Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Seattle Post Intelligencer: Looking Ahead: CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS



When: TBD, Saturday, Dec. 6

Where: Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, Calif.


2007 RECAP: After winning their first five games – including a season-opening trouncing of Tennessee -- the Bears were flirting with the nation's No. 1 spot. Then came a stunning upset – Oregon State defeated Cal in Berkeley when backup quarterback Kevin Riley tried to scramble instead of throwing the ball away. Time ran out and so did Cal's season. Jeff Tedford's squad went into an unlikely tailspin, losing six of its next seven games, including back-to-back losses to the Huskies and archrival Stanford.   However, the team took a hard look in the mirror and defeated Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl on New Year's Eve. The win gave Cal a 7-6 record, its sixth consecutive winning season.

2008 OUTLOOK: One of the nation's most curious quarterback competitions can be found in the East Bay. Will it be senior Nate Longshore, who has struggled with injury and inconsistency, or Riley, who was superb in the bowl game?   This question is just one for an offense that seems riddled with them. Namely, the skill positions have been depleted.   Sophomore Jahvid Best will be coming off a hip injury and, while he looks to be a star in the making at tailback, is a bit fragile and untested.  The receiving corps will be completely rebuilt with just 12 career catches scattered between Michael Calvin, Jeremy Ross, Nyan Boateng, LaReylle Cunningham and Drew Glover.

One area that could make all those skill questions go away is the offensive line. Led by All-American center Alex Mack, the unit also returns left tackle Mike Tepper and right guard Noris Malele, both seniors.  On top of it all, Tedford relinquished his play-calling duties at the end of the season in order to better manage the team as a whole. The job now goes to first-year offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti.

Defensively, Cal returns seven starters and a solid linebacking corps and should improve on its subpar showing of a year ago.  Look for the team to run out of the 3-4 base. Despite just 10 sacks last season, the line excelled in the spring and was led by ends Rulon Davis and Tyson Alualu. The secondary is decent, as well, with returning starters Syd'Quan Thompson at corner and Bernard Hicks at free safety. The battles at the other DB position include talented youngsters such as sophomores Chris Conte and Darian Hagan at corner and freshman D.J. Campbell at strong safety.

PEEK AT PERSONNEL: Zack Follett leads a tough linebacking corps that includes O'Dea High product Anthony Felder.

Worrell Williams, a senior, rounds out a unit with all three returning starters and some depth in the tank – such as junior Eddie Young, freshman D.J. Holt and sophomore Michael Mohamed.  The Bears linebacking corps ranks among the nation's best and one of the top two in the Pac-10. It is quick and aggressive.

Where this unit goes, so goes the Bears' season.

WHAT THE HUSKIES CAN EXPECT: Trying to predict what will happen five months from now is just dumb.

On paper, there is no reason to think the Huskies can't sneak out a win in Berkeley. As a matter of fact, they almost did it two years ago with a backup quarterback (Carl Bonnell) throwing five interceptions. The Huskies tore the Bears' front four apart last season, but it is a stretch to think what happened to Cal last season was not an anomaly.  Being the season finale, the Huskies will likely know if they are playing their final game under coach Tyrone Willingham. They could be inspired to save his job, inspired to send him out right or gearing up for their first bowl game.

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