California ran into a brick wall on its path to the postseason in 2014, but the program appears to be in solid hands with head coach Sonny Dykes.
Cal ended its 2014 season sitting on five wins, one win shy of becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2011. The first season under Dykes may have looked like a mistake with just one win to celebrate in 2013, but Dykes has shown Cal has potential to compete in the Pac-12 using his coaching style and system. It just took some time for that to become a reality.
The difference one season under Dykes made was undeniable. In his first season at Cal, the Bears ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring with just 23.0 points per game in 2013. That matched the 2012 scoring average of Cal, but the win total went down in the process as Dykes took over. No team in the Pac-12 improved its average scoring output in 2014. The Bears finished the season ranked second in scoring average, behind only Oregon, with an average of 38.3 points per game.
As expected, Dykes has used the passing game to lead his program. When Dykes took over, the Bears improved from ninth to third in the Pac-12 in passing offense, adding about 121 passing yards per game in 2013 compared to 2012. This season the Bears added even more to the passing game with 346.0 passing yards per game. Only Washington State and Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense had more passing yards per game. Cal may not be running the ball as much as it did before Dykes was named the head coach, but the running game did improve this season compared to 2013. The Bears rushed for nearly 150 yards per game this season, up from 123.7 ypg in 2013. More importantly, California more than doubled its rushing touchdown total in 2014, going from just 10 in 2013 to 22 in 2014.
Next season, Cal should be in line for a bowl trip if everything continues to develop the way it has this season. Sophomore quarterback Jared Goff will return an experienced junior with nearly 4,000 passing yards and 35 touchdowns to just seven interceptions in 2014. Leading receivers Kenny Lawler, Stephen Anderson, Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs could all be back as targets next season as well. Throw in a potential senior running back in Daniel Lasco, with his 1,115 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, and the ingredients of a healthy and potent offense are in place. There will be a couple of holes to fill on the offensive line, but Dykes is going to have an offense that will be ready to take the next step in 2015. If the defense can start to improve the way the offense has, getting to six wins should easily be within reach next season.
Cal’s defense allowed a Pac-12 worst 39.8 points per game in 2014. With four losses decided by one score, Cal does not need to be Stanford on defense to get back to the postseason. Trimming just five points from two losses would have resulted in two more wins. Cal is close to being a bowl team, and this is the first step. At Cal, the focus will not be on winning a Pac-12 title, or even a Pac-12 North title, but a step in the right direction. Dykes is leading Cal in the right direction.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)