In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 26, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. You can find all the rankings and previews here.
No. 76 Cal
While the Sonny Dykes air raid experiment is over, new head coach Justin Wilcox and offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin — the former Eastern Washington head coach — have repeatedly said there will be some changes but they love Cal's personnel and won't change too much in year one.
That personnel includes two established running backs, two young receivers, three returning starters at linebacker and (hopefully) the return of a safety from an early-season ACL tear.
2016 Record: 5-7 (3-6, Pac-12)
Cal won just five games and missed a bowl game for the fourth time in five seasons. They didn't win a road game (0-5), lost to Arizona State and Oregon State and endured a four-game late-season losing streak, three games of which were decided by 21 or more points. The did, however, lose three games by fewer than 10 points apiece and knocked off Utah.
The seven-loss season was mostly due to a putrid defense. The Golden Bears gave up 42.6 points per game — at least 30 in 10 games — and were one of just seven FBS teams to yield more than 500 yards per game.
Head Coach: Justin Wilcox (1st year)
Cal canned Sonny Dykes after a third non-bowl season. However, they didn't do so until Jan. 8, more than six weeks after the season ended. He was replaced six days later by Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, a clear sign the administration was sick of watching Dykes, an offensive guru, field atrocious defenses.
The 40-year-old Wilcox was Cal's linebackers coach under Jeff Tedford from 2003-05, and prior to Wisconsin was defensive coordinator at four schools, including USC and Washington.
“It has been a dream of mine to lead a college football program,’’ Wilcox said in January. “There’s no better place than here at Cal, where I got my start and at a school that means so much to me.’’
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Chase Forrest, QB Ross Bowers, RB Tre Watson, RB Vic Enwere, WR Demetris Robertson, WR Melquise Stovall, WR Jordan Veasy, TE Raymond Hudson, G Dwayne Wallace, C Addison Ooms
Chase Forrest (below) and Ross Bowers, both of whom didn't attempt a single pass behind Davis Webb last season, are competing for the starting job at quarterback.
“They’re pretty similar in a lot of ways,” said new offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin in April. “I don’t have great differences between the two. … They’re fairly similar in size, in certain things they do well, and in certain things they need to work on.”
The winner gets two talented runners in the backfield, Tre Watson and Vic Enwere. The seniors have combined for 2,044 yards and 17 touchdowns the last two seasons and though they lose three offensive line starters, guard Dwayne Wallace and center Addison Ooms are back.
Also a notable return — but really an addition given how little Sonny Dykes used a tight end — is Raymond Hudson. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder will see an increase in receiving production (34 career catches) and run-blocking responsibilities.
On the outside, the Golden Bears lost 1,200-yard receiver Chad Hansen early to the NFL, but return Demetris Robertson and Melquise Stovall, who combined for 92 catches as freshmen.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Tony Mekari, DE James Looney, LB Devante Downs, LB Raymond Davison, LB Cameron Saffle, CB Marloshawn Franklin Jr., CB Darius Allensworth, S Evan Rambo
Cal's poor defensive performances were not an accurate reflection of their talent, especially at defensive end and linebacker, where James Looney and Devante Downs are all-conference-caliber players.
The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Looney had 7.5 tackles and two sacks and spearheaded a last-minute defensive stand against Utah. The Golden Bears prevented the Utes from reaching the endzone on six plays from the 11-yard line in their 28-23 win.
“A lot of times production may come in terms of stats for the team and not for the individual,” then-defensive coordinator Art Kaufman said last October. "Looney is “a focal point for (opposing) offenses. All he does is do his job.
Downs, their leading tackler (83) last year, anchors the middle of Tim DeRutyer's 3-4 scheme that will look to use former defensive end Cameron Saffle's pass-rushing skills at outside linebacker.
Seniors Marloshawn Franklin Jr. and Darius Allensworth return at corner, but the biggest key to their pass defense might be sophomore safety Evan Rambo. He played well as a true freshman before tearing his ACL last September.
Notable Player Losses
QB Davis Webb, RB Khalfani Muhammad, WR Chad Hansen, OT Steven Moore, G Chris Borrayo, DE DeVante Wilson, S Khari Vanderbilt
Davis Webb is the big loss. He flourished in one season after transferring from Texas Tech, completing 62 percent of his passes for 37 touchdowns and nearly 4,300 yards. He facilitated the breakout season from junior receiver Chad Hansen. After just 19 catches for 249 yards and one score in 2015, Hansen went ballistic, hauling in 92 passes for 1,249 yards and 11 scores.
Khalfani Muhammad's departure won't earn national headlines because of the talent behind him. Nonetheless, he did leave with 2,644 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns in four solid season. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry for his career.
Veteran linemen Steven Moore and Chris Borrayo are also gone. Moore started 48 career games, including 41 in a row, and was an all-conference honorable mention selection in 2016.
Defensively, DeVante Wilson was one of two players who more than two sacks and the only with more than four (4.5), and safety Khari Vanderbilt left after recording 77 tackles, four tackles for loss and four passes defended in 2016.
Notable Player Additions
OT Jake Curhan, LB Cameron Goode, CB Elijah Hicks
Cal's three biggest additions are all freshmen, including one who should start Week 1, offensive tackle Curhan. The 6-foot-6, 325-pound redshirt freshman from nearby Larkspur was listed atop the spring depth chart.
Cameron Goode is fast, physical outside linebacker who redshirted last year and should see special teams time and some snaps behind Cameron Saffle. And true freshman Elijah Hicks is competing at nickel.
Two of Cal's three non-conference games are against Power Five teams, including a visit to North Carolina in the season opener.
They do have a three-game homestand in September but two of those games are against Ole Miss and USC. And they have two sets back-to-back road games, Oregon and Washington on Sept. 30 and Oct. 7, respectively, and Stanford and UCLA on Nov. 18 and Nov. 24, respectively.
It will be a chore trying to win five games again.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||at North Carolina|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Weber State|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Ole Miss|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. USC|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at Oregon|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||at Washington|
|Friday, Oct. 13||vs. Washington State|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. Arizona|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||at Colorado|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||vs. Oregon State|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at Stanford|
|Friday, Nov. 24||at UCLA|