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Prelude to a Season: #11

11.) California Golden Bears

CaliforniaWhat You Need to Know
For the Cal Golden Bears, it’s tough being them. In-state rival and conference rival USC consistently grabs the headlines, the attention, and the titles, while Cal perennially is good but always seems a step behind the Trojans for the Pac 10 and the national championships. Last season it was a frustrating time for the Golden Bears as each time they appeared in the national polls, they lost the following week. They did close the season with an Emerald Bowl win against the Miami Hurricanes, but a 9-4 season left much to be desired. This year, though, Cal figures to have all the pieces needed for a Pac 10 title run but also potentially a national championship chance.

Most of those pieces for a title run are located on the offensive side of the ball for the Golden Bears. Junior RB Jahvid Best clearly is the most valuable weapon, as he led the Pac 10 in rushing last season while setting a Cal single-game record in the season finale with 311 yards. Best is clearly a front-runner for the Doak Walker award, and looks to give Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, and Colt McCoy some company at the Heisman Ceremony. Handing Best the ball will be junior Q B Kevin Riley, who no longer has to battle with Nate Longshore. Riley was far from epic last season, but looks to improve on his 50.7% accuracy. On the offensive line, the Golden Bears lose All American center Alex Mack, as well as 2nd Team Pac 10 RG Noris Malele but the Cal offensive line is experienced, talented, and deep. It will be hard to eclipse last year’s 32.6 points per game, but this unit is talented enough to do it.

Defensively, Cal returns 8 starters from a unit that allowed only 315 yards per game and 19.9 points. They do lose their top 2 tacklers, but return experience and talent all over the field. The most felt losses are LB Zack Follett, whose 10.5 sacks last season accounted for one-third of Cal’s total sacks and Worrell Williams. Anthony Felder also departs, as does Shea McIntyre, leaving the linebacking unit depleted and virtually the only area of concern for the entire Cal team despite highly touted young bucks chomping at the bit. The entire secondary returns, most notably Syd’Quan Thompson who excels not only as a corner but also as a punt returner.

Cal’s schedule is challenging but not impossible, as their lone out of conference road game is against Minnesota in a definite winnable game. Their most challenging out of conference game is their season opener against Maryland, at home. In conference, the Golden Bears play 5 of their 9 Pac 10 games on the road, but do get Oregon State and USC at home.

Since taking over in 2002, Jeff Tedford has built Cal into a consistent winner, perennial contender, and a team that no one can take lightly. When your “down year” is 9-4 with a Bowl win, that’s doing things the right way. This year, Tedford looks to take the Bears to the next level and challenge USC for the conference crown and the accompanying BCS berth.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
RB Jahvid Best: 194 att, 1580 yds, 15 TDs
QB Kevin Riley: 112-221, 1360 yds, 14 TDs, 6 INTs
CB Syd’Quan Thompson: 70 tkls, 2 sacks, 5.5 TFL, 14 PBU, 4 INTs

Game to Watch
For the Golden Bears, they look to be undefeated, highly ranked, and able to make a gigantic statement about the rest of the season on October 3rd when USC rolls into Berkeley. Should they win, their next contest (after a bye week) on October 17th against UCLA could be their toughest remaining challenge for Pac 10 supremacy and a win there puts an undefeated season well within their sights.

They’ll Do Well If…
… Kevin Riley steps into the starter’s role with confidence and swagger. Many will point to the defensive losses as a reason Cal won’t succeed, but with enough success from Riley, that’s a burden easily overcome.

Season Outlook
For Cal, this season may not be historic, but it will be a good year to be a GoldenĀ  Bears fan. After running through their non-conference schedule at 3-0, Cal will put USC and UCLA to the test, defeating one of the two and losing a heartbreaker to the other. They’ll be favored in the rest of the conference matchups and close the year 11-1, with an outside shot at a Pac 10 championship depending on who the “1” was. A great year for Cal and another outstanding performance from Jahvid Best will make 2009 a year to remember.

2 Responses

  1. Please note the 3rd LB lost was Worrell Williams & the road trip to Oregon prior to $c is a potential road loss.
    Go Bears,

  2. who the hell is shea mcintyre? it’s worrel williams! plus, you didn’t even mention oregon on the road prior to USC.

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