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Pac 12 North #4: CALIFORNIA


State of the Program:

What do you say about a team that beat Colorado by three and lost to Stanford by the same margin? What do you say about a team that had big stars on offense, the best defense in the Pac, and the conference’s most respected coach, yet still finished 4-5 in league play?

The positive is, the Bears are moving in to beautiful new digs this year with the (close enough to play) completion of Memorial Stadium. The crumbling edifice we all remember in Strawberry Canyon with the 6’ wide concourses and the bathroom stalls where a man over 5’5’’ couldn’t stand up straight has been totally remodeled and retrofitted for earthquake safety. The new Memorial Stadium also includes state of the art training facilities to create a package that is sure to impress future recruits.

But if we’re talking about recruiting, we have to mention the Bears loss of Tosh Lupoi, the Defensive Line coach who also happens to be the best recruiter on the West Coast, or maybe anywhere. Lupoi left his alma mater for Seattle when Washington reportedly (Seattle Times) offered him nearly $500,000 to relocate up the coast. That’s not a bad sum for a position coach (Lupoi was paid $144,000 at Cal).

When Lupoi left, eight very highly touted recruits including Monrovia’s (and now UCLA’s) Ellis McCarthy decommitted from Cal and went elsewhere. The long-term effect of Lupoi’s departure could be devastating.

Star Watch:

If you live in Los Angeles, you likely thought Cal’s Zach Maynard is one of the worst quarterbacks in college football last season. Against USC and UCLA, Maynard threw zero touchdowns and seven interceptions in games the Bears lost by a combined 61-23.

Imagine this author’s shock when a check of  Maynard’s stats revealed that he threw only 4 INTs in his other ten games combined! That’s only one more than he threw to UCLA’s Tevin McDonald alone!

Maynard recovered nicely from the UCLA 4 INT disaster and threw only two picks in Cal’s remaining 4 games of the regular season. The Bears went 3-1 with the one loss being a 3-point moral victory v. Stanford. In all Maynard’s rating was a solid 127, and considering his strong finish (though it makes my fingers bleed to type it) Cal fans actually should be excited to watch him in ’12.

But Cal’s real star isn’t Maynard; it’s his half brother Keenan Allen who averaged over 100 yards per game receiving last season and looks to be one of the first WRs selected in this spring’s NFL Draft.

Senior tailback Isa Sofele is the 3rd leading returning rusher in the Pac and averaged over 5 ypc last season. He has dangerous speed and will look to join former Bears TBs Marshawn Lynch and Jahvid Best in the NFL next season.

Roster Changes: Cal has exactly half of their starters returning this season, but the offense should look very similar. The Bears return Maynard, Allen and their top three rushers and three starters on the O-line.

The defense, however, will look very different. Five of the Bears’ top six tacklers on that conference-leading 2011 defense have departed. The Bears will start a trio of highly touted sophomores at linebacker where David Wilkerson, Nick Forbes and Chris McCain will seek to prove they were worthy of the hype.

Cal also loses punter Bryan Anger who became the first punter since the early 90s to be drafted as high as the 3rd round of the NFL draft. (The Jaguars must be planning on punting a lot this season!)

Schedule: People have made a lot of the fact that Cal played their home games across the Bay at AT&T Park last season, and expect the Bears to get a bounce from their return to Memorial Stadium. But the fact is, Berkeley was 4-1 at “home” last year and the commies would have lost that one to USC  if they had played the game in Red Square.

However, there is no place like home and the Bears will see 5 Pac-12 opponents there this season, with only 4 on the road. Cal won’t ever get out of playing USC from the South (Per conference agreements) and they have to travel to the Coliseum this year. They also play @Utah, miss playing Colorado, and have a non-conference date in Columbus at the Horseshoe.

Prospects: With a Senior QB, and Keenan Allen and Isa Sofele returning, you’d love to say Cal has a chance at winning the North division this year, but Stanford and Oregon are still Stanford and Oregon and Washington looks stacked. WSU and OSU will be improved this season as well. Given all that and a less than easy schedule, It’s tough to pick Cal higher than the middle of the North.