California Golden Bears: Mid-Season Award Watch


The college football season is about at its halfway point, and the California Golden Bears are relevant again. They are no longer the doormat to the Pac-12, but instead are contenders in the conference. They are ranked 20th in the latest Associated Press poll, the third straight week they find themselves as a ranked team after being unranked since 2009. Individually, some Cal representatives are being recognized by their places on award watchlists.

Junior quarterback Jared Goff is still in the Heisman Memorial Trophy hunt, but after his five interception performance against Utah in Cal’s first loss more than a week ago, his chances have taken a big hit. Goff was ranked as high as third in Paul Myerberg of USA Today’s “Heisman Hot List“, but fell out of the top-five in his most recent rankings. With LSU running back Leonard Fournette and TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin both having tremendous campaigns, Goff would have to play just about perfect the rest of the way, and get a few subpar performances from the frontrunners, to unseat his competition.

Goff is ranked second in the Pac-12 in passing yards with 1,970. He is tied for second in the conference with 17 touchdown passes, and is third in passer rating at 157.1. Goff also leads the conference in a category he doesn’t want to be on top of, as his nine interceptions are the highest total in the Pac-12.

Goff’s favorite target, junior wide receiver Kenny Lawler, was added to the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation’s oustanding receiver in honor of Fred Biletnikoff. Lawler leads the Pac-12 with eight touchdown catches, and leads a very deep Bears’ receiver group with 34 catches and 465 yards. He ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in receptions, and seventh in yards.

Lawler caught three touchdown passes in the season-opening game against Grambling State, and has caught a pair against the Texas Longhorns and the Washington State Cougars. He’s surpassed 100 yards twice, in back-to-back weeks against Washington and Washington State.

In addition to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, Lawler was also named to the midseason All-Pac-12 team. Lawler is joined by his teammate, senior defensive end Kyle Kragen. Kragen has been the leader of a much-improved Cal defense, pacing the team with five sacks, which is tied for second in the Pac-12. His 35 tackles and six tackles for loss are also tops among the Bears. Kragen won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors after Cal’s victory over the Washington Cougars, during which he accunulated six tackles, 1.5 sacks (a career-high at the time), a forced fumble, and a pass breakup. The next week against Washington State, he racked up 2.5 sacks to post a new career-high. Against Utah, Kragen totaled 14 tackles, two for loss, and a sack.

In his third season as the head coach of the Bears, Sonny Dykes is one of the 20 coaches on the midseason watch list for the Dodd Trophy, given in honor of Bobby Dodd to the FBS coach whose teams stands out in the classroom, on the field, and in the community. After a 1-11 season in 2013, Dykes’ first year at Cal, the team underwent a four-win improvement last year, going 5-7. This season, the Bears are 5-1 halfway through their schedule, and figure to see their second consecutive season of improvement.

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Most notably, the Bears’ defense is much better under Dykes’ watch than it was last season. After featuring one of the worst defenses in the entire nation in 2014, Cal’s defense has become one of the most opportunistic. They lead the nation with 21 takeaways, and are the Pac-12 leaders with 3.2 sacks per game. After giving up nearly 40 points per game last season, Cal is holding opponents 24.5 points per game.

Offensively, the Bears’ offense is 12th in the nation at 40.2 points per game, and 10th in the nation with 355.3 passing yards per game and 517.7 yards of total offense, respectively.

The Bears are improving as a team, and are being recognized individually as a result. Cal has another big Pac-12 matchup coming up, as they take on unranked UCLA (a team that has been ranked as high as seventh), in primetime on Thursday night. The Bears can send another big statement by knocking off the Bruins.

Next: Cal Drops Close One to Utah, but are Still Moving Forward