The Bears continue to travel on an upward arc, and they have more ambitious goals still for Year Four under head coach Justin Wilcox. They have played in bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since doing it seven years in a row through 2009 under Jeff Tedford. And they have assembled back-to-back winning seasons thanks mainly to a stout defense, last year featuring consensus All-America linebacker Evan Weaver.
Weaver is gone, but the defense should remain solid, and the offense may be ready to take a major step forward. Quarterback Chase Garbers leads a unit that returns every starter from Cal’s 35–20 win over Illinois in the Redbox Bowl. New offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave brings an NFL flavor to the offense.
With a total of 18 starters back, the biggest changes were on the coaching staff, where Angus McClure will run the offensive line, Aristotle Thompson takes over the running backs and Marcel Yates will coach defensive backs. Wilcox also promoted linebacker coach Peter Sirmon to co-defensive coordinator.
Previewing California's Offense for 2020
The Bears’ offense has struggled since the start of 2018, scoring more than 28 points in a game just three times in a span of 21 outings. They averaged just 17.4 points over the first eight games last season but then found a groove, scoring at a 27.4-point clip while going 4–1 to close out last season.
The offensive line, which had to replace two projected starters within the first week of the schedule, gradually began to mesh. At the same time, Garbers finally got healthy after missing four games due to a broken collarbone and a subsequent concussion. In wins over Stanford, UCLA and Illinois to close the season, Garbers completed 66 percent of his passes for 787 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception. Although he got limited spring practice with Musgrave, Garbers doesn’t think the new system will be an issue. “It’s quite easy to grasp and understand even though it’s a whole new terminology,” he says.
Every key running back returns, led by junior Christopher Brown Jr., who rushed for 914 yards and eight TDs last fall. Additionally, Wisconsin graduate transfer Bradrick Shaw will join the team this fall. The receiving corps is also largely intact, featuring junior Nikko Remigio, who emerged as a potential standout after catching 18 passes for 251 yards and two TDs over the final three games.
The O-line, anchored by center Michael Saffell and right tackle Jake Curhan, should be deeper with the return of Will Craig and Gentle Williams, both sidelined by injury a year ago. The five returning regulars have a combined total of 110 starts under their belts.
Previewing California's Defense for 2020
The defense returns without three headliners, but there is plenty of experienced talent coming back. It helps that senior defensive ends Luc Bequette and Zeandae Johnson, who have a career 50 starts between them, each received sixth years of eligibility from the NCAA due to previous injuries.
The coaching staff has high hopes for Brett Johnson, who started eight games at nose guard as a freshman last season.
Kuony Deng, who arrived from junior college before last season, had 119 tackles from his inside linebacker spot to rank third in the Pac-12. Outside linebacker Cameron Goode, who had pick-sixes early in the season in both 2017 and ’18 before suffering season-ending injuries, finally enjoyed a mostly healthy stretch last year and responded with 9.5 sacks, third in the Pac-12.
Cornerbacks Camryn Bynum, an honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection, and Elijah Hicks return, but Hicks will be moved to safety after the departure of Ashtyn Davis and Jaylinn Hawkins.
Previewing California's Specialists for 2020
The Bears must replace both their placekicker and punter from a year ago. Redshirt sophomore Dario Longhetto, who served as the backup punter in 2019, is set to become the No. 1 placekicker. Longhetto replaces Greg Thomas, who made 23-of-34 field-goal attempts and 65-of-66 PATs the past two seasons. Junior transfer Jamieson Sheahan will replace fellow Australian Steven Coutts as the punter. Cal’s return game has been ordinary — just one kick return for a TD in the past five seasons and none via punt return since Keenan Allen in 2012.
Cal finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Pac-12 North last season, matching Washington and Oregon State at 4–5 in conference play. The Bears won’t be satisfied with another 4–5 ledger in league play.
Cal has a favorable schedule that features home games against its three biggest North division rivals — Oregon, Washington and Stanford — along with Utah and UCLA.
The offense finished strong in 2019 and returns nearly intact. The O-line will have to do better than allowing 46 sacks (which ranked last in the Pac-12) and must do its part to keep Garbers upright after he was injured twice last season.
The defense loses three players hoping to make NFL rosters, but there is a ton of experience returning to a unit that has carried the Bears the past two seasons.
“It’s an exciting time for us,” Wilcox says. “The dial’s getting turned up, and that’s a good thing. The expectations should continue to rise.”