In December, California gained just seven rushing yards, losing to Texas in the Holiday Bowl. In January, two assistant coaches left town, taking jobs at a rival Pac-12 school. Over the next few weeks, a stellar recruiting class fell apart.
In other words, this season can’t get here fast enough for coach Jeff Tedford and the Golden Bears.
Some already have wondered if the 11th-year California coach has lost his touch. Over his first five seasons, the Golden Bears went 43-20, three times finishing in the final AP Top 25. Over the next five, they are 36-28, missing out on a bowl two years ago, finishing fourth in the Pac-12 North last season.
Does this season hold promise?
Well, at the very least it promises stability. After playing last season’s home games in San Francisco, Cal returns this season to Memorial Stadium, which underwent a $321 million facelift last year. The stadium is expected to be ready for the season opener against Nevada on Sept. 1.
Tedford expects an improved product on the field as well, even without former assistants Eric Kiesau and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi, a former defensive lineman for the Golden Bears. After Lupoi left for Washington, the Golden Bears lost three elite recruits. (Cal still put together a Top 25 class, according to ESPN.)
“If we can stay healthy and the receiving corps comes along, because that’s going to be really the spot that we’re going to be the youngest, then we have the potential to be a very good football team,” Tedford said.
Offensively, Cal returns quarterback Zach Maynard, as well as leading rusher Isi Sofele and leading receiver Keenan Allen.
Defensively, the Golden Bears hope to copy their success of the last two seasons, when they led the conference in total defense.
“Even though we lost some key guys, this is our third year in the system,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said “So the guys we’ll replace them with have a pretty good understanding of what we’re doing and have had practice reps within the scheme so we’re able to move at a pretty fast pace.”
Sept. 1 Nevada
8 Southern Utah
15 @Ohio State
29 Arizona State
Oct. 6 UCLA
13 @Washington State
Nov. 2 Washington
17 @Oregon State
2011 Record: 7-6
Head Coach: Jeff Tedford (Fresno State ’83)
Record at school: 79-48 (10 years)
Career record: 79-48 (10 years)
Ron Gould (Oregon ’88) Associate Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator
Kenwick Thompson (Harding ’91) Associate Head Coach/Linebackers/Recruiting Coordinator
Jim Michalczik (Washington State ’88) Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line
Clancy Pendergast (Arizona ’90) Defensive Coordinator
Marcus Arroyo (San Jose State ’03) Pass Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks
Ashley Ambrose (Mississippi Valley State ’92) Defensive Backs ” Wes Chandler (Florida ’78) Wide Receivers
Jeff Genyk (Bowling Green State ’82) Tight Ends/Special Teams Coordinator
Todd Howard (Texas A&M ’91) Defensive Line
California needs immediate help at receiver. There’s a reason only two are listed on the post-spring two-deep depth chart. The good news for fans: ESPN has three Golden Bears among its top 42 receivers. No. 11 Darius Powe (6-2, 190), No. 25 Bryce Treggs (5-11, 170) and No. 42 Kenny Lawler (6-3, 175) all should get a chance to contribute. Cedric Dozier (5-11, 175), listed as ESPN’s No. 47 athlete, also could get a look.
ESPN ranked Zach Kline (6-2, 205) as the nation’s No. 2 quarterback, but he may not be needed right away.
The Golden Bears also could use help on the offensive line. Among those with a chance to help are tackles Christian Okafor (6-6, 310) and Freddie Tagaloa (6-7, 310). California seems set at center, but injuries could give Matthew Cochran (6-2, 339) an opportunity. ESPN ranked him as the nation’s No. 5 center.
Linebacker Michael Barton (6-0, 200) might have the best chance at playing immediately on defense.
Senior Zach Maynard (6-2, 185), who began his career at Buffalo, begins his second season behind center with a greater grasp of the offense. That should help his consistency. Last season, Maynard completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,990 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he also threw 12 interceptions, 10 coming in Cal’s first eight games.
“You really saw [some improvement] the second half of the year,” offensive coordinator Jim Michalczik said. “The neat thing to see in spring ball was he continued to progress and get better from where he left off last season. But his consistency and command of the offense is just so much better now.”
Maynard missed several spring workouts for academic reasons, but he told the Contra Costa Times that he has no doubts about his eligibility. “I’m solid,” he said. Areas in which he focused on during the offseason: reading coverage and picking up blitzes.
Michalczik values the quarterback’s skill set, which makes him a rushing threat as well. Last season, Maynard broke off runs of 43, 39 and 25 yards.
“He’s just so dang athletic,” Michalczik said. “He can make things happen. You think of your all-time great quarterbacks in the NFL, you always think of a guy that’s able to do a little extra.”
Junior Allan Bridgford (6-3, 218) is expected to back up Maynard, although touted true freshman Zach Kline (6-2, 195), an early enrollee, impressed in the spring. “Allan’s right there as a No. 2,” Michalczik said. “He’s ready to play, a very good student of the game. We wouldn’t miss a beat with him.”
Redshirt freshman Kyle Boehm (6-3, 221) and sophomore Austin Hinder (6-4, 194) add depth.
In The Backfield
Senior Isi Sofele (5-8, 183) has joined a strong fraternity of Cal backs, one that includes Shane Vereen, Jahvid Best, Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch. There’s talent behind him, too.
Sofele is dangerous. Last season he rushed for 1,322 yards (sixth best in school history) and 10 touchdowns, earning All-Pac-12 honorable mention recognition. Among returning conference backs, only Utah’s John White and Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor were more productive.
“Great vision, real good quickness,” Michalczik said. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s a physical runner, and he has a great feel for the running game.”
Cal likes to use more than one back, and like most seasons, it should have talent to do so. Senior C.J. Anderson (5-11, 214) was a bright spot during spring drills. Last season, his first after transferring from Laney College in Oakland, Anderson rushed 72 times for 345 yards and eight touchdowns. He ran for 96 yards against Oregon State. He rushed for 48 and two touchdowns against Arizona State.
“C.J. had a great spring for us,” Michalczik said. “He really got better and better. He’s able to do a lot of different things for us. He’s also lost a little weight. He was running the ball better, harder, with more authority. It was one of those things that made you say, ‘OK, this guy’s taken it up another notch. This is pretty cool.’ ”
Awaiting opportunity: sophomore Brendan Bigelow (5-10, 188), redshirt freshman Daniel Lasco (6-1, 204) and redshirt freshman Darren Ervin (5-10, 197). Bigelow tore an ACL as a high school senior, but last season he contributed on special teams. The Cal coaching staff tested him in the spring, and he responded.
“Here’s a kid that really didn’t play high school for two years because of injuries, so we wanted to put him in tough situations where he had to run between the tackles a little bit,” Michalczik said. “He was another pleasant surprise.”
Senior fullback Eric Stevens (6-0, 242) also returns after missing last season with a torn ACL.
With 58 receptions this season, junior Keenan Allen (6-3, 206) will tie Geoff McArthur for most career receptions at Cal. McArthur caught 202 passes from 2000-04, but Allen is capable of more.
An All-Pac-12 selection last season, he ranked among the nation’s leaders in receptions (98) and receiving yards (1,343), both marks ranking second in Cal history. This season, he’s expected to be a candidate for the nation’s top receiving awards, the only concern coming from an ankle injury that kept him out of spring drills. But he’s expected to be ready by fall camp.
“He’s a football player,” Michalczik said. “He has a natural feel for the game. He naturally does some things that you really have to coach other guys to do. He’s big. He’s strong. He has phenomenal hands, good speed, great athlete, all of those things. Everything just comes real easy for him. It’s kind of special.”
From there, however, the Golden Bears are thin. After Allen, the next top returning threat is junior tight end Spencer Hagan (6-5, 227) who had 12 catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Maurice Harris (6-3, 206) is listed opposite Allen on the depth chart, but nothing is in stone. ESPN ranked Harris as the nation’s No. 16 receiver coming out of high school in 2010 and Tedford told Cal beat writers he might have the best hands on the team.
“But it’s kind of up in the air a little,” Michalczik said. “We got some young freshmen coming in that we’re excited about. That’s going to be a big part of our fall training camp, kind of sorting out who’s going to be the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers.”
A plus: Cal has capable tight ends. Aside from Hagen, who spent his first two seasons at receiver, sophomores Richard Rodgers (6-4, 265) and Jacob Wark (6-4, 265) are potential targets. During spring practice, Tedford told reporters that Rodgers could be a force this season. Considering his bloodlines, don’t be surprised if has a knack for big plays. Rodgers’ father, Richard Sr., also played at Cal and had a part in one of college football’s greatest finishes, making the fifth lateral in “The Play” in the 1982 win over rival Stanford.
“He’s got a lot of physical talent,” Michalczik said. “And he’s really learned to become a complete tight end. He’s not just running around, he’s catching the ball, run and pass blocking, doing things after the catch. We’re real excited about him.”
The Big Uglies
The Golden Bears return three starters, but they might not be in the same places.
Senior Dominic Galas (6-1, 286) started at center last season, but he struggled with shotgun snaps and moved to right guard. He missed spring drills with a shoulder injury but is expected to return. Senior Brian Schwenke (6-4, 312), who has played guard his entire collegiate career, takes over at center.
“He’s a real bright guy,” Michalczik said of Schwenke. “He’s got good quickness and speed and he’s becoming more of a leverage player, which is so important at center. I think he can do some things there.”
Cal is promoting senior right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin (6-4, 293) as an All-American candidate. Summers-Gavin started all 13 games last season, protecting the blind side of Maynard, who is left-handed.
“He’s versatile,” Michalczik said. “Before last season, he played at guard and started off and on. He’s a good natural lineman, has good knee movement.”
The Rigsbee brothers are expected to hold down the front’s left side. Neither have much experience. Tyler Rigsbee (6-5, 290), a senior tackle, will replace Mitchell Schwartz, a four-year starter chosen by the Cleveland Browns in the second round of April’s NFL Draft. Rigsbee has battled injuries throughout his career, and he played in just four games last season as a reserve, but the coaching staff was impressed with the lineman’s spring performance.
“Tyler is a big and athletic guy, skilled,” Michalczik said. “He understands football, he’s been around. He’s just a guy that’s always had injuries. As soon as he gets going, something would happen and it’d set him back.”
Jordan Rigsbee (6-4, 306) was listed by ESPN as the nation’s No. 16 guard coming out of high school. He redshirted last season and is listed as the starter at left guard on the team’s depth chart.
Depth could be an issue. In the spring, junior guard/center Mark Brazinski (6-3, 306) tore an ACL and will probably miss the season. Sophomore center Chris Adcock (6-3, 303) and guard Geoffrey Gibson (6-3, 313) are possibilities. Last season Gibson was Cal’s co-Scout Team Player of the year.
“You almost never have enough depth on the offensive line, and we’re trying to develop that,” Michalczik said.
The Golden Bears, who line up in a 3-4 set, lost two starters in Trevor Guyton (seventh-round pick by the Vikings) and Ernest Owusu (signed with Vikings as an undrafted free agent), but the front remains in good shape, mostly because of young talent.
In 2011, defensive tackles Todd Barr (6-3, 260) and Viliami Moala (6-2, 347) ranked among the country’s best defensive tackles coming out of high school, and end Mustafa Jalil (6-2, 302) wasn’t far behind. Moala and Jalil both played in all 13 games last season, while Barr redshirted.
“We’re excited about [their] progress,” defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. “[Moala] was a top recruit for us and got some playing time at the nose position. … Jalil also played a lot last year as a true freshman, so we’re looking out of big things from him in his second year.”
Coming out of spring drills, senior Kendrick Payne (6-2, 274) was listed at first-team nose guard. He’s played in 24 games throughout his career, starting four times and posting 20 tackles, four for loss. Senior Aaron Tipoti (6-2, 274) has similar experience, although he missed the spring with a shoulder injury. Expected to return for fall camp, he also could see time at end.
“He’s very good with his hands and has a very high motor,” Pendergast said. “He has very good football intellect. He understands what we’re trying to do schematically week-in and week-out and knows how to use his skill set.”
Junior Deandre Coleman (6-5, 311) is listed as a first-team end, with Barr backing him up. “Deandre is another guy that’s going to be in the rotation,” Pendergast said. “He played a lot of snaps last year, developed every single week. He continued from where he left off from our bowl game against Texas into the spring. I expect him to pick his game up for us in the fall.”
Perhaps the unit’s biggest loss was Tosh Lupoi, the line coach and key recruiter who left for Washington in January. Tedford brought in Todd Howard from Washington State to replace Lupoi.
“We’re using the same techniques we’ve used since I became the coordinator in 2010,” Pendergast said. “Every coach has his own way of doing things, but the transition has been smooth.”
The big task here: Replacing Mychal Kendricks, last season’s Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and a second-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles.
“He was so explosive, had very good instincts and he’s going to be very good at the next level,” Pendergast said. “It’s hard to come out and replace that kind of guy.”
Senior Robert Mullins (6-0, 228) and sophomore Nick Forbes (6-1, 236) emerged as inside starters during the spring. Mullins hasn’t played much, but he’s been in the system for two years and he knows what Pendergast wants.
“You don’t know much about him because he hasn’t played much, but I’m confident in what he can do,” Pendergast said.
Senior J.P. Hurrell (5-11, 235) and sophomore David Wilkerson (6-2, 238) could push for starting spots. Like Mullins, Hurrell has been around to learn the system, and Wilkerson, who started three games at outside linebacker last season, has experience. Redshirt freshman Jason Gibson (6-2, 223), who also moved to the inside, adds depth.
At outside linebacker, junior Dan Camporeale (6-3, 243) and sophomore Chris McCain (6-6, 230) are the projected starters. Pendergast likes Camporeale’s versatility and says McCain “moves like a cat for a guy his size.”
Sophomore Cecil Whiteside was one of the unit’s better pass rushers, but Tedford dismissed him from the team in May for a violation of team rules. Redshirt freshman Nathan Broussard (6-3, 246) backs up Camporeale.
Senior safety Josh Hill (5-10, 207) hasn’t gotten recognition the last three seasons, but Pendergast expects that to change.
“Josh is probably the best player that nobody knows about,” he said. “He’s played corner. He’s started at nickel back the past three years. He thinks like a coach. He’s pretty much a general out there for the defense. He’s one of the most important guys in making our scheme go.”
Junior Alex Logan (6-2, 207) is a strong candidate to start at the other safety position. He played in 11 games last season, totaling five tackles. Sophomore Avery Sebastian (5-10, 201), Michael Lowe (5-11, 218) and senior Tyre’ Ellison (6-3, 194) could also contribute.
Cal’s corners are experienced. Senior Marc Anthony (6-0, 200) is a two-year starter that last season broke up 11 passes and intercepted another. Junior Steve Williams (5-10, 189) started last season but will be pushed by sophomore Stefan McClure (5-11, 188). “We really like what he’s doing,” Pendergast said. Sophomores Adrian Lee (5-11, 207) and Kameron Jackson (5-9, 187) provide depth.
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