Football season seems to be inching closer and closer, exactly five weeks away from now. In the meantime, we began previewing the upcoming conference games on the Trojans schedule, starting with the Stanford Cardinals. We move onto another intriguing matchup, where former USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox leads his California Golden Bears up against the USC Trojans. Cal finished with a 5-7 (3-6) record last year, however four of their seven losses came against ranked opponents. Following an impressive win to cap off the season against UCLA and a re-energized coaching staff, Cal hopes to make strides in this upcoming campaign.
Brendan Kearney: Conquest Chronicles
HydroTech, boomtho: California Golden Blogs
Brendan: Who will fill the shoes of Davis Webb? What can we expect to see from the quarterback position?
HydroTech: Your guess is as good as ours.
boomtho: The competition is down to two people: JR Chase Forrest and SO Ross Bowers. As a result of that, two of the QBs who were previously in the mix—Max Gilliam and Vic Viramontes—have transferred.
There isn't a lot of film on either guy (or really anything meaningful) given the succession from Goff to Webb.
The early read is that Forrest is probably a bit more accurate and a "safer" QB, while Bowers has a bigger arm and more mobility. The offensive balance should be shifting much more to the run game and to heavier sets, which may favor more of the "safer" game manager profile. But we'll see... neither QB has managed to grab hold of the competition thus far.
Brendan: What under the radar players should USC look for come week four?
HydroTech: Seriously, bruh? Cal has lost to USC for 13 straight years. You think we are really going to tell you who to keep an eye out for? Kidding. (Not kidding, we need every edge we can get against USC.)
boomtho: I'm guessing the WR scouting reports will start with Demetris Robertson and Melquise Stovall. However, Kanawai Noa (a redshirt sophmore) and Jordan Duncan (a true sophomore) have both had really strong springs as well and so they should be in the mix for heavier playing time.
The other player I'd call out on offense is Ray Hudson. He was buried on the depth chart a bit as a WR last year (given all the talent we had), but has moved to TE to fit better into the new scheme. There are not a lot of other options at TE, so I'd expect him to make meaningful contributions this year.
Brendan: What difference (if any) will we see from Cal’s offense with Beau Baldwin taking over as OC? Do you think his success will translate to the D1 level?
boomtho: Baldwin is known for being very targeted in tailoring scheme to talent, so there's danger in reading too much into history... that being said, we expect the offense to feature a more direct ground game, heavier sets (actual TE's!), and probably a bit more run-pass balance than the prolific Bear Raid under Sonny Dykes. This, coupled with a new QB taking the helm, should mean more opportunities for our RBs than in years past.
I do believe in Baldwin (and the staff) and expect a good year from the offense. It'll be hard to meet the efficiency of the last two years, but I expect the offense to still be the standout unit on this team.
Brendan: Do you agree with Cal’s decision to become more defense oriented in their new hirings of HC and DC? What have you heard on their progress so far this offseason?
HydroTech: People complain about everything. Cal fans are no different. Cal have complained about the lack of offense in the last few Tedford years. Cal fans complained about the lack of defense during the Dykes years. Now, supposedly, Cal is a defensive team again. It's all cyclical. I just want Cal to win. Whether it's due to great defense, or a great offense, or both, I just want to win.
boomtho: I agree with the decision to get more defensive. I love the Wilcox hire, but am a bit more mixed on DeRuyter given how his FSU tenure ended (in terms of their defense). Progress has been slow... it's still a roster that was recruited for up-tempo spread/Bear Raid–style offense and the defense has been thinned through a couple years of bad injury luck and some unfortunate attrition. At the end of the day, the defense is probably too talent constrained, and in year 1 of a new scheme, to go from being a huge negative to a slight positive. Even an improvement to slightly below average would be great progress in Year 1.
Brendan: What are the expectations for Cal fans for this upcoming season?
HydroTech: Not getting pummeled by USC again would be nice. But I'd settle for 6 wins and a bowl game.
boomtho: Well, Vegas is pretty low on Cal, setting the over/under at 3.5. The schedule does us no favors—on top of playing all the CA schools (as USC does), we've got UNC and Ole Miss in nonconference and are at Oregon and at Washington.
Instead, we'll have to look for softer signs of improvement—can the defense make marginal improvements despite limited talent? How does Baldwin's offense look playing against D1 teams week in and week out? How will Baldwin make best use of our deep stable of WRs while covering up some of our other roster weaknesses (e.g. blocking TEs)? And can our special teams (FGs notwithstanding) be a non-embarrassment for once?
We look forward to a competitive matchup, tune in Saturday, September 23, TBD. Special thank you to the California Golden Blogs. You can read their part of the Q&A here.