) to have one of his best games of the season when the Ducks come to town on November 2.
Both Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett, currently in a battle for the starting job, are especially dangerous to Cal because they are both scramblers.
Against a scrambling quarterback, the Cal linebackers will be more important than ever. However, the Bears are pretty weak at that position with two first-year starters.
The Bears are clearly going to have trouble against the run this year. With a scrambling quarterback, the Ducks will control the game's tempo and frustrate the entire defense.
Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor
Stanford Cardinal RB Stepfan Taylor, the third running back on this list, is also going to be a huge problem for the Bears' rushing defense. However, Taylor may be the worst matchup for the Bears out of the three running backs.
Cal's inexperience and unknown talent level on defense sets it up to surrender a ton of yards on defense. And for the same reasons De'Anthony Thomas and Silas Redd are bad matchups for for the Bears defense, Taylor may be even worse.
Taylor is arguably the best running back in the entire conference, with 1,330 rushing yards and 5.5 yards per carry in 2011, according to ESPN.
Additionally, Taylor is a much more powerful back than both Thomas and Redd. Cal has good, young athletes on defense which sets them up to deal with speed better than power. However, Taylor, a senior power back, is going to look unstoppable against Cal.
With Andrew Luck gone, most teams will be able to focus on defending the run against Stanford. But with all the holes, inexperience and youth in the Cal rushing defense, there's little it will be able to do against Taylor.