While many may consider San Francisco the crown jewel of the West, across the bay lies one of finest institutions in the country and a surrounding environment that has seen some things. Berkeley, California, ranks 18th on our Top 100 College Football Towns of America Countdown.
To celebrate 100 days until the start of the college football season, HERO Sports is counting down the Top 100 FBS College Football Towns in America. Each day, through Aug. 24, a new city will be revealed. We will analyze the city, the program, the good and bad of the city as well as the bottom line. If you got a problem, @me on Twitter.
18. Berkeley, California — California
The Pac-12 North is a gauntlet. Is this the year Cal breaks through? (Photo: AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron )[/credit]
There are four California schools in the Pac-12, and for the majority of its existence as the Pac-8, Pac-10 and the Pac-12, Cal has always been the other, other California school.
The Golden Bears are not without history. They own the third-longest unbeaten streak in college football at 50 games from 1920-25. "The Wonder Teams" won three national championships, and probably would have won more if head coach Andy Smith didn't die of pneumonia in January of 1926, at the age of 42.
While Cal would show flashes of greatness (who could forget the Pappy Waldorf era), there were also many seasons of disappointment (NFL Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy fizzled in Berkeley). In the 50 years since the formation of the then-Pac-8, Cal has finished more than one game above .500 in 16 seasons, seven of which came under the winningest coach in Cal history, Jeff Tedford. Despite middling play, plenty of big names have called Berkeley home. Players like Aaron Rodgers, Tony Gonzalez and Marshawn Lynch played in the blue and gold. None of those players were able to bring consistent winning to the Bay, however.
Justin Wilcox is hoping to change that. In his first season, the team went 5-7, finishing the season 1-4. Cal lost three of those games by a combined seven points. The Bears could have easily been 8-4, instead of 5-7, with good wins against Ole Miss and Washington State. In 2018, Cal returns every starter from the offense and seven starters from the defense. Improvement is almost a guarantee.
There has been major gentrification to Berkeley recently that has started to diminish the distinct character that made Berkeley the free speech capital in the 60s. Where afros and bare feet roamed the college town with the freedom to do, say and act however they pleased. While the artistic lifeline to the city still roams unencumbered, many residents have either left or been forced to move as the price of living continues to skyrocket.
It is still pretty great though. Berkeley sits comfortably neutral to numerous meccas. San Francisco to the west, Napa Valley to the north, Lake Tahoe to the east and Silicon Valley to the south. You have everything at your fingertips while still having so much to devour in the city itself. Incredible restaurants dot the city landscape. While you may want to stick to the main thoroughfare, there is more than enough culinary options on every block. The Berkeley forest is a popular camping destination for those trying to get away–for an hour, a day, maybe a month.
If those mentioned above is not enough, consider that UC Berkeley faculty, alumni and researchers have won 71 Nobel Prizes. So you probably don't have to worry about being the smartest guy in the room.
Thanks to gentrification, Berkeley is ridiculously expensive. Berkeley was named number one on SFGate’s list of the most expensive college towns in the country in 2017. So if you plan to visit, make sure you bring your sleeping bag, because you'll probably be bunking up.
Thanks to its prime location at the heart of everything and what looks to be a promising college football future under Wilcox, what could possibly stop someone from visiting Berkeley? The money. That's right. The money.