Can California Improve Its Win Total in 2013?

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Can the Golden Bears top three victories in Sonny Dykes first season?

<p> Can California Improve Its Win Total in 2013?</p>

After 11 seasons under Jeff Tedford, California decided it was time for a change. Tedford was fired after the season finale, and former Arizona offensive coordinator and Louisiana Tech head man Sonny Dykes was hired as the team’s new coach.

The Golden Bears have plenty of talent in the program but slipped to a disappointing 3-9 mark last year. If the pieces come together, California could challenge for a bowl game in 2013.

However, there’s a couple of obstacles to overcome, including a tough schedule and quarterback uncertainty.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Can California Improve Its Win Total in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
At first look, asking Cal to exceed its three wins from a season ago doesn’t seem like a big deal. You could pick just about any major conference team to win four games by accident. Only 15 teams in the BCS automatic-qualifying conferences won four or fewer games last season. But looking at Cal’s schedule there aren’t a whole lot of sure wins. We can probably count Portland State as one of them, but after that the Bears have to defeat Washington State at home, Colorado on the road and then ... who else? Northwestern, Arizona or Oregon State at home? I like Sonny Dykes’ ability to adapt to his personnel, as he did in his first two seasons at Louisiana Tech, but I’m not sure how he’s going to build this group into a team that can compete with Oregon, Stanford and Ohio State. At Cal, Dykes has an intriguing playmaker in Brendan Bigelow and then an unsettled quarterback situation and a lackluster defense. Even though, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham and Jim L. Mora all had quick success in the Pac-12, Dykes may have trouble matching those three first-year performances. The Pac-12 North is a gauntlet and coaches like Mora, Rodriguez and Mike Leach at Washington State all have a year’s head start on Berkeley. This may be a push for Cal in Dykes’ first season.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Sonny Dykes will improve the Golden Bears in his first season, it just may not show up in the win column. There is talent all over the roster, including a future star in redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Kline. However, the non-conference schedule is nasty with Ohio State and Northwestern coming to town with a combined 22 wins from a year ago. Road trips to Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and Washington is about as tough a road slate as there is in the league. So a home game against Portland State is lone gimmie. To improve on last year's three wins, Cal would have to win three of the following five: Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona, USC and at Colorado. It's certainly possible but not likely, so I will say California is 3-9 once again.


Kyle Kensing, Editor at SaturdayBlitz.com, (@kensing45)
Offensive inefficiency plagued Cal for much of the latter half of Jeff Tedford's run as head coach, but especially so in 2012. Sonny Dykes was a home run hire, especially for reinvigorating the Golden Bear offense. Louisiana Tech was the nation's highest scoring team a season ago, and Dykes was largely responsible for Arizona's two eight-win teams in 2008 and 2009.

Teams must be able to score in the Pac-12, and Dykes will get Cal to that point with his version of the air raid spread. It just won't be his first season. Cal returns the fewest starters of any team in the conference with nine -- four are on offense. A fresh start is probably a good thing for restructuring the system in the long-term, but replacing Keenan Allen and Isi Sofele is difficult in the short run.

Dykes also faces an absolutely brutal schedule in his first year. The Golden Bears face two Big Ten teams in the non-conference. First is Northwestern, which should be in the preseason Top 25, and Ohio State. The Buckeyes are preseason top five material.

The Bears do draw Colorado out of the South, but have to travel to Boulder. Washington State at home is a likely win, and any of Oregon State, Arizona or USC could be upset material at Memorial Stadium. UA in particular has struggled in Berkeley for years.

Four wins are likely. A bowl probably isn't. 
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think California will win more than three games and has an outside shot to push for a bowl game in 2013. Sonny Dykes was an excellent hire and should be a good fit in Berkeley, and former coach Jeff Tedford isn’t leaving the cupboard bare of talent. Provided he can stay healthy, running back Brendan Bigelow is a future star, and the receiving corps has a handful of talented players, including Chris Harper. The defense returns six starters and linemen Deandre Coleman, Chris McCain and Viliami Moala could contend for All-Pac-12 honors. The secondary is the biggest question mark, but Stefan McClure is back after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury.

If the Golden Bears are going to challenge for a winning record, the two biggest obstacles to overcome is a tough schedule and uncertainty at quarterback. Zach Kline has a bright future at California but has no game experience on the FBS level. How quickly can he get acclimated to being a starting quarterback in the Pac-12? The schedule features non-conference games against Northwestern and Ohio State and crossover games with the South Division against UCLA, USC and Arizona. With a likely 1-2 record in non-conference play, California needs to find five wins in Pac-12 action to get bowl eligible. It’s unlikely, especially with Colorado and Washington State the only games the Golden Bears will likely be favored to win. However, I think California gets better as the year progresses and could pull off an upset or two, likely finishing at 4-8 or 5-7. 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Considering California won just three games last season, you would think topping that wouldn't be that difficult of a task for new Golden Bears head coach Sonny Dykes. After all, his Louisiana Tech offense led the nation in both total (577.9 ypg) and scoring (51.5 ppg) offense last season. However, Berkeley, Calif., is nearly 2,000 miles away from Ruston, La., and I expect the offensive production between this year's Golden Bears and last year's Bulldogs to be just as vast. Dykes does have a promising running back in Brendan Bigelow and potential big-play threat at wide receiver in Bryce Treggs, but after that it's anyone guess, including along the offensive line (two returning starters). The defense does return six starters, but it's from a unit that ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 in just about every major statistical category last season. Couple these factors with a non-conference schedule that has Big Ten opponents Northwestern and Ohio State lined up in the first three weeks of the season, and a Pac-12 crossover schedule that features Arizona, UCLA and USC, and it looks like Dykes will be in for a tough first season with the Golden Bears. Forget improving on last season's 3-9 mark, simply matching that win total would have to be considered a positive debut this fall for Dykes.

 

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