2009 is a year where many consider the Pacific-10 conference race to be more open than it has been in quite some time.
Of course, the USC Trojans have captured the conference crown the past several years, but many people think that that could all end this season. The teams that most people consider contenders in the conference race are California, Oregon, and possibly Oregon State.
To many fans, analysts, and experts, Oregon is USC's prime challenger, but the Cal Bears, in my opinion, are the team with the best chance to unseat the Trojans.
The main reasons for this are eight returning starters from a good defense, and running back Jahvid Best. But Best will need help from his teammates on offense for the Golden Bears to be true contenders, something he didn't have last season.
These are the top players at the skill positions for Cal in 2009:
Like it or not, Riley is currently the best quarterback on the Cal roster. Whether or not you think he deserves it, he will win the starting job this season.
He has shown signs of brilliance, but not enough to convince fans that he is capable of leading the Cal to the Rose Bowl.
Despite having a strong start in 2008, throwing for 202 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan Sate, he finished the year with only 1,360 yards and 14 touchdowns. This is in large-part due to him having struggles with accuracy, injuries on the offensive line, and a lack of reliable receivers.
This year, those should all be fixed because of experience gained by the receivers and offensive lineman, as well as the arrival of Andy Ludwig, an offensive coordinator who helped Utah win the Sugar Bowl last season.
With the combination of Ludwig and head coach Jeff Tedford tutoring him, the likely improvement of his offensive teammates and the departure of Nate Longshore who battled Riley for the job all of last season, there are no excuses if he does not reach his potential in 2009.
I won't say too much about this guy, as he has gotten plenty of hype for next season already. While I don't personally think he has much of a chance at getting invited to New York for the Heisman, he will still carry the Golden Bear offense.
One of the fastest players in the country, Best will strike fear into opponents every time he touches the ball. It's easy to be impressed with the fact that he rushed for 1,580 yards, while injured, and without a decent passing attack for opponents to account for.
It's also fun for Cal fans to think about what he could do without those obstacles. If he stays healthy in 2009, he could well become Cal's career leading rusher.
One of the country's best backup running backs, Shane Vereen could be a starter at several other schools.
While around the same size as Best, Vereen isn't quite as fast, but is a more physical runner. He is perfectly capable of carrying the load if Best is ever to go down with an injury, and is a major reason the Golden Bear running game is consistently effective.
While not a starter, Vereen will still average around 15 carries per game, so don't be surprised if you see more than one 1,000 yard rusher on the Golden Bear's roster next season.
This guy could very well emerge as the Bears' top receiving threat this season. He was highly touted out of high school and had a very good fall practice in 2008.
Unfortunately, he was sidelined by injuries before he could make much of an impact. With soft hands, good speed, and solid route-running skills, Jones is clearly a talented receiver. He has had an excellent spring and could well be a starter heading into 2009.
Nyan Boateng was the Golden Bear's leading receiver last season, which isn't saying much. After catching 29 passes for 439 yards in 2008, He is hoping to improve those numbers in 2009.
He was probably the Bears' most naturally gifted receiver in 2008, aside from Marvin Jones, but had problems with consistency.
With a big frame at 6'2", 210 pounds, he wasn't difficult for a quarterback to spot, but he often had trouble holding on to passes. If he can improve his pass-catching consistency , the Florida transfer could be one of Kevin Riley's favorite targets in 2009.
Verran Tucker may have been the most consistent Cal wide receiver last season. While not particularly big or explosive, Tucker probably had the best hands of all of Cal's receivers.
Many Cal fans remember the terrific catch he made against USC, one of the few bright offensive moments in that game.
He sat out in the spring to focus on academics, but Tucker will still most likely see plenty of playing time in 2009. Even though he isn't the most gifted receiver the Bears have had, he is probably the most reliable when it comes to catching a pass. There is always room in an offense for a solid, if not breathtaking, receiver.
With the surprising decision by Cameron Morrah to enter the NFL Draft, his most likely replacement will be Tad Smith. He isn't the physical talent that Morrah is, and probably isn't as good of a receiver, but he gives more in the way of blocking, which was a flaw in Morrah's game.
This added blocker could be a huge help in the Bear's replacement of graduated offensive lineman, Alex Mack and Norris Malele. Smith is coming off of an injury that disrupted his spring, and should be ready for fall camp.