California football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Bears, best players and season prediction.
What You Need to Know About the Cal Offense
The Bear Raid was prolific for much of 2015, finishing No. 2 in Pac-12 scoring and total offense. But what happens to Sonny Dykes’ brainchild now that his orchestrator, Jared Goff, is a very wealthy Los Angeles Ram?
Dykes and his assistants have a busy summer ahead now that the franchise—and his top six pass-catchers—are gone. Cal did lessen the blow by signing graduate Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb, who should be able to hit the ground running in a system he knows intimately well. Plus, the backfield is deep and the O-line is experienced, aided by another Lone Star State transfer, one-time Texas A&M C Jeremiah Stuckey.
But who catches passes from Webb, assuming he holds off contenders Chase Forrest and Ross Bowers? Youth is about to be served, led by true freshmen Melquise Stovall at “Y” and Demetris Robertson at “X”.
Both young weapons have the talent and the opportunity to be 40-catch guys in their debuts on campus.
Biggest Key To The California Offense
Next gen receivers. Last year’s top six pass-catchers are gone, so whoever gets the start behind center will be throwing to an entirely new corps of receivers. Fortunately, Cal has landed a pair of gems, Melquise Stovall and Demetris Robertson, who are stepping into a situation brimming with possibilities. Stovall was electrifying out of the slot in the spring, bringing a different dimension to the offense. Robertson is a five-star mega-recruit, who announced his decision three months after Signing Day. Both rookies will factor prominently in the retooled 2016 passing game.
What You Need to Know About the Cal Defense
Who steps up for coordinator Art Kaufman now that a large chunk of last year’s regulars either graduated, transferred or were forced to retire? While a leaky Bear D made small strides in 2015, a regression back to the old charitable days may be in store now that so many fresh faces occupy the two-deep.
Plus, to add insult to injury, projected frontman Hardy Nickerson elected to take his experience to Champaign, Ill. and steady S Damariay Drew hurt his knee in the spring. With little certainty here, Kaufman will lean a little harder on his veterans, linemen James Looney, DeVante Wilson and Tony Mekari, linebackers Devante Downs and Raymond Davison and DBs Darius Allensworth and Cameron Walker.
Better yet, the program will again have to place its faith on the offense, because shootouts are likely to be commonplace this year. With few exceptions, this side of the ball isn’t likely to produce many candidates for the All-Pac-12 Team or the 2017 NFL Draft.
Biggest Key To The California Defense
Prowling for leaders. The Bears lost a chunk of senior leadership to graduation, which is a part of the game at this level. But the program endured a body blow when veteran LB Hardy Nickerson announced following spring that he’d be joining his dad at Illinois. Nickerson was being counted on to be one of the team’s vocal tone-setters in 2016. Without him, Cal will put out APBs for veteran leaders, particularly if the spring knee injury suffered by senior S Damariay Drew prevents him from getting on the field.
Cal Will Be Far Better If …
the backs play a bigger role in the offense. The passing game is getting a complete overhaul. And the running backs are deep, so there’s good reason to leverage the diverse skill sets of speedy Khalfani Muhammad, powerful Vic Enwere and Tre Watson, arguably the most complete member of the trio. True, Cal will remain a pass-first operation under Sonny Dykes, but topping last season’s 153 rushing yards per game ought to be a priority now that the personnel has undergone a facelift.
Best Offensive Player
Senior QB Davis Webb. The Bears needed a franchise quarterback after Jared Goff elected to turn pro with a year of eligibility remaining. So, they went out and signed one of the best free agents on the market. Webb not only has Sunday arm talent, but he’s also familiar with the Bear Raid attack being run in Strawberry Canyon. In that regard, he appears to be an ideal piece of the puzzle for a program looking for a one-year solution as the younger hurlers continue to develop in the bullpen.
Best Defensive Player
Senior NB Cameron Walker. The Bears are painfully light on proven defenders now that last year’s three honorable mention All-Pac-12 performers are gone. Walker is the program’s closest thing to an all-star contender this offseason, thanks in large part to his know-how and experience playing multiple positions. Walker quietly delivered a solid season in 2015, and his feel for the secondary is going to help a defensive backfield replacing two key contributors, CB Darius White and S Stefan McClure.
Key Player to a Successful Season
Senior QB Davis Webb. Sonny Dykes without a proven quarterback is like a car with a steering wheel. It’ll still move, but in what direction is anyone’s guess. Cal needs Webb, who was pried away from a Colorado commitment for his experience running a system not unlike the one that’s catapulted Dykes’ career. No one expects Webb to be the second-coming of Jared Goff. But he will need to be catalyst for the offense if the Bears have any hope consecutive bowl games for the first time in six years.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
the Bears can find six wins on the schedule. It will not be easy, but it is absolutely essential for a program that can accept a regression but not an implosion. Cal went to great lengths and plenty of heavy lifting to return to the postseason in 2015. So, even in the face of a rugged slate that includes trips to USC and Wazzu and visits from Texas, Utah, Oregon, U-Dub, Stanford and UCLA, the Bears must qualify for a 13th game to keep the momentum rolling under Sonny Dykes.
Nov. 19 vs. Stanford. The opener with Hawaii in Australia will spawn many Instagram moments. And Texas in Berkeley in Week 3 will generate lots of national media buzz. But Cal sure could use a win over rival Stanford. The Bears have dropped six straight in the series, including the last four by double-digits. And if Sonny Dykes & Co. want to continue to knock down more barriers, they’ll have to capture the Big Game at some point soon.
2015 Fun Stats
– Touchdown passes: Cal 44 – Opponents 21
– Rushing yards per game: Cal 152.8 – Opponents 209.7
– Red-zone touchdown%: Cal 65% – Opponents 62%