California Preview 2016: Can the Bears and Sonny Dykes rebuild and reload without the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft?
Is Cal still viable in the Pac-12 now that QB Jared Goff is enjoying life as the top overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft?
While the golden-armed Goff wasn’t the only reason the Bears won eight games in a season for the first time since 2009, he certainly was the primary one. And now that he’s a well-paid Ram down in the southern part of the state, Cal will attempt to remain on a northern trajectory without one of its best all-time players.
The onus of keeping the Bears on track belongs to Sonny Dykes, the architect of the program’s steady ascent from 1-11 in 2013 to 5-7 in 2014 to 8-5 and a bowl rout over Air Force a season ago. The fact that Dykes, a popular target of ADs, signed a contract extension through 2019 is one of the key sources of optimism in Berkeley. The other comes by way of Texas Tech, the head coach’s alma mater ironically enough.
Losing a player of Goff’s caliber hurts. Landing Red Raider transfer Davis Webb dials down the pain considerably. Webb has plenty to learn in a short period of time. And his receivers have about as much of a track record with Cal as he does. But Webb provides an instant upgrade at the one position that most makes the Bear Raid attack hum. Pass-catchers aside, the senior will be surrounded by a swath of veterans, and he’ll prepare this fall as if 2016 is his own personal 12-game audition for NFL scouts and GMs.
Webb better be on point, because the Bears won’t win games with defense this fall. When was the last time they did? Cal’s streak of seasons allowing at least 30 points per game should reach five in 2016, placing even more pressure on Webb & Co. to produce red-zone touchdowns. Art Kaufman’s D will be a young and unproven unit that lacks obvious star power. And with question marks and inexperience dotting each level, the Bears will be equally vulnerable to the run as they will be to the pass.
Cal finally turned the corner in 2015. But can it remain on the same path without the one player most responsible for the resurgence? If Webb steps into the massive void and the Bears compete for a second straight bowl berth, they’ll release an important message of viability and long-term stability. If not, this up-and-down program risks losing much of the ground and gravitas it bagged over the past two campaigns.