2001 Cal Football Outlook
July 13, 2001
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For head coach Tom Holmoe and his California Football team, this is no time for excuses. There's no room for a building process. Slogans referencing a bright future down the road aren't part of the equation this year. As the well-used phrase goes, 'the future is now' for the 2001 Golden Bears.
Holmoe and his group of 54 returning lettermen, including 17 starters (8-offense, 8-defense, 1-kicker), aren't bashful about stating high expectations for a winning season and a bowl berth.
'There's a real urgency about this coming season, but all the pieces are in place,' says Holmoe. 'Our personnel is the best since I've been here. We've played some younger guys the past few years, but now they're veterans with experience in big games. Plus, we now have a coaching staff that I wouldn't trade for any staff in college football. Now, we just need to go out and win some football games. We expect success.'
Clearly, there is an air of confidence that permeates throughout the Cal Football program entering the 2001 season. It's a feeling that was bolstered during spring practice, when the Bears showed an offensive spark that hasn't been present since Steve Mariucci was head coach in 1996. The confidence also grew based on a defensive performance in the spring that had veteran coordinator Lyle Setencich believing his unit will be every bit as potent as the last two seasons when the Bears finished first and third, respectively, in Pac-10 total defense.
Holmoe's young 2000 team showed it could trade punches with the league's heavyweights, but couldn't sustain the effort in the final rounds. The Bears had Rose Bowl champion and 3rd-ranked Washington on the ropes in Seattle with an 11-point fourth-quarter lead. They also had a fourth-quarter lead over eventual No. 7-ranked Oregon in Eugene. And they had a powerful Oregon State team that ended with a No. 4 national ranking in a two-point game with six minutes left on the clock in Berkeley.However, Cal lost all three games, plus an overtime decision in the season-finale to Stanford.
'There's a real urgency about this coming season, but all the pieces are in place. Our personnel is the best since I've been here.
--Coach Tom Holmoe
That left Cal a disappointed 3-8 and wondering what might have been with just a handful of key plays in crucial situations.
'We've proved we can play with anybody in this league,' says Holmoe. 'Now, it's all about winning.'
The program made a gigantic step forward during the off-season in luring offensive guru Al Borges to the coaching staff as the new coordinator for an offense that has struggled over the last three seasons, finishing last in the Pac-10 in scoring each year.
While Borges may not have any magic up his sleeve, he brings with him a reputation as one of the nation's top offensive coordinators. Over the last six years as an offensive coordinator in the Pac-10 (five at UCLA, one at Oregon), his teams have averaged over 31 points a game. More significantly, after reviewing the Cal films from last year and surveying an ambitious group of Cal returnees during spring drills, he hasn't hesitated to state his belief that Cal has the talent to put up similar numbers this fall.
The Golden Bears will be fueled by a talented group of running backs, an offensive line that returns four starters and certainly will be one of the elite groups in the league, and a quarterback who hopes to display the form that made him one of the top recruits in America just two years ago.
'With our backs and experience and talent up front, we shouldn't have to ask our quarterback to carry our offense, but Kyle (Boller) has that type of ability, if he continues to develop,' said Holmoe.
While Cal has a host of all-conference candidates at the positions mentioned above, the Bears make up for a lack of star power with depth at wide receiver. Six of the seven players in last year's rotation return in 2001 and the coaches believe that there will be plenty of production in the passing game this fall.
'We've proved we can play with anybody in this league,' says Holmoe. 'Now, it's all about winning.' --Coach Tom Holmoe
The strength of the Cal defense this year will be at linebacker where seven different players return with strong cases for the starting line-up. They will be led by senior Scott Fujita, who is coming off a dominant spring and has insiders believing he'll emerge as a high pro draft choice once NFL scouts begin to focus on his abilities this fall.
Cal has some uncertainty on the defensive line with the prospect of finding replacements for first team All-America defensive end Andre Carter and second team All-Pac-10 defensive tackle Jacob Waasdorp. However, line coach Bill Dutton believes he has the elements of a group that will rival last year's line that helped Cal finish third in the conference in rushing defense, holding four opponents to 76 or fewer yards on the ground.
Cal will build around a pair of all-conference candidates in the secondary as cornerback Jemeel Powell is as good a cover man as there is in the country and Nnamdi Asomugha has the earmarks of emerging as one of the top free safeties in the Pac-10 this season.
The Bears hired a new assistant coach in LeCharls McDaniel to concentrate solely on special teams and that move should pay dividends. Placekicker Mark Jensen hopes to build on an 11-of-16 field goal effort as a sophomore last year and become one of the league's most consistent kickers in 2001. The punting duties are wide open, following the graduation of All-American Nick Harris, and may not be decided until the fall.
Cal's 2001 schedule is a welcome relief after last season when the Bears opened up with three of the first four games on the road and then had to face a trio of national Top 10 teams down the stretch, including two of those games in hostile road environments. Not only does Cal have six games at home (plus the short trip across the Bay at Stanford), but the Bears have a slate that seems primed for success.
None of Cal's three non-conference opponents were bowl teams last year, plus Cal gets league favorites Oregon and Washington in Berkeley this fall.
One wouldn't expect a unit that has occupied the cellar of the Pac-10 scoring charts the last three years to be brimming with confidence entering the 2001 season, but there's an unmistakable sense of purpose and belief among Cal's returning 27 lettermen on offense that a breakthrough is imminent.
After struggling early last season, the Bears showed encouraging signs while averaging 29.5 points over the final six games.
The addition of offensive coordinator Al Borges shouldn't be underestimated. The offense will need to learn a new system with new terminology, but the Cal players seemed to pick up things quite nicely during a very encouraging performance during the spring. Over the last six seasons, Borges offenses have created major problems for Pac-10 defenses and Holmoe believes he'll have a significant impact at Cal this season. 'We have the talent and experience in place and the last piece of the puzzle was getting somebody to put it all together,' said Holmoe. 'Al's the guy to help us get over the hump. He's as good as there is in the business and his addition will jump start our offense.'
QUARTERBACK: Nobody has suffered more growing pains the last two seasons than Cal quarterback Kyle Boller (6-4, 210). Now, he hopes to parlay the experience of 19 starting assignments, the arrival of a coach who has a reputation as one of the top passing technicians in the game and an improved arsenal around him into a season in which he emerges as one of the top quarterbacks in the country.
One of the nation's most acclaimed recruits, Boller arrived at Cal two years ago and was immediately given the keys to operate the offense. The fairy tale looked promising when he led Cal to a come-from-behind victory over Arizona State in his first collegiate start, but soon the reality of little playing experience and an inconsistent supporting cast on offense took its toll.
However, Boller has persevered, raising his completion percentage over 8 percent from his freshman year to 46.7 percent last season. After hitting almost 58 percent of his pass attempts during spring drills, he expects a similar jump this season and also hopes to improve on the 2,121 passing yards he managed last fall.
Boller will carry the load, but there's some experience in reserve as both senior Eric Holtfreter (6-2, 230) and redshirt-freshman Reggie Robertson (6-2, 185) now have a year in the program under their belt, after arriving last season. Holtfreter is a powerful force with good poise in the pocket who looked particularly sharp during the spring session. Robertson offers a different dimension as his athletic skills may allow the Bears to toy with some option plays to provide a change of pace when the situation dictates.
RUNNING BACKS: Cal hasn't finished in the top half of the league's rushing charts since 1992, but that should change this season. The Bears have a wealth of weapons at running back, starting with junior Joe Igber (5-8, 200), who finished fifth in the Pac-10 in rushing last season while averaging 81.9 yards per game. His elusive style of running will be amended by greatly increased strength and speed this year. A rigorous off-season program has added 10 pounds of muscle and dropped his 40 time to the 4.4 to 4.5 range.
Borges has flatly stated he believes Igber can have a major influence in Cal's offensive success this fall and wants the ball in his hands 25 times or more a game in 2001.
Igber should have plenty of help in the backfield from junior Joseph Echema (5-11, 215), who has the talent to start for many Pac-10 teams. Echema has excellent power to go along with fine speed. He was Cal's leading ground-gainer with 72 yards at Fresno State last year, showing he can carry the load when called upon.
That pair offers a one-two punch, but there's more. Senior Marcus Fields (6-2, 220) returns after a shoulder injury put him on the shelf last season. He is a proven Pac-10 back with over 1,500 career rushing yards, with five 100-yard games on his resume. He'll be asked to play at different spots in the backfield, including fullback, as the coaches will move him around in various formations to create mismatch situations with opponent defenses.
Cal has a pair of traditional fullbacks with size and power in junior Ryan Stanger (6-2, 245) and redshirt-freshman Pana Faumuina (6-0, 235). Stanger is a punishing blocker who provides a threat in short-yardage situations. Faumuina has excellent running instincts and should press for increased playing time as he continues to develop.
Redshirt-freshmen Michael Sparks (6-1, 185) and Jon Bensley (6-2, 230) are high quality walk-ons who showed well in the spring and will provide solid depth in the backfield.
OFFENSIVE LINE: If Cal stays healthy, the Bears have a chance to establish themselves as possibly the top offensive line unit in the conference.
Included in the nucleus are four returning starters who have started a combined 75 games during their careers. That's the type of experience that every team likes to have along the forward wall.
Senior Brandon Ludwig (6-4, 285) earned second team all-conference honors last year. He was the subject of the major position change during the spring when he made the switch from guard to center. His transition worked so well that line coach Ed White came away from the spring raving about Ludwig, indicating he will establish himself as one of the top centers in college football this fall. White notes Ludwig's superior athletic ability and his knack for combination blocking of linemen and linebackers on the same play, a talent that all great centers seem to possess.
There's also a pair of former Freshman All-Americans in guard Scott Tercero (6-5, 295) and tackle Mark Wilson (6-6, 295). Tercero, a junior, seems fully healthy after battling nagging knee pains last season and that portends a big year, as he has all the tools to emerge as one of the league's best players in 2001. Wilson earned third team Freshman All-America honors after starting all 11 games last season as a redshirt-freshman. With his size and athletic ability, he is a player who could contend for All-America recognition before his Cal career is over.
Back for his fourth season in the starting line-up is left tackle Langston Walker (6-8, 335). The massive senior went down with a broken ankle midway through last season, but his recovery will be complete by this fall and he has a lot of pro scouts watching him very closely. He has a tremendous combination of size and agility and hopes to put everything together for his senior campaign.
The lone question mark on the offensive line resides at left guard. Sophomore Nolan Bluntzer (6-4, 265) is a very intelligent player with a competitive attitude and has the inside track for starting duties entering the fall. However, he is relatively undersized and will have to be at his best to hold off the challenge of sophomore David Hays (6-3, 285) or redshirt-freshman Baron Ma (6-4, 295). Both sat out the spring drills, but will return in full health this fall and have the type of physical power and talent which will make one of them hard to keep out of the starting line-up.
Two other players in the hunt for playing time are senior Nofoaalii Tuitama (6-7, 285), a massive offensive tackle who should be much more comfortable after one year of transition from junior college and redshirt-freshman Eric O'Brien (6-8, 295).
WIDE RECEIVERS: The Cal wide receiving corps may not have a marquee name, but the Bears do return six of their top seven pass-catchers from last year. That's a major improvement from a year ago when the Bears entered the season with very little proven talent in the area. The six returnees combined for 88 catches for 1257 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
Cal emerged from spring drills with Al Borges stating his receiver group is far better than the reputation they may have around the league. 'We may not have a Freddie Mitchell (former UCLA All-American), but I was surprised by the talent level among our receivers,' said Borges. 'It's much better than I anticipated. We can do some good things with these guys.'
After missing the early season with a back sprain, junior Derek Swafford (5-10, 175) emerged as Cal's most dangerous receiver down the stretch. He had all of his team-leading 25 receptions in the final six games and seems poised to make a run for all-conference honors. He missed part of the spring with a hamstring pull, but could put up big numbers, if he stays healthy this fall.
A receiver Cal expects to blossom is sophomore Geoff McArthur (6-1, 200), a big target with perhaps the best hands on the team and a knack for making big plays. He led the team with 336 receiving yards on just 20 catches, including a 56-yard reception at Fresno State, a 24-yard TD catch at Washington, a 31-yard reception vs. Stanford and a 63-yard TD grab at Oregon.
Senior Sean Currin (6-1, 190) had the best spring of any Cal receiver and figures to be on the field quite often this season, particularly in three-wide receiver sets. The former walk-on is a self-made player who is solid in all areas of play and rarely makes mistakes.
Senior Charon Arnold (5-11, 175) looked like he was on his way to a big year with 12 catches and a pair of TDs in the first four games, before a stress fracture in his lower leg put him on the sidelines for the rest of the season. He's fully recovered and off-season workouts indicate he could be a 'big play' performer for the Bears this year.
The Bears have great size in sophomore Chase Lyman (6-4, 200), who had a solid debut season last year with 19 catches for 313 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Chad Heydorff (6-1, 185) had a hamstring injury that hampered his development last season, but did manage to increase his playing time in the second half of the season and had a 10-yard TD reception among his 7 catches on the year.
TIGHT ENDS: This is one of the more unsettled positions on the Cal team. The coaching staff believes it has the ingredients to provide a viable presence at the tight end spot, but there will need to be some development, if the position becomes an integral part of the Cal passing game, as Al Borges would prefer.
Entering the fall, Tom Swoboda (6-4, 235) has gained the edge for starting duties, as he is solid fundamentally and a strong blocker. A player with enormous potential is junior Terrance Dotsy (6-4, 280), who got his feet wet last season after transferring from Ventura CC. Dotsy has great hands but will need to improve his speed to earn additional playing time. He is hopeful of returning in the fall in the 265-pound range and making a bid for starting duties.
Matt Schafer (6-4, 245) will provide depth, but the biggest change this fall will come with the arrival of a pair of incoming freshmen, Jordon Hunter (6-6, 235) and Brett Bischofberger (6-3, 235), who come to Cal with impressive credentials out of high school. They'll have an opportunity to immediately contribute, if they prove capable of making a quick transition to the major college level.
You don't lose a trio like Andre Carter, Jacob Waasdorp and Chidi Iwuoma without feeling an effect on defense. However, there are eight starters back in the fold, among 25 returning lettermen, and coordinator Lyle Setencich believes he has the personnel to improve on last year's group that finished third in the Pac-10 in total defense.
He came out of spring ball greatly encouraged that, while his defense may lack name recognition, it has the talent, depth and discipline to emerge as a contender for the top defense in the conference.
After spring drills, the normally low key Setencich admitted he was surprised how his unit developed. 'We're better than I thought we'd be and much better than people will give us credit,' said Setencich. 'I have a pretty good feeling about this group, if we stay healthy. I really do.'
Sentencich's defensive system places a premium on the linebacker positions and that will be the strength of the Cal defense in 2001. However, the Bears also have superior depth along the defensive line and in the secondary. The competition for playing time will be fierce and should ultimately translate into improved performance on the field.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Should veteran coach Bill Dutton be able to work his magic in developing young players into productive Pac-10 performers, Cal will once again rate as one of the top defensive lines in the conference and contend for the league sack title for the third consecutive season. Dutton will have his hands full in finding replacements for Andre Carter and Jacob Waasdorp from a line that helped Cal lead the Pac-10 with 44 sacks last year, but he'll have plenty of depth to choose from.
The development of defensive end Tully Banta-Cain (6-4, 250) last season was one of Dutton's most adept coaching jobs. Banta-Cain proved to be a major contributor, finishing eighth in the league with six sacks, among his 13 tackles for loss. He came on strong towards the end of the year, ending the season on a high note with five tackles behind the line of scrimmage for minus 41 yards and a forced fumble against Stanford.
However, he'll need to be at the top of his game if he expects to hold on to his starting position, as junior college transfer Tom Canada (6-3, 260) had a sensational spring while Banta-Cain was sidelined with a hernia/groin injury. Canada is undersized, but his acceleration off the corner and his relentless passion to get to the football has Dutton believing he needs to be on the playing field as much as possible this fall. Canada has the added benefit of versatility as he played his entire JC career on the interior and proved this spring he can also play either of the end positions.
At the other end, Cal will have an unproven commodity. Redshirt-freshman Tosh Lupoi (6-3, 255) was talented enough to play last season, but Andre Carter never left the field, so the Bears were afforded the luxury of redshirting Lupoi. He has excellent quickness and the same attention to technique that made Carter a great one in his college career.
He'll be pushed hard by junior Jamaal Cherry (6-4, 260), a mega-talent who is making the transition from linebacker to the rush end spot. Cherry has superior physical skills and seems motivated to making a name for himself after sitting out last season at a junior college while concentrating on his academics.
The wild card in the defensive end picture is incoming JC transfer Josh Gustaveson (6-3, 255), a polished pass-rushing specialist who accounted for 18.5 sacks at Snow JC last year. The coaching staff believes he will have an immediate impact and will be a big part of Cal's playing rotation, if not land in the starting line-up.
A young end in the development stage is Louis-Philippe Ladouceur (6-5, 260), who has good athletic skills and has improved his strength significantly since arriving last year as a freshman from Quebec.
The Bears have a pair of interior players with significant playing experience. Josh Beckham (6-2, 280) and Daniel Nwangwu (6-4, 290) shared starting duties at noseguard last season, but will likely be playing alongside each other this fall. Beckham will move to the defensive tackle position and the coaches think he'll be even more productive than a year ago when he finished with five tackles for loss among his 26 stops on the season. His father is a high school coach, which may go a long ways toward explaining why Beckham is regarded as probably the most technically adept lineman on the Cal team.
Nwangwu is in the best physical condition of his career and could provide a major boost to Cal's line play as he's fully healthy after some nagging injuries last season.
The coaching staff is hoping that the return of Tim Pompa (6-3, 275) will be a major factor. He sat out last season when the NCAA ruled him ineligible, but finally appears in full health for the 2001 campaign and will push hard for starting duties at either tackle or noseguard.
Cal will be without the services of redshirt-freshman Jonathan Giesel (6-2, 285), who will sit out the upcoming season with a shoulder injury. That may open the door for prep All-American Lorenzo Alexander (6-3, 280), who arrives this fall with the type of physical and mental maturity which is uncommon among most first-year players.
Others who could be called upon to contribute playing time are redshirt-freshmen Tom Sverchek (6-3, 290), who made some good strides during the spring, or J.D. Cafaro (6-2, 255), a player with excellent intensity.
LINEBACKERS: Cal returns all three starters, but there is so much evenly distributed talent that any number of combinations could emerge in the playing rotation.
On the outside, senior Scott Fujita (6-5, 255) had a very solid junior campaign with 41 tackles, including 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He's added 10 pounds of muscle and significantly improved his speed, causing the Cal coaching staff to believe he'll be one of the premier linebackers in college football this fall and a high pro draft choice. He was practically unblockable during spring drills.
The Bears have a superior back-up in the very athletic Calvin Hosey (6-4, 235), who now has the experience to go along with his natural talents. His speed from sideline to sideline can be a big addition to Cal's defensive plans.
On the inside, neither John Klotsche (6-0, 240) or Matt Nixon (6-1, 220) inspire much fear in opponents because of their physical stature. However, once they strap on a helmet, they seem to become much bigger. The two combined for 93 tackles last year and always seemed to be around the ball. Nixon had 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage while Klotsche recovered three fumbles last season, one that he returned 34 yards for a touchdown at Washington.
A player who will make a significant push for starting duty is senior Chris Ball (6-3, 220). Ball has added 15 pounds of muscle with a dedicated off-season regime after playing last year at just over 200 pounds. A player with superior leg speed and an aggressive style of play, he is just now starting to tap into his vast abilities. There are many who believe he could emerge as a honors candidate if he develops the consistency that the Cal coaching staff demands from the linebacker position.
Redshirt-freshman Wendell Hunter (6-1, 235) and junior Marcus Daniels (6-1, 230) are both built like a rock and will provide a physical presence when the Cal defense needs it. Hunter has the looks of a future honors candidate as he matures while Daniels also has a load of potential.
A player who came out of nowhere during the spring and now figures to get a good amount of playing time is redshirt-freshman Sid Slater (6-2, 215). The walk-on from Mitty HS in San Jose caught the fancy of coordinator Lyle Setencich with his ability to make plays, causing the veteran coach to compare him to former Arizona State All-American Adam Archuletta.
J.P. Segura (6-0, 235) has starting experience and the savvy to contribute. Junior Paul Ugenti (6-0, 210) will concentrate mostly on special teams duties, but gives Cal added depth at the inside linebacker position.
SECONDARY: Cal has excellent depth in the secondary with three starters returning and good competition at all four spots. The person who has the most impressive credentials is junior cornerback Jemeel Powell (6-1, 185), who ranked among the national leaders with 16 pass deflections, despite missing almost three entire games with a hip flexor injury. He also registered four interceptions, including three critical ones that played major roles in wins over USC, Utah and UCLA.
On the other side, junior LaShaun Ward (6-1, 195) is equally talented and will be given the opportunity to nail down a starting spot. Ward has excellent quickness and speed and needs only a dose of consistency to also be considered an honors candidate. He was beginning to make an impact last season, until he suffered a season-ending chest injury in the win over UCLA.
Sophomores Atari Callen (5-9, 190) and James Bethea (5-11, 190) are both excellent coverage corners who will be on the field in nickel and dime alignments and could contend for starting assignments. Callen redshirted last season while Bethea received playing time as a true-freshman.
Cal returns starters Nnamdi Asomugha (6-2, 210) and Bert Watts (6-1, 210) at the safety positions. Asomugha is a budding star as he has an enviable combination of size and speed. After breaking his leg as a freshman, Asomugha started all 11 games last season. Now fully recovered from the injury, he'll have the benefit of a full year of training plus the experience he gained last season. That should all add up to him being a contender for All-Pac-10 honors this fall.
Watts is a steady performer who split starting duties with Dewey Hale (6-0, 205) at the strong safety position. Watts contributed 36 tackles a year ago, while Hale was a very active player who had 50 tackles and six pass deflections. Hale now has the maturity and dedication to become a bigger force in the Cal secondary.
Watts and Hale will be pushed for playing time by redshirt-freshman Perron Wiley (6-0, 210) and sophomore James Smith (6-1, 190). Wiley has the makings of a devastating hitter and will be hard to keep off the field once he learns the Cal defense. Smith was one of Cal's most physical offensive players and he made the move from wide receiver this past spring to see if he can take that style of play to strong safety.
JC transfer Ray Carmel (5-11, 185) is a polished coverage corner and will get a long look when he arrives in the fall.
Cal was solid in the special teams area last year, but when an opportunity arose by a vacancy on the Cal coaching staff in the off-season, Tom Holmoe jumped at the chance to hire LeCharls McDaniel from the NFL and give him autonomy over Cal's special teams efforts.
The Bears have some big shoes to fill with the departure of All-America punter Nick Harris, but there's a sense that McDaniel's hiring and the return of virtually the rest of Cal's special team units intact will mean improvement across the board in 2001.
PUNTING: Nick Harris' NCAA record 13,621 career punting yards will be nothing more than a memory this year and Cal will be forced to find a new punter for the first time in five years.
Sophomore Tyler Fredrickson (6-3, 205) has the inside track as he served as the primary back-up last season and even filled in during the Utah game with three punts.
However, competition will come from sophomore Jeremy Hershey (6-0, 205) and redshirt-freshman Anthony Fassero (6-1, 200). In the fall, some highly regarded walk-ons will also join in the mix to see if they can nail down a starting job.
PLACEKICKING: Mark Jensen (6-2, 185) showed fine progress last year and was awarded a scholarship during the off-season. He hit 11-of-16 field goals, including five of his final six and 10 of his final 12 attempts during the season. He was particularly solid from close range as he connected on 11-of-13 attempts from 40 yards or shorter.
RETURN SPECIALISTS: Cal has one of the top punt return specialists in the country in junior Jemeel Powell. He led the country in that category late in the 2000 season, eventually finishing fifth nationally with a 18.2 ypr average, a new school record. Powell had several long returns, including an 83-yarder for a TD that broke open a close USC game and a 38-yarder vs. Oregon State.
In the fall, the arrival of JC transfer Ray Carmel will present some options as Carmel is regarded as a versatile and adept return specialist who can handle either punts or kickoffs. Others who could fit into the equation are Joseph Echema or James Smith.