Before September’s over, Sonny Dykes’ Cal football team will have already played No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Oregon and No. 22 Northwestern, according to the rankings in the USA Today preseason coaches’ poll released on Thursday — welcome to Berkeley coach.
Thursday’s poll confirmed what many anxious Cal football fans suspected, this fall’s Saturday exams for the California Golden Bears are going to be some of the most challenging in the country, with one Portland State pop quiz tossed in.
Not only is Cal playing seven Top 25 teams this season, the Bears are scheduled to play three of the top four teams in the entire country, with two of those games in hostile territory.
The Bears ducked the defending national champion Crimson Tide of Alabama, ranked No. 1 in the preseason, with the SEC powerhouse being the only school who garnered one of the top four spots in the preseason coaches’ poll that isn’t on Cal’s schedule in 2013.
The SEC placed six of its 14 teams in the USA Today Top 25. The Pac-12 and the Big 10 each had five schools ranked, while the Big 12 placed grabbed four spots in the initial coaches’ rankings.
Cal plays all five of the Pac-12′s Top 25 schools , and two from the Big 10, but unfortunately for its fans, there just isn’t the same amount of talent on campus in 2013 that Jeff Tedford somehow managed to squander a few years ago.
However, there is a charismatic new coach in Berkeley installing a radical new offense. Dykes’ Lousiana Tech team led the nation in scoring last season at 51.5 points per game while going 9-3 in the WAC. All predicated on an offense that will see footballs flying around Strawberry Canyon this fall; Tech passed for over 350 yards a game last year.
But Sonny’s Bears are staring down the barrel of a murderous schedule, and if Cal can’t upset Northwestern in its home opener things could really spiral. The mighty Buckeyes of Ohio State, coached by Urban Meyer and quarterbacked by Braxton Miller (second in the preseason Heisman odds), will arrive in Berkeley as the latest contender to knock the SEC off its perch in the national title game. Two weeks later Cal will be at Autzen Stadium, which was one of the toughest places to win in the country even before the Oregon Ducks started flying with college football’s elite.
Weaker conference opponents like Washington State and Colorado represent must-win games if Cal is to have any shot at a respectable finish in the Pac-12 this season.
Golden Gate’s fine football scribe, Robert Carter, broke down Cal’s 2013 schedule game-by-game, predicting a 5-7 finish for the Bears, but I myself am even less optimistic, especially after squinting at the seven new pound signs added to Cal’s schedule. Each symbol represents a Top 25 opponent for a team featuring a new head coach, a man inheriting a Golden Bear program that went 3-9 last season.
Cal does have a couple very promising young signal callers, and maybe one will absorb Dykes’ unorthodox offense fast enough to befuddle what may be the toughest schedule in Cal football history?
One thing’s for sure, the Bears will be getting a lot of airtime against quality opposition while running an offense that can be very appealing to possible recruits, especially skill players. If Cal could somehow manage to win two games before October, that would be a great start.
A great finish may be harder to come by though, with Stanford now inhabiting some alternate universe where the Cardinal start the season ranked #4 in the whole country. Stanford will host the Big Game in late November, ending Cal’s Death March — I’d recommend Bear fans wear a helmet.
2013 CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Sat, Aug 31 #22 Northwestern Berkeley, CA
Sat, Sep 07 Portland State Berkeley, CA
Sat, Sep 14 #2 Ohio State Berkeley, CA
Sat, Sep 28 #3 Oregon at Eugene, OR
Sat, Oct 05 Washington St. Berkeley, CA
Sat, Oct 12 #21 UCLA at Pasadena, CA
Sat, Oct 19 #25 Oregon State Berkeley, CA
Sat, Oct 26 Washington at Seattle, WA
Sat, Nov 02 Arizona Berkeley, CA
Sat, Nov 09 #24 USC Berkeley, CA
Sat, Nov 16 Colorado at Boulder, CA
Sat, Nov 23 #4 Stanford at Stanford, CA