Pac-12 Networks Preview: Cal
This post is one in a series of 12 as we visit each Pac-12 school on the Pac-12 Networks Football Training Camp tour. Check Pac-12.com in advance of each school's Football Training Camp stop for a quick season preview ahead of that night's show.
There probably aren’t many people more eager for Aug. 30 to get here than the fellas in Berkeley. The Golden Bears open the season on that date at Northwestern, providing Sonny Dykes and Co. with the first real chance to erase the ghosts of 2013 past. Injury and inexperience led to a 1-11 ledger in Dykes’ first campaign in Berkeley, but there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be significant progress in Year 2 of Dykes’ tenure. That said, wins will still be hard to come by as Cal plays one of the toughest schedules in the nation – ESPN’s Football Power Index rates Cal’s schedule as the third toughest in the country, while college football guru Phil Steele ranks Cal’s strength of schedule ninth.
- One major reason for optimism in Strawberry Canyon is starting quarterback Jared Goff. Despite being a true freshman protected by a banged-up offensive line, Goff had a very productive first season: 3,508 yards passing (Cal single-season record), 60 percent completion rate and 18 touchdown passes. Goff additionally set school single-season records for most yardage gained (3,508), passes completed (320), passes attempted (531), total offense (3,446 yards) and total plays (590). And, although he chucked it around a bunch, Goff was picked off just 10 times last year, and only five of the 16 FBS quarterbacks who attempted at least 430 passes had fewer interceptions (thanks for the stat, Kyle Bonagura). No wonder one head coach told Kevin Gemmell, “[Goff’s] a budding superstar … I think the arrow is really going up for him.”
- Of course, a quarterback can’t compile those impressive statistics without some quality receivers, and Cal has those in spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts. The Golden Bears return four of their top-six pass-catchers from 2013, including their top two in Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper. All those two did was combine for 147 receptions, 1,603 yards and six touchdowns. Cal is also working on strengthening its running game, and while Brendan Bigelow declared for the NFL draft, Khalfani Muhammad is back for his sophomore season and led the team in rushing last year with 445 yards on the ground, averaging an impressive 6.0 yards per carry in the process. Helping pave the way for Muhammad and keeping Goff upright will be an offensive line that features eight guys who got starting experience in 2013. In all, the Golden Bears return 18 guys on offense who started at least one game a season ago.
- No team seemingly had the injury bug bite it harder last year than Cal – players missed 138 total games last year due to injuries. The defense was especially victimized – cornerback-turned-safety Stefan McClure went down in the first half of the season, safety Avery Sebastien went out for the year in the first half of the first game and defensive end Brennan Scarlett never got onto the field – but the good news is Cal is starting the season mostly healthy on that side of the ball… save for projected starting middle linebacker Nathan Broussard, who tore his ACL in fall camp and is out for the year. While Cal has had to say goodbye to a good chunk of its defensive line, linebacker Khairi Fortt (64 tackles) and cornerback Kameron Jackson (42 tackles, six pass break-ups and a pick), it also welcomes back five of its top six tacklers from 2013. Art Kaufman is the new defensive coordinator in town, and he’ll have fun working with a guy like Michael Lowe, Cal’s active career tackles leader (150) who led the team in that category (67) and fumble recoveries (two) in 2013. The aforementioned McClure, Sebastien and Scarlett are ready to go, while Hardy Nickerson and his 64 tackles (five for loss), one fumble recovery and forced fumble will be a force at linebacker.
- Favorite number from the 2013 Cal season: 64. It’s so divisible (being a power of 2 will do that for you), it works well for number of entrants into an NCAA postseason event (women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, women’s soccer, softball and baseball come immediately to mind). It was also the mode for tackles made by a Cal defender. You’d think 1 or 2 would be the most common number for tackles on a team with garbage time and all, right? Not with Cal; four different players – Khairi Fortt, Hardy Nickerson, Jalen Jefferson and Michael Barton – recorded 64 tackles in 2013. All of them besides Fortt are back on the squad.
(Credit: Cal Athletics, and thanks to those reporters whose works are linked in this article.)