It was a tough first year for head coach Sonny Dykes, as the California Golden Bears suffered through one of their worst seasons in team history in 2013. They set a team record of 11 losses, as they recorded their first one win season since 2001. A plethora of problems combined to create a disastrous season. Coach Dykes was left with a roster that was thinned out by transfers following the departure of Jeff Tedford, which was then further thinned out by injuries during the fall camps and the season. A young, thin roster was a worst-case scenario for the Cal Bears, as they faced an absolutely brutal schedule.
The 2013 Cal Football schedule was among one of the toughest in the nation. They played a total of six teams that finished in the final AP Top-25 rankings, with Washington, USC, UCLA, Ohio State, Stanford, and Oregon. Those last three teams were ranked in top-four at some point in the season. Also, every team that Cal played in conference finished with a record over a .500 winning percentage, except for Washington State and Colorado.
A one win season is pretty much hitting rock bottom for the Cal program and a questionable start to the tenure of coach Dykes. Moving in to year two, what will it take for a 2014 to be considered a success for coach Dykes?
The simplest way to describe a successful season for coach Dykes, improvement. It should not be hard to improve upon a one win season. Improvement is more than just winning more games than the previous year, it is building upon the foundation that was set from the previous.
The schedule is just as difficult this year, maybe slightly easier with BYU replacing Ohio State and Northwestern not looking as strong this season. On paper, there are at least five games that Cal has a great shot at walking away with a victory; at Northwestern, Sacramento State, Colorado, at Washington State, and BYU.
If Cal can win those game, they have a great shot at challenge for a bowl game with games at home against UCLA coming off a game against Oregon and Washington looking ahead to a game against Oregon. Cal has a shot to not only improve upon last year’s win total, but have a shot at a bowl game. Realistically, Cal should be a four to five win team and just on the outside looking in at a bowl.
Not going to a bowl game is not a bad season, if they can show improvement in three area. The first would be offensive consistency. The Cal offense was frustrating to watch last season, due to their up and down nature. They would look like one of the next great offenses in the nation one minute and then the next, they produce four straight three and outs. Turnovers, penalties, and mental mistakes plagued the Golden Bears and becoming more consistent will go a long way in making this a dangerous offensive unit to face.
The second area would the running game, as the major difference between Dykes’ tenure at Louisiana Tech and Cal is having an effective run game. Being able to run the ball forces an opposing defense to respect the run and not dropping back into coverage every play to take away the big pass play. Dykes like to be balanced for the most part and having an effective run game is key to that. The team lost Brendan Bigelow to the draft, but they have several young players that have the potential to be impact players in the very near future.
The third area to improve is the defense overall. The Bears’ defense last year was absolutely horrendous and they finished near the bottom in every major statistical category. A lot of their issues had to due with a thin roster, due to injuries, and inexperience. They also seemed like a poorly prepared unit. So, coach Dykes made a change at defensive coordinator by demoting coach Andy Buh and bringing in Art Kaufman from Cincinnati. Kaufman has a track record of taking bad defenses and turning them into a relatively solid unit in a short period of time.
If he can get this offense from bottom 10 in the nation to around the middle of the pack, then this team will look a lot better on the field. Which he has a great chance at doing, as the team is getting several key players back from injury, bringing back more experienced players, and adding several recruits that could provide immediate impact at all levels of the defense.
Showing major improvement would equal a successful second year for coach Dykes. A trip to a bowl, which could take at least six or seven wins, would be the ideal and best situation. A more realistic situation, would be a five win season with the team ranking in the top half of the nation in both offense and defense. That would set a great leaping off point for the following season, which should see the team compete for at least second tier bowl game in a very tough conference.