By: chalifour.eric | 5/19/12, 10:35 AM EDT
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You can read the entire California Golden Bears preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 Pac-12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
PAC-12 North PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Jeff Tedford, 79-48 (10 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jim Michalczik | DEF. COORDINATOR: Clancy Pendergast
Cal is counting on quarterback Zach Maynard to build on his strong second half of 2011, but he will need some help from an inexperienced receiving corps to do so. The good news is that he still has his half-brother, Keenan Allen, as his favorite target. Allen was an All-Pac-12 first-team selection last season and should be one of the nation’s top receivers this season. But the other returning members of Cal’s receiving corps have combined for four career catches. That means the Bears will need someone — and maybe more than one — from its heralded group of incoming receivers to make an impact immediately. The leading candidate to do that is 5-star recruit Bryce Treggs, the son of former Cal receiver Brian Treggs.
Cal’s running game should be in good shape with Isi Sofele back after rushing for 1,322 yards last season. C.J. Anderson is a productive backup, and sophomore Brendan Bigelow and redshirt freshman Daniel Lasco are potential stars waiting their turn.
Cal returns three starters along its offensive line but must replace All-Pac-12 first-team left tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
The Bears have led the Pac-12 in total defense in each of the past two seasons, but they have some major holes to plug in 2012. Most notable is 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks. His running mate in the middle, D.J. Holt, is also gone. Cal also lost both starting defensive ends, Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu, as well as both starting safeties, Sean Cattouse and D.J. Campbell.
And only in a couple of cases will the departed players’ shoes be filled by players who have had extensive playing time as backups. The leading candidates to play inside linebacker are Robert Mullins and Nick Forbes. Mullins is a longtime backup, but Forbes has never taken a meaningful snap in a game. At defensive end, Deandre Coleman has seen some time as a backup, and Mustafa Jalil played a minor role as a true freshman. Josh Hill has played everywhere in Cal’s secondary and should start at safety, but whoever plays alongside him in the middle of the secondary will be inexperienced.
Now, for the good news. Nose tackle Aaron Tipoti is an emerging star, while sophomore Chris McCain has loads of potential at outside linebacker. And experienced cornerbacks Marc Anthony and Steve Williams are as good as any tandem in the conference.
One of Cal’s most significant losses is at punter, where four-year starter Bryan Anger, a two-time Ray Guy Award semifinalist, is finally gone. True freshman Cole Leininger should take his place. Vince D’Amato will take over for Giorgio Tavecchio at kicker. The return game is sound with Allen taking back punts and Bigelow returning kicks.
This is a big season for Cal. The Bears are moving back into their renovated stadium after playing last year’s home games at AT&T Park in San Francisco. There is excitement around the program because of the improved facilities. The question is whether the team itself is worthy of the same excitement.
Cal will need at least one other receiver to produce alongside Allen and get continued improvement from Maynard. Meanwhile, a handful of players on defense who are being called upon to take on greater roles will need to emerge. The Bears have been around the .500 mark in each of the past three seasons, and this team doesn’t look much different than those.