Yea I know there's still a bowl game to go, national signing day to come, etc but I think a preliminary look at next season might be useful.
If you're like me, the media or most other Cal fans you bought into the hype this year about Cal having one of it's best team since 2004. You thought that this year was the year, that our losses on defense and offensive lines could easily be "reloaded", etc. Even more this was not the first year you were burnt. 2009 was supposed to be Rose Bowl. 2008 a 9 or 10 win season (ok that worked out), 2007 Rose Bowl or even (gasp!) National Championship, 2006 Rose Bowl, 2005 9 or 10 wins, etc etc. That is of course unless you are HydroTech who always predicts our collapses. This time I refuse to be sucked into any hype whatsoever. Therefore I will try and take an objective look at what is the most pessimistic (and realistic) result we can hope to achieve next year. Keep in mind that this doesn't account for recruiting studs/duds and injuries among other factors.
Losses on Defense
We can safely assume that no one is going to declare to go in the draft (then again we said the same of Morrah). So all of ours losses come from seniors graduating. Oh what losses:
I've bolded the players that either were starters or contributed significantly this season.
Needless to say we're losing a lot of talent. Especially in the secondary where we've had problems all season. There is no doubt in my mind that we are going to miss Syd and Tyson who are both NFL level talent. Tyson was pretty much the only in the D-line that consistently did anything even when double teamed and Syd was your typical lockdown passer, so much so that some teams refused to throw to him. Of course that didn't help when your other corner sucked. We also lose Brett Johnson who was a pretty serviceable safety. I still think Cattouse has more of an upside and naturally he took over Ezeff's spot (who is also graduating) but I wonder who will take over for Johnson? Furthermore we lose two of our four linebackers. This linebacking corps only started playing up to it's potential towards the Arizona game and now we're losing half of it again.
The 2010 Defense
This is a hard question mainly because there are quite a few players who are red shirting right now that might have a chance to make some noise. But one would think that it would still be our seniors who play the most.
Assuming we stick with the 3-4 base set (and all signs point to yes) we need three defensive linemen. I'll bet my money on Cameron Jordan and Derrick Hill being two of the three (with Hill as the Nose Tackle). These two showed promise this year with occasional flashes of brilliance, especially Hill before he went down with an injury (a recurring problem). Hopefully they step up but Jordan is a senior now and we've been hearing about his so called potential and outside of a few games (i.e. Wazzu) I haven't seen anything so I'm not hoping for much. As for the third lineman? I'm guessing it will have to be a battle between Guyton and Owusu. I was impressed with Guyton in his limited playing time but Owusu has shown to be disruptive as a pass rusher. Then again we might get some new talent to take this spot or someone like Ryan Davis or Keni Kaufusi (who was great on the scout team this year) will step in. Whomever plays I don't see an improvement in this unit. Perhaps it might even be weaker barring some absolute breakout year.
As for our linebackers Mike Mohammed who has been solid to stud-like this year will most definitely be the anchor. Hopefully he learns to avoid taking the wrong angle with running backs. Chances are that Micheal Kendricks will be taking up a position next to MikeMo. Kendricks lost his starting job during the UCLA game due to injury and hasn't really played a lot. Here's hoping that he steps up and plays to his potential. He does have experience coming in and that will be crucial. Who will we see as the other two? Right now the competition might be between DJ Holt, Jarred Price and Jerome Meadows. I personally think that it might be Holt and Meadows because Price is just a little too undersized to play Pac-10 ball, but don't be surprised to see him out there when the game is on the line. Chris Little (who moved to LB earlier this year) is probably in contention as well. I was impressed with what I saw of him in the spring game. With that said expect them to struggle again early in the season. It probably might not be as bad as this year (though if the D-line struggles it could get ugly) but don't expect a Follet situation. The only good thing I can think about is that we should have a solid unit in 2011 as we only replace one player (Mohammed).
If you thought that was bad wait 'till you take a look at the secondary. Firstly let's look at the the safties/defensive backs. I personally think that Cattouse was our one shining star in the secondary this year and look forward to seeing him laying the lumber again next year. Expect to see more of Moncrease, DJ Campell and others. I really don't know what to make of our DBs other than it's probably meh. Conte should hopefully get some playing time outside of the nickle defense but he still makes boneheaded decisions so it may not be the best thing.
As for our corners? Uh oh. With Syd gone there is a huge gap here. Who plays? Darian "I can't defend but I can taunt" Hagan? If he recaptures his 2008 form then I'll be happy but right now I'm going to assume the worst. Josh Hill was continuously picked on by defenses and for the most part he didn't do much. He did have a game winning tackle against ASU and a pick or two throughout the season but I wonder how he'll do as the featured corner. Then we have Marc Anthony who I have yet to see play even though he'll be a RS Sophomore. Supposedly he was good in the scout team but that means nothing to me right now. I'm hoping that Steve Williams (who RS this year) will be what he was billed to be. This is the 4* recruit we stole from Oklahoma this year. Whatever the case we're going to be susceptible to the pass again.
Losses on Offense
I'm going to assume that Jahvid Best leaves for the draft (and to be honest there's a very good chance he does), but that no one else leaves early.
* Best is a junior
** Tad Smith may apply for injury RS and return though it is doubtful
Surprisingly (or not) other than Best and maybe Tucker we don't see any huge losses like we did on defense. And with Best we have a very capable and proven backup who has already assumed the mantle of starter. That is not to say we don't miss Best because we will miss his explosive style but Vereen is more than capable of hitting a home run. We might miss Boateng here a bit, especially his downfield blocking, but he was sort of "phased out" early in the season and we had others step up so it won't be too bad. Curran really stepped up towards the end of the year and we will miss him but we still have Miller who is the true star at TE. Holley may not be a Ta'ufo'ou but he did admirably well (as well as you can do with an O-line that couldn't had more holes than swiss cheese) and we're going to have to find a replacement yet again. Chances are that it is Will Kapp but it remains to be seen. Tucker was a starting WR and he had some clutch catches (and some very un-clutch drops) and will surely be missed. Tepper... well this might be addition by subtraction. I hate to say anything about him as he really seems to be a great guy who has been through some tough times but he's no where close to his 2007 form. He commits way too many penalties (how many false starts and holding calls went against #79?) and is pretty poor in pass blocking. I don't think we miss him that much to be honest.
The 2010 Offense
The general feeling is that this offense should be better than the 2009 one mainly due to the increased experience of the players. Despite wanting to feel pessimistic I have to agree.
The offensive line is where it begins and ends (as we found out disastrously in 2009). It doesn't matter if it's Best, Vereen, DeBo or Yarnway in the backfield, but if the O-line continues to suck it up it will be another long season. Thankfully all but one of our starters return for 2010 and here's hoping that the one full year of experience will cure most maladies. Matt Summers-Gavin (aka MSG) was the catalyst this season. Without him we got blown out. With him we beat a red hot Arizona and Stanfurd team. Needless to say I hope he stays healthy! Schwartz seemed solid despite suffering what looked like a small sophomore slump. Guarnero is too small to play Pac-10 ball as a center. It will be interesting to see if maybe Fisher or Brazinski do replace him. However if they do be prepared for some sloppy play. I've been frustrated with Cheadle all season but I hope a year's worth of experience means he'll mitigate the disaster. It will be interesting to see Boskovich, Edwards and Galas all play. I do think that this unit will be better next year (I mean how could you not!?) but just how much remains to be seen.
I think we should be well set at wide receiver. Marvin Jones really stepped up big and he was only a sophomore so we will be seeing more of him in 2010. I'm starting to think he's in the mold of Robert Jordan and Hawkins (with a few drops) which bodes well for us. Ross is a wildcard. Surely three years would teach him how to catch the damn ball because when he does he's got the potential to break one free. Lagemann has only one dropped pass (at UW) and that was mostly Riley's fault. My only knock on him is the fact that he's always on the ground catching. Calvin is a depressing thought. He was supposed to be the best receiver on the team and right now he's struggling coming back from his ACL injury. I don't have high hopes but surely he'll do better than pedestrian next year? We will miss Tucker and perhaps even Boateng but I think we will make up for those losses sooner rather than later. I know I this is being optimistic but the fact that we retain nearly 80% of our WR corps including the playmakers makes me happy.
Anthony Miller is a stud at TE. He comes up absolutely clutch with those catches over the middle of the field and is a threat in the redzone which we need. I hope in his junior year he will continue to improve but I will not make any assumptions. Furthermore he better not have a sophomore slump. We will miss Curran but Spencer Ladner (who started out higher on the depth chart than Curran) who missed most of 2009 with an injury should theoretically be equal to Curran.
At fullback we miss Bryan Holley who performed decently well and chances are Will Kapp takes over the spot unless something else happens. To be honest I don't know what to expect out of this position. It was mediocre in 2009 and it will probably remain the same.
This is Kevin Riley's team now more than ever. There might be another open QB compeition but I highly doubt Riley loses this one. He has really come of age towards the end of the season (UW non-withstanding considering he spent most of the game running away from defenders) and we have to hope he continues to improve. Even if he doesn't I don't see him being better than a RS Soph in Sweeney, RS Junior in Mansion or RS FR in Bridgford, none of whom have any meaningful Division 1A snaps. Riley may never be an All-Pac-10 QB but he's got the potential for being a fringe NFL player. And he's the best we have.
At halfback it is without a doubt Shane Vereen's show. The kid has proved he is as capable as any backs to have played for Cal. Of course a lot depends on the O-line's ability to open holes but I look forward to seeing Vereen run. And behind Vereen we have DeBoskie who has impressed me in his limited carries (he had one carry of less than 5 yards!), Isi who has the speed for the fly sweep a la James Rodgers, and Desarte if supposed to be the second coming of Marshawn. If there is any position on this team where a hyped player has panned out year after year it is a Coach Gould coached running back so I have no hesitation in trusting Yarnway. This is (as usual) our strongest unit on the team. However we should start recruiting as we're going to need some new backs soon.
(Note: I had originally forgotten the ST... with good reason)
There's nothing really to say here. We don't lose anyone other than hopefully Pete Alamar. In fact this is almost all on coaching. We have one of the best punters in the conference or even the country and he had to resort to talking to his high school coach to regain form. Tavecchio looked like he was doing well towards the latter half of the season so hopefully he'll come back and continue the trend. His kickoffs also seemed to be gravitating closer to the endzone at snail's pace but it's an improvement. We just need to improve coverage both for kicking and returning. We have talented returners in Isi and Ross but they need some space to run. I will continue to not have hope for this unit until we get a new coach.
A look at our schedule
Sept. 4 - UC Davis
Sept. 11 - Colorado
Sept. 18 - at Nevada
Sept. 25 - Washington
Oct. 2 - at Arizona
Oct. 9 - UCLA
Oct. 16 - at USC
Oct. 23 - Arizona State
Oct. 30 - at Oregon State
Nov. 6 - at Washington State
Nov. 13 - Oregon
Nov. 20 - BYE
Nov. 27 - BYE
Dec. 4 - Stanford
Bolded are home games and I have inserted the bye weeks into the schedule.
Well this schedule is not going to remain as it is. We are playing 11 games in a row! What the hell? Expect to see a game moved down. We might also end with a non-Big Game game again which is unfortunate. Since I have no way of knowing what the final schedule is I'm going to avoid talking about when we face a team.
UC Davis shouldn't be a problem for us to handle at all (and if it is... well...) and Colorado at home under a coach that would've been fired if they had the money should be easy enough to handle. No our first real test comes at Nevada with Kapernick and his pistol formation. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if we lost this one due to our passing defense inefficiencies especially as this game might be pretty early in the season. We get UW, UCLA and ASU at home and these are teams I don't see improving significantly. UW will be better but I think Locker will leave which should give our defense some breathing room especially at home. UCLA is a toss up because Prince should be better and they'll have some experienced WRs. But will their O-line come together? ASU I don't really know but I'm going to guess that they're not going to be much better. However the chances are good they'll be going with that Syzacky guy who can run on us if we're not careful. Although we play at Wazzu and Tuel will probably burn us for another 300 yards I think we can beat them unless something miraculous happens. As for the other teams? Well Barkley will be better and USC will rebound, Oregon returns their stellar O-line, Masoli and LaMichael James, Oregon State will find somebody better than everyone else, and Stanfurd will have Luck even though they'll lose Gerhart. Perhaps the only good thing is that we get Stanfurd and Oregon at home.
It still is premature to guess our record but I do think that this is a team with decent to really good offense with what might be a subpar defense that might even be worse than this years. This may seem too negative but I'm not going to blindly hope for a miracle again. Unless we can teach these guys to block the damn receivers and break up passes it's going to be another long season unless we can score more than the other guys.