Cal Football: 2012 Season Preview

Ryan ReedCorrespondent IIAugust 29, 2012

Cal Football: 2012 Season Preview

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    This should be an exciting season for Cal football.

    The Golden Bears play one of the toughest schedules in the country, with quite a few difficult Pac-12 matchups, yet they should be able to compete in almost all of their games.

    Here's an an in-depth look at how Cal’s season should play out, along with a recap of the offseason and players to watch on offense and defense.

Offseason Synopsis

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    This offseason wasn’t super exciting for the Golden Bears, but there was a little bit of turnover.

    On offense, Cal lost wide receivers Marvin Jones and Michael Calvin to the NFL. Calvin was an undrafted free agent and Jones was a late-round pick. Tackle Mitchell Schwartz was a second-round pick.

    On defense, the Bears took a few more hits. They lost starting linebackers Mychal Kendricks, who was drafted in the second round, and D.J. Holt. The team will also not return either of its starting safeties. Sean Cattouse and D.J. Cambell exhausted their eligibility.

    Finally, the team will not return defensive end Trevor Guyton, who was drafted in the seventh round.

    The good news is that Cal has seven 4-star recruits coming to Berkeley, including wide receivers Bryce Treggs, Darius Powe and Kenny Lawler.

The Cal Offense

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    Last season, the Cal offense, led by quarterback Zach Maynard, running back Isi Sofele and wide receiver Keenan Allen, averaged 28.3 points per game.

    Sofele rushed for 1,322 yards but was overshadowed by other top running backs in the Pac-12, including LaMichael James. Meanwhile, Maynard completed 57 percent of his passes to go with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

    This season’s offense could be even better for one main reason. This team is going to be more experienced.

    While Cal lost its two of its top receivers from last season, three solid recruits are coming in. Furthermore, both Maynard and Sofele should have better years as they build on their experiences.

    Finally, the team can expect even more out of Allen, who finished with 98 receptions, 1,343 yards and six touchdowns last season. Both of those first two statistics rank second in Cal's single-season record book.

    Allen should be primed for another big year, especially with a more experienced Maynard throwing to him.

The Cal Defense

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    This is where things are a little bit more questionable. Cal needs to replace both starters at defensive end, inside linebacker and safety. That includes Mychal Kendricks, the 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

    There still may be good news for Cal fans, however.

    This season will be the third under the 3-4 defensive scheme. As the team continues to use it, it figures to run it better.

    Cal also is seeing a lot of promise from defensive end Deandre Coleman, a mammoth 6’5” and 311 pounds.

    Finally, the team can rely on its experience at corner to help shore up other weaknesses in the secondary. The Golden Bears return Marc Anthony, Steve Williams and Stefan McClure at that position, which is a good sign for them.

    It will be interesting to see who wins the two starting safety jobs. The candidates are Alex Logan, Avery Sebastian and Michael Lowe.

The Special Teams

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    Special teams is another questionable area for Cal.

    There are only two kickers on the Golden Bears roster, Vincent D’Amato and walk-on Benjamin Calder.

    Even worse, there are no punters on the roster as last year's backup Jed Barnett transferred. Look for safety Jordan Morgan to do some punting. He did it a little in high school.

    The return game could be exciting part with Keenan Allen possibly returning punts. Allen had some success his freshman season, but did not field any returns last year. Bryce Treggs will also probably see work as Allen’s backup.

    Finally, the team will likely use Brendan Bigelow as a kick returner, although fans will see Daniel Lasco and Mike Manuel as well.

The Coaching

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    Once again, Cal fans will see Jeff Tedford on the sidelines as the Bears' head coach. This will be his 11th
    season in that role.

    There has been turnover among Tedford’s assistants. Wes Chandler has been named wide receivers coach and former Washington State assistant Todd Howard has replaced Tosh Lupoi as the defensive line coach.

    The good news is the team is returning offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik, who will be in his second season, and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who will be in his third year.

    Ultimately, while several assistants have left, Cal as continuity at the three top coaching positions, which will be important going forward.

The Schedule

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    According to Phil Steele, Cal has the 15th-hardest schedule this season. While the Golden Bears have a few very winnable games, most notably against the likes of Washington State, there are quite a few challenging ones as well.

    The Golden Bears will face four opponents ranked in the AP preseason poll. First, they will play Ohio State, ranked 18th, on September 15th. They will then go up against USC, ranked first, the following week. Those two weeks should be the most challenging stretch of the season.

    After that, Cal has a few weeks before it plays 21st-ranked Stanford on October 20th. Finally, the Golden Bears will play Oregon, ranked fifth, at home in their second-to-last game on November 10th.

    This season’s schedule certainly won’t be easy.

One Guaranteed Win

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    There are very few games that will be guarantee victories for Cal this season since the Golden Bears will face at least average opponents in most of their matchups.

    But because of how terrible Washington State was last year, I’ll have to go with Cal's game against the Cougars. Last season, Washington State's only strength was its passing game, but it lost starting quarterback Marshall Lobbestael to graduation.

    The Cougars also only rushed for 100.2 yards per game and allowed 31.2 points per game, which was 95th in Division I football.

    Finally, they went 2-7 in the Pac-12 and don’t seem to have improved much, despite the hiring of coach Mike Leach, which should make this an easy victory for the Golden Bears.

One Toss-Up

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    This has to be the Nevada game in Week 1.

    Last season, Nevada wasn’t strong in the passing game, with only 259.2 yards per game, but did rush for an amazing 247.5 yards a game.

    The good news is that Cal should have a strong defensive line, and its experienced corners should be able to shut down the passing game.

    Nevada was also a little better on offense than it was on defense. Combine that with the strengthened offense that Cal should have this season, and the Golden Bears should be able to put up a good number of points.

    This matchup could go either way.

One Guaranteed Loss

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    The Golden Bears will almost definitely lose to USC.

    This pick hardly has to be explained. Cal is looking to improve on last year, but does not have the defense to compete with Matt Barkley unless several players turn in big seasons.

    Meanwhile, USC was just ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll. There is no way that Cal can compete with the No. 1 team in the country, even if it has improved.

    Unfortunately for the Golden Bears, the Pac-12 is looking to be a strong conference, meaning they will have to face several difficult teams. This USC team should be the most difficult of all.

Offensive MVP

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    This award could go to quarterback Zach Maynard, who figures to improve from last season. But most likely, it will end up in the hands of wide receiver Keenan Allen, like almost every ball did last year.

    After last year's performance, Allen is second in the Golden Bears' history for both yards and receptions in a single season. With an improved Maynard throwing him the ball, there is no reason that Allen should be even better this fall.

    He may also return punts, which will give his game a dimension not seen last season.

    It’s likely that Allen could end up being All-Pac-12, despite several talented wide receivers in the conference.

    He will definitely be the MVP of Cal’s offense.

Defensive MVP

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    This award’s recipient is less clear-cut because of all of the turnover on the Golden Bears defense.

    While it could go to one of the team's returning cornerbacks, I’d say it will go to defensive end Deandre Coleman.

    He is on the Hendricks Award watch list, which goes to the nation’s best defensive end.

    Furthermore, last season Coleman had 19 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks while only starting two games.

    This season, Coleman will likely start every game and put up much bigger numbers.

Newcomer of the Year

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    This one will have to go to wide receiver Maurice Harris, a highly touted recruit.

    He has already had a good showing for Cal, catching seven balls for 95 yards in the spring game.

    He will also benefit from a lack of talent at wide receiver. The Golden Bears lost two of their top receivers from last season and don’t have much talent beyond Keenan Allen.

    Finally, Harris should be able to thrive because of his size. He is 6’3" and 205 pounds and should be able to contend physically with college corners.

Best NFL Prospect

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    Cal’s best NFL prospect has to be Keenan Allen.

    His versatility as a wide receiver and punt returner will help his draft stock. It will also help that Allen is 6’3" and 210 pounds, easily big enough to play in the NFL.

    Cal fans will see if he is able to continue his impressive college career this fall. But either way, Allen has already proven that he can play receiver at a high level.

Vegas Says

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    Vegas is giving Cal 20/1 odds to win the Pac-12, according to Bovada Sportsbook. That isn’t giving the Golden Bears much of a chance, but it also isn’t bad considering all the competition they will face.

    Cal also has 300/1 odds of winning the BCS National Championship.

    Neither of these numbers is surprising. They state the obvious. Cal doesn't have much of a chance to do anything major this year.

    However, let's hope the Golden Bears will at least be able to compete for the Pac-12 championship. Everyone has to agree that there is almost no chance at a national crown.

Bowl Bound?

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    It’s doubtful that Cal will play in a BCS bowl game, especially given their tough schedule and that they are starting the season unranked.  

    After losing to Texas in the Holiday Bowl a year ago, the Golden Bears may play in a similar bowl game this year. But it will be nothing of consequence.

    This will likely be a rebuilding year for the Golden Bears, despite returning what may be a stronger team than last year.

Final Predictions

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    After winning seven games last year, this year’s Golden Bears will win seven or eight games.

    They could easily win all of their close matchups, but will likely lose against ranked opponents such as Stanford and USC.

    Cal will be able to boast an improved offense with Zach Maynard and Isi Sofele returning and Keenan Allen coming off a career year.

    While the defense has lost a lot of talent it is also coming into its third season in the 3-4, which should make them more effective.

    Overall, the team should look better than last year but will still win the same number of games because of a difficult schedule.