The Cal Golden Bears football team had a season to forget following a 1-11 record in coach Sonny Dykes first season in Berkeley. Reviewing the team was not pretty, as it showed the failures on offense and the unmitigated disaster that was the defense. Coach Dykes inherited a pretty young team from the departed Jeff Tedford. Transfers and injuries sapped the roster of depth, particularly along the offensive line and throughout the defense. The lack of depth combined with the overabundance of first and second year players created the perfect firestorm that was one of the least successful seasons in Cal football history.
The issues for the Cal Bears started in the summer, as they lost two big name players on their defense. Projected starter at linebacker, David Wilkerson, decided to transfer to Arizona prior to Fall Camp. Defensive lineman Keni Kaufusi decided to leave the program.
During the season, they lost interior defensive lineman Gabe King, who gave up football to focus on academics. They also lost Chris McCain, who was kicked off the team following a number of issues on and off the field.
Injuries decimated the team throughout the season. By the end of the season, the Bears had suffered nine season ending injuries. The majority were sustained by starters on the defensive side of the ball, but the offensive line lost two of the main pieces in Chris Adcock and Matt Cochran.
This thinning of the roster made life difficult for coach Dykes and his assistants. It forced a lot of players to see the field earlier than the coaches had, so they had to basically make it a crash course for the young players to learn on the go. Far too often the consequences would be apparent, as the team would struggle to do the little things right with poor tackling and missed assignments.
Looking forward to next season, things can only go up from here. The team would be a year older and a lot of those younger guys got valuable experience by being thrown into the fire this season. There is a lot of promise with the offense and the defense should return a number of projected starters on the defensive side of the ball.
The offense looks to be in the best shape going forward with legitimate talent at the skill positions and potential at the quarterback position. Jared Goff looked to be the real deal with 1,306 passing yards and seven touchdowns in his first three games, which included two games against ranked opponents. Then he suffered a few rough games in the next several he played in and you could see it affect his confidence. His internal game clock sped up and he was unable to feel comfortable sitting in the pocket looking to attack downfield. Another full offseason with him locked into being the starter should rebuild his confidence and let him build off the successes he had last season. Look for a potential big year in the Bears’ offensive scheme, as he get more comfortable with the speed of the game.
Goff should have plenty of help next year, as well. All of his top six receivers in receptions will return next year and the top three running backs will be back. His most potent weapons are wide outs Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper, who combined for 147 receptions and 1,603 yards, are potential NFL talent and the duo could make a case for the most dangerous duo in the nation next season.
The running game took a major step back, as the offensive line struggled all season and the backs could not make something with what they were given. Brendan Bigelow was tabbed to make a splash as the number one back, but he failed to make the most of his opportunities and was temporarily moved to the slot receiver position for a few games. The breakout name was highly touted freshman Khalfani Muhammad, who finished as the Bears’ leading rusher with 445 yards and six yard per carry average. Better run blocking and a bounce back performance would be huge for the balance of the offense and should scare defenses with their one-two combo of homerun hitting threats.
The outlook is much more cloudy on the defensive side of the ball. The defense lost a number of players to injuries and never could stabilize the unit during the season, as they were torched to historic levels. They return 15 players that were projected to start or did start at some point this season, including several upperclassmen that would have been a major boon for the fledgling defense. Looking at a depth chart that includes many of the injured defense takes this defense from one of the leagues worst to one of better defenses in the league on paper.
With that said, the circumstances surrounding the defense has not allowed defensive coordinator Andy Buh to escape blame. Many Cal fans are calling for coach Dykes to fire him, as they place all the blame for the defense’s struggles on him. They might have a point, as the poor tackling and missed defensive assignments can be tied to poor coaching. On the other hand, those problems can also be attributed to the youth of the team, as well. Which creates the question, “which one is the biggest contributor to the problem?”
The area of concern that Cal fans should be looking at is the incoming recruiting class. Currently, the Cal recruiting class is about on par for the season they had. According to 24/7 Sports, they are ranked 65th in the nation and 11th in the Pac-12, which is just above a Washington team that has seen its class fall apart due to the departure of Steve Sarkisian. They have 11 commitments, with just three players ranking at four stars or higher, two of those players might be looking to jump ship prior to signing day.
This has caused coach Dykes to turn to the junior college ranks to create a temporary stop gap for this class. A problem that has been exacerbated by the looming possible transfer of several players. As of now, quarterback Zach Kline and offensive lineman Freddie Tagaloa are confirmed to be leaving, but there are rumors swirling that more could follow. Can the Bears fill those with a late push in recruiting or could an already thin roster grow even thinner?
This is a young team with a lot of promise and potential talent along the roster. Will a second year of being in the system create better cohesion between the players and the coaches? The natural curve of development has to have the Bears trending upwards, especially on offense with the exponential growth that one would expect from Goff. The major area of concern has to be the depth of the team, especially with the rampant transfer rumors that are circling over the program and the poor recruiting class has fans on edge that they may not be out of the woods yet. A late successful push into the junior college ranks could alleviate some of those concerns, but another injury filled year could spell disaster.
It was a painful year for Bears’ fans and it could be rough season next year, but this is rock bottom and it can only go up from here.