19. CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS
2008 record: 9-4
Returning starters offense/defense: 7/9
Strength: As is often the case in Berkeley, the Bears should have no problem running the ball. Cal has had seven straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher. Expect the tradition to continue for coach Jeff Tedford with dynamic running back Jahvid Best, who averaged 8.1 yards per carry last year as a sophomore. Senior cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson leads an experienced secondary that should give opposing offenses headaches.
Weakness: Most of the defense remains intact, but Cal may not have enough quality linebackers to run a 3-4 defense after losing three to graduation (Zack Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder). With Nate Longshore gone, quarterback Kevin Riley will need to improve to keep the Bears from becoming too predictable on offense. Riley completed just over half of his passes last season and will need consistency from his wide receivers to turn around Cal’s passing game. Nyan Boateng, a Florida transfer, is the top returning receiver with 439 receiving yards and five touchdowns last year. The Bears’ offensive line lost some leadership with the graduation of center Alex Mack. Junior Chris Guarnero will have big shoes to fill.
Biggest star: Junior Jahvid Best is already receiving some Heisman hype after his lofty numbers last season (1,580 yards, 15 TDs).
Rising star: Sophomore right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has the size (6-foot-6, 335 pounds) and skills to be the Golden Bears’ star on the offensive line.
Toughest game: Cal’s toughest game comes on Homecoming (Oct. 3) as perennial Pac-10 favorite Southern Cal visits Berkeley.