Even though Cal's Golden Bears hadn't broken through with a Pac-10 Championship or a big-time bowl, they had run off a streak of eight straight winning seasons and seven consecutive bowl appearances. Until last year, that is, when a late-season collapse meant the end of both those streaks.
This year Cal will try to use a new offense, a new quarterback, and a decent defense to get back on the winning track in the newly-named and expanded Pac-12 Conference. Last year the Bears had 14 starters back and a favorable conference schedule, and they were thought to be contenders for an upper-division finish in the Pac-10.
Heading into the home stretch Cal sat 5-4 overall and 3-3 in league play. But the Bears ended the season by losing their last three games, all at home; by two to eventual national runner-up Oregon, in blowout fashion vs. Stanford in the Big Game, then, with a shot to become bowl-eligible, on a TD on the last play of the game vs. Washington. So Cal finished 5-7 overall, 3-6 in conference play, 0-6 vs. teams that went to bowls, and missed a bowl themselves for the first time since 2002.
The Bears managed to go 6-6 ATS last year, 5-2 ATS at home, but 1-4 on the road. And they went 6-6 on the ‘over/unders’, as Cal games averaged 48 total points.
This year Cal returns just 12 starters, including only five on its better half, the defense. And they get only four conference “home” games. So after those eight straight winning seasons there's no guarantee the Bears won't experience a second straight losing campaign.
Jeff Tedford is 72-42 in his nine seasons at Berkeley, 5-2 in bowls. He's had talent, and is known as a bit of a quarterback guru.
Including his time as an offensive assistant at Fresno State and Oregon, he’s had seven of his QBs go on to start games in the NFL. But he hasn't been able to get the Bears over the hump with either a conference championship or a big-time bowl. (Actually, they got screwed out of a Rose Bowl bid in 2004, and tied for first in '06, both times going to the Holiday Bowl instead.)
So despite the good work Tedford has done here, he's on the hot seat.
Seven starters return from the unit that ranked last in Pac-10 play last season at 292 YPG, sixth in rushing at 144 YPG, ninth in passing efficiency and got held to 14 points or less six times. And they have to replace their main starter at QB the last three seasons, Kevin Riley, and 1,100-yard rusher Shane Vereen.
Cal has also made a change at OC and is going to a spread attack. With that in mind the Bears named transfer Zach Maynard, who threw 18 TD passes and ran for 300 yards for Buffalo two years ago before sitting out last year, as this fall's starter.
Cal gets back its top two receivers and three along the O-line, so the cupboard isn't completely bare.
And while they're working with a new QB and a new system, which may take a while to click, this unit almost can’t help being better than last year.
Only five starters are back from the Cal defense that led the Pac-10 in league play overall last year, allowing 334 YPG. It also ranked third vs. the run at 131 YPG and second in sacks with 26.
The Bears also held high-powered Oregon to its lowest offensive output of the season.
Cal has to replace four of the front seven, and half the secondary, but with the new freshmen class they've added Viliami Moala, Scout.com's No. 2-rated DT, who could step right in and help stuff the run, and Stefan McClure, Scout's No. 4-rated CB. So despite the personnel losses this unit should keep Cal in games.
2011 California Bears Football Schedule
Not only do the Bears now play in the Pac-12's North Division, which won't be an east slate, but this year they're playing their home games at AT&T Park in San Francisco while Memorial Stadium is being renovated.
Cal opens this season taking on Fresno State at Candlestick Park, then visits Colorado in a non-conference game. After a date with FCS Presbyterian the Bears begin conference play with visits to Washington and Oregon (on a Thursday night), then they get USC at home (also on a Thursday night) and host the other newbies to the Pac-12, Utah.
The Bears then visit UCLA, host Washington State and Oregon State, head to the Farm for the Big Game and end the season at Arizona State.
So they could start 4-0, but their next three will be very tough with Oregon, USC, and Utah next up. After that, they get three more winnable games, then finish with two tough ones, Stanford and Arizona State, on the road.
2011 Cal Bears Pac-12 and BCS College Football Odds
Sportbet is offering Cal at +1,250 to win the Pac-12 North and at +4,000 to win the conference championship. Bodog is listing the Bears at 100/1 to win the BCS Championship, and those odds probably aren't long enough to be worth a wager.
2011 Cal Bears Football Predictions
This should be an interesting season for the boys from Berkeley. If they can get some improved play at QB, and it looks like they might, the Bears could surprise. The schedule doesn't do them any favors, though, or does playing their home games at AT&T Park.
However, we'll call for them to become bowl-eligible with six regular-season victories.