The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 76 California.
Previewing California’s Offense for 2014:
Jared Goff’s freshman season began last fall with a 450-yard passing performance against Northwestern and ended with a shoulder separation against Stanford. In between, Goff set school records for most yards in a game (504) and a season (3,508) in the fast-paced, no-huddle offense. The Bears expect him to be more efficient and have a better command of the offense this fall.
Fully healthy by spring, Goff will only thrive if the running game comes alive. After averaging just 122.2 yards per game, the Bears seek better balance. “When they’re rockin’ and rollin’ it’ll make everything happen easier,” Goff says of the Bears’ running backs.
Fast but undersized sophomore Khalfani Muhammad and injury-plagued junior Daniel Lasco will get first shot at the tailback spot, but freshman Tre Watson, who rushed for 3,434 yards and 48 touchdowns as a high school senior, will get a look. The Bears’ deepest group is receiver, where juniors Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs combined for 147 receptions last season, but only six TDs.
It will only click if the experience gained by a young O-line translates into a more productive unit this season. Eight returnees, led by center Jordan Rigsbee and left tackle Steven Moore, combined for 51 starts on the line last season.
Previewing California’s Defense for 2014:
Stripped of five would-be starters, who missed most or all of the season because of injuries, the Bears were helpless on defense last season. They allowed 45.9 points per game — worst in school history — prompting three changes on the defensive coaching staff. New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman brings a simplified system that will include more blitzing and more man-to-man coverage in the secondary. “This year communication is a lot better,” linebacker Jalen Jefferson says. “Guys feel confident out there. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Defensive line remains perhaps the biggest question mark on the team after the departure of players who accounted for 37 of 48 starts. Two key players are end Brennan Scarlett and tackle Mustafa Jalil, former top-10 national recruits at their positions who were both sidelined last season by injuries. Scarlett, moved from outside linebacker to utilize his pass-rush abilities, “can be a dominant player,” coach Sonny Dykes says.
Also back after a year on the shelf are safeties Avery Sebastian (Achilles) and Stefan McClure (knee), anchoring a secondary that allowed 32 touchdown passes last season.
Previewing California’s Specialists for 2014:
The Bears’ special teams hit rock bottom in a 62–28 home loss to USC in which the Trojans returned two punts for touchdowns and a blocked punt for a third. Punter Cole Leininger actually had a solid sophomore season, averaging nearly 43 yards per kick. Sophomore Noah Beito will try to replace departed senior Vincenzo D’Amato, who converted 17-of-20 field goals.
The Golden Bears are starting from an unfamiliar place — the bottom. Dykes’ debut season in Berkeley was a disaster in every way, and the new regime still is looking for its first victory over an FBS team. The Bears should be deeper and more experienced, and Dykes saw a new resolve during spring ball.
“That’s been the most impressive thing, their mentality,” Dykes says. “They’ve moved on.” Adds running back Muhammad: “A season like that, it hurts. It hurt every game. It’s a new year. We all come in here with a lot of confidence.”
Still, there are more questions than answers, and victories are hard to find on a schedule featuring the steadily improving Pac-12 and non-conference games against Northwestern and BYU. How much improvement shows in the standings remains to be seen.
Acknowledged Dykes: “We’re a work in progress.”