COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
Pac-12 North PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Sonny Dykes, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tony Franklin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Andy Buh
The top priority for new coach Sonny Dykes is to identify a quarterback to run his version of the spread. None of the candidates — junior Austin Hinder, redshirt freshman Zach Kline and true freshman Jared Goff — has thrown a pass in college. Goff, an early enrollee, played well in the spring. The competition could go right up until the final week of preseason camp.
The Bears lost their top two tailbacks to graduation, but junior Brendan Bigelow is a rising star. He showed breakaway speed in limited work last season, averaging 9.8 yards on his 44 carries. Dykes’ offense is known for its gaudy passing stats, but last year Louisiana Tech averaged 227.2 yards rushing per game, and the Bulldogs’ top three backs combined for 11 100-yard games.
The receiving corps should be the strength of the attack despite the loss of Keenan Allen. Dykes’ offense calls for plenty of four- and five-wide formations. Chris Harper, who caught 41 passes for 544 yards last season, and Bryce Treggs form a promising 1-2 punch. Jackson Bouza and Richard Rodgers will both see time at the Y, a hybrid tight end position.
The big position battle on the offensive line is at center, where redshirt freshman Matt Cochran and fifth-year senior Mark Brazinski are in competition to replace standout Brian Schwenke. Jordan Rigsbee and Chris Adcock started at guard last season, but Alex Crosthwaite made a big push in the spring.
The defensive line will take on a more prominent role as the Bears shift base defenses from the 3-4 to the 4-3 under new coordinator Andy Buh. Fifth-year senior Deandre Coleman, a 6'5", 320-pound tackle, is the elder statesman of the group, and big things are expected from Mustafa Jalil, a junior who is moving from end to tackle. Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett — pass-rushing outside linebackers in the old scheme — will spend more time with their hands down as ends in the new defense. McCain's status with the team appears to be up in the air, as he was suspended indefinitely over the summer.
Nick Forbes and Khairi Fortt headline the linebacking corps. Forbes, who will start in the middle, is the Golden Bears’ top returning tackler (85). Fortt transferred to Cal from Penn State in August 2012 but had to sit out last season with a knee injury. He had a fantastic spring at outside linebacker and is well-versed in the 4-3 from his days with the Nittany Lions.
The secondary was hit hard, losing two honorable mention All-Pac-12 picks in Josh Hill (safety) and Steve Williams (cornerback) as well as cornerback Marc Anthony, who started 32 games in his career. Stefan McClure, now a third-year sophomore, has all-conference ability but needs to stay healthy.
Placekicker Vincenzo D’Amato enjoyed a banner junior season. He tied for second in the Pac-12 in made field goals (16) and ranked fifth in accuracy (69.6 percent). After a slow start, D’Amato finished out the year converting 12 of his final 15 kicks. Punter Cole Leininger was solid as a freshman, averaging 40.0 yards per kick. Allen’s production as a punt returner will be hard to replace.
Dykes needs to find a quarterback, but he is inheriting enough talent at running back and wide receiver to have immediate success on offense. The defense, however, could be an issue, especially with some expected growing pains with a new coordinator and a new system.
The schedule is also extremely difficult — the Bears play USC and UCLA from the South and host Ohio State and Northwestern in non-conference action. There will be progress, but it might not show up in the win column. Reaching bowl-eligibility will be a challenge.