Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Contra Costa Times: Cal football sets lofty goals for 2007

Jackson, Longshore will return to lead a potent offense

Drunk with excitement following Cal's 45-10 rout of Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl on Thursday, Bears wide receiver DeSean Jackson proclaimed that Cal would not only reach the national title game next season, but would win it.  There are two schools of thought to such a statement. One being that Cal remains Cal, a team that hasn't been to a Rose Bowl in nearly half a century, and one that doesn't have a chance to get past that huge elephant in the room, USC.  Surely, Jackson's comment must have brought lots of yuks to anyone who thinks along those lines.  Then there's the flip side, those who see Cal as a sleeping giant, one that has been in contention for a national championship in two of the past three seasons, has a coach in Jeff Tedford who remains on just about everybody's wish list, and keeps stockpiling talent to get the job done. Going with the latter perspective, Cal faces some major obstacles going into the 2007 season, but not impossible ones.

The first task will be to replace senior cornerback Daymeion Hughes, a lock-down player who figures to go on the first day of the NFL draft. Hughes had eight interceptions, broke up 11 other passes and had 72 tackles in 2006. He was a monster.

Cal's defensive backfield, as a whole, is in great shape. Starting rover Brandon Hampton returns as does starting cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson and free safeties Bernard Hicks and Thomas DeCoud, who split the starting duties.  However, defensive coordinator Bob Gregory will have to decide whether to move a guy like DeCoud to corner, or hope that sophomore-to-be Robert Peele will be ready for the challenge. Junior college transfers seldom have much of an impact their first year so that route isn't likely. There also is a wild card in the mix. Cal will petition the NCAA for a sixth year for cornerback Tim Mixon, who blew out his knee in training camp and missed the 2006 season. Mixon was injured in the fourth game of a 14-game season in 2003 and missed most of that season as well.  The next issue is tailback. Although Marshawn Lynch hasn't announced his intention to enter the NFL draft, he most likely is gone. Draft experts have been predicting that he will go in the first round and it would be a huge risk to his financial future to return.

In his place next season will be Justin Forsett, who has excelled as a part-time player but has yet to carry the load as a starter for an entire season. At 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, Forsett probably eased the minds of Old Blues with a 124-yard rushing effort in the Holiday Bowl. One of Cal's top 2006 recruits, James Montgomery, also will be ready to go after redshirting his first season.  Shifting back to defense, Cal continues to search for the Holy Grail, also known as a pass rush force off the edge. Senior defensive end Nu'u Tafisi led the Bears with 5.5 sacks this season. That kind of sack total isn't going to strike fear into the heart of any quarterback. Both Tafisi, and fellow senior defensive end Abu Ma'afala, will be gone. Defensive end Philip Mbakogu, expected to be Cal's top pass rusher this season, has never recovered from offseason knee surgery and his career might be over. Rulon Davis, who missed most of this season with a stress fracture in his leg, looks the part at 6-5, 275 pounds. However, he is unproven. Freshmen talents Cody Jones and Tyson Alualu will have to make some huge strides. Linebacker appears to be secure even though the Bears lost Pac-10 defensive player of the year Desmond Bishop along with Mickey Pimentel. Sophomore Zack Follett is a huge playmaker who should be one of the conference's top defensive players in 2007. He will form a dynamite one-two punch inside along with junior-to-be Worrell Williams.

Anthony Felder had an injury plagued 2006 after earning freshman All American honors in 2005. Pimentel's departure should open up a spot for him. Although defensive tackle Brandon Mebane will be gone, defensive line coach Ken Delgado has stockpiled young talent in players such as Mika Kane, Derrick Hill and Michael Costanzo.  The offense should be dynamic with wide receivers Jackson, Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins all returning. Quarterback Nate Longshore will have a full season under his belt and will be coming off a 19-of-24 passing performance in the Holiday Bowl. Cal has arguably the best returning tight end in the conference in Craig Stevens and the first-team all-conference center returning in Alex Mack and a second-team tackle in Mike Gibson. If Mike Tepper, who will be a junior, develops into an impact player as expected, Cal's offensive line should be better. Tedford said he doesn't anticipate any changes to his coaching staff going into next season.


Sept. 1 Tennessee

Sept. 8 at Colorado State

Sept. 15 Louisiana Tech

Sept. 22 Arizona

Sept. 29 at Oregon

Oct. 6 at Washington

Oct. 13 Oregon State

Oct. 20 at UCLA

Oct. 27 at ASU

Nov. 3 Washington State

Nov. 10 USC

Nov. 17 at Stanford


• 1. Sophomore DeSean Jackson set a Pac-10 record by returning four punts for touchdowns

• 2. Senior cornerback Daymeion Hughes was the Pac-10 defensive player of the year

• 3. Junior tailback Marshawn Lynch was the conference offensive player of the year


• 1. The Bears couldn't muster any offense in losing to USC and Arizona in the fight for the Pac-10 title

• 2. Cal's top sacker had just 5.5 for the season

• 3. At times, Cal didn't find ways to get the ball to its top home run threat, DeSean Jackson


• 1. Replace cornerback Daymeion Hughes, who had the ability to lock down an opponent's top receiver

• 2. Build an offensive line that will allow quarterback Nate Longshore to spread the ball to his gifted wide receivers

• 3. Find a pass rush force from the edge


• 1. DeSean Jackson. Cal's talented wide receiver is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball

• 2. Nate Longshore. With a full season under his belt, the quarterback could put together a monster season

• 3. Zack Follett. The linebacker should be a Butkus Award candidate

• 4. Alex Mack. An all Pac-10 first team player as a sophomore, the sky is the limit

• 5. Andrew Larson. One more year at Cal and then Larson will be punting in the NFL

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