By Jack Follman
A promising set of receivers should align the UC Golden Bears to be a worthy contender next season. That is if the defensive line can block anyone. The Golden Bears boast what looks to be the best set of receivers in the Pac-10. Junior DeSean Jackson could be the most explosive receiver and punt returner in the country. Jackson put up huge numbers on the scoreboard as a receiver and returned an impressive four punts for game touchdowns. Joining Jackson will be experienced seniors, Robert Jordan and LaVelle Hawkins. All of these receivers are fast and have the abilities needed to get into the end zone. Expect big things from this group in 2007. Junior quarterback Nate Longshore had a huge first year as a starter in 2006. He threw more than 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. Longshore is a big, physical quarterback with a rocket arm and good accuracy. Expect him to frustrate opposing defenses in 2007.
The Golden Bears lost star running back Marshawn Lynch to the NFL draft, but underrated senior Justin Forsett will be his replacement. Forsett has been effective as Lynch’s backup for the last three seasons. This could be the year Forsett finally breaks out of Lynch’s shadow and shows his full potential. Senior Craig Stevens returns as the starter at tight end and will give Longshore yet another good target. Stevens is a versatile player who is a good receiver and blocker. The offensive line should be strong as three starters return from last season. Junior center Alex Mack leads the group and is an All-American candidate. Health will be a huge key for success here as the depth and experience of the reserves is questionable. If the offensive line can stay healthy, the Golden Bears should have the one of the better offensive lines in the Pac-10 next fall.
The key question will be whether or not the defensive line can replace last year’s starters effectively with a new inexperienced group. Only one starter will return, senior tackle Matt Malele. Look for attacks from the opposing offenses on this weak area of the Golden Bears’ defense in 2007. However, the linebackers should be the strength of the Golden Bears defense. Juniors Zack Follett and Worrell Williams have the potential to be stars with their size and athleticism. The linebackers did a great job stopping opponents’ running games, covering passes and rushing the quarterback in 2006, and there is no reason to believe they won’t do the same in 2007.
Much like the rest of the defense, the Golden Bears’ secondary team is young. Junior starters, safety Bernard Hicks and sophomore cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson, will return. Both players were solid in 2006, and together totaled more than 100 tackles and three interceptions. With a weak defensive line, the secondary team will have added pressure to help stop opponents’ running games and cover receivers, without the aid of pressure on the opposing teams quarterback.
Coach Jeff Tedford has done an excellent job keeping the Golden Bears firmly planted near the top of the Pac-10 standings in recent years. Since 2002, they seem to be the only program that can somewhat contend with USC year after year. The offense is more than ready for another good season, but the entire defense is a huge question. Regardless, the Golden Bears should be able to put points on the board in 2007. Although, the big question will be will they be able to stop anyone? If the defense becomes solid, expect the Golden Bears to compete for the Pac-10 championship.