California Golden Bears 2016 Preview and Prediction
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#44 California Golden Bears
Pac-12 North PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Sonny Dykes, 14-23 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jake Spavital | DEF. COORDINATOR: Art Kaufman
Losing the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft will hurt, but coach Sonny Dykes landed a replacement for Jared Goff in May with the addition of transfer Davis Webb. In addition to getting Webb settled at quarterback, the Golden Bears have to find a few weapons at receiver. The defense has improved every year since 2014 and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t continue.
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Previewing Cal’s Offense
Quarterback was the big unknown for the Bears with departed star Jared Goff’s backups from each of the past three seasons among the frontrunners to win the job. The Bears began spring practice with five candidates hoping to fill the biggest shoes on campus, but the answer came in May with Davis Webb's arrival from Texas Tech. Webb is eligible immediately as a graduate transfer and should be a good fit in the Bear Raid offense. Third-year sophomore Chase Forrest worked as the backup in 2015 and should return in that role for 2016.
The new QB will operate behind a line with four returning starters. “It’s huge, especially for young quarterbacks,” Spavital says of the experience up front. Running backs Tre Watson, Khalfani Muhammad and Vic Enwere each rushed for more than 500 yards last fall, and the Bears expect to use a committee approach again. Gone are six receivers who totaled 265 catches for 3,878 yards and 38 TDs last season. Replacing them is a group of nearly a dozen that brings size, speed and versatility.
Previewing Cal’s Defense
Defensive coordinator Art Kaufman has overseen gradual progress after inheriting one of the nation’s worst defenses when he arrived in 2014. The Bears allowed 45.9 points per game in ’13, then improved to 39.8 in ’14 and 30.7 last season. “Last year was better — wasn’t where we wanted it to be,” says Kaufman, who has five starters back from 2015 and greater depth almost everywhere. “Defensively, it’s time to make another jump.”
Kaufman believes the line will be stronger, led up front by tackle James Looney and end DeVante Wilson. Mostly, the Bears have developed greater numbers of capable players. “You can’t afford to have one-and-a-half at any position. You’ve got to be two-deep, plus,” Kaufman says. The linebacking corps, however, took a huge hit when star Hardy Nickerson announced in late April that he was transferring to Illinois to play his final season for his father, the Fighting Illini’s new defensive coordinator.
The biggest hole on defense is at the second cornerback slot, opposite returning starter Darius Allensworth. One or more of five incoming DBs could fill that void. The status of senior Damariay Drew, expected to anchor the defense from his strong safety spot, is unclear after he had left knee surgery for an injury he sustained in spring camp.
Previewing Cal’s Specialists
Matt Anderson was a pleasant surprise at placekicker last season, converting 18-of-21 field goals with just one miss inside 40 yards. Sophomore Dylan Klumph, at 6'3", 230 pounds, won the punting job with a strong performance in spring ball. The Bears hope to get more punch from a return game that was anemic last season.
Dykes understands that outside expectations for his team will be diminished this season following the departure of star quarterback Goff and his receiving corps. But he isn’t lowering the bar after the Bears posted an 8–5 record and a bowl victory in his third season. He considers the performance of Washington State, which jumped from 3–9 in 2014 to 9–4 a year ago, and says, “We’re hoping we can be next year’s surprise team and continue to progress without having to take a step backward.” If the offensive line is as good as Dykes hopes, Webb stabilizes the quarterback play as expected and the defense continues to make progress, perhaps the Bears can avoid taking a step back.