Concern. That's the state of mind a Cal football fan can find his or herself in during the interminable offseason. There's some giddy anticipation at the potential of great stars breaking out and showing new moves--Darian Hagan this past season, Jahvid Best the year before that, Desean the year before that. Some of us even dream of the great upsets, of going undefeated, of cheering the Cal band on down Colorado Blvd. Boredom and a lot of free time can do that to you.
However, while those positive thoughts run through our minds from time to time, worry and apprehension can supplant them fairly easily. As in, "how will the Bears break our hearts this time?" There is always something that keeps us from feeling completely confident going into the next season, like a wide receiver tripping inches from the end zone, or a bizarro penalty or huge ref call that swings the game the other way, or (of course), the horrifying pick-six. There are several troublespots going into next season, and I'm sure we can identify others if we try hard enough. Behold the power of pessimism!
Quarterback. Obviously the biggest issue going into next season, and a possible trouble spot for the FIFTH consecutive season.
(Discuss your biggest concerns going into the 2009 season in the comments.)
via imgs.sfgate.com (Link to Big Game photos)
In 2005, we were touting the talents of Nate Longshore, but we were probably uncertain as to how good he would be (and even less enthused about Joe Ayoob when Nate went down). 2006 & 2007 we went in with Longshore, but we weren't quite sure what to expect; Nate was a serviceable QB both seasons with occasional flashes of brilliance, but ultimately did not develop further. In 2008 we suffered through a toss and turn season of "Who's the starter?", a season that led to relative unease everytime the Bears went under center.
We are also probably suffering from Aaron Rodgers hangover syndrome--not only do our quarterbacks look lamentable much of the time, but against Rodgers they look even worse. A look at three basic stats shows us the steep drop-off since that glorious season.
National rank in yards per attempt from 2004 to 2008: 10th, 47th, 21st, 39th, 86th
National rank in passing efficiency from 2004 to 2008: 5th, 65th, 32nd, 52nd, 72nd
National rank in completion percentage from 2004 to 2008: 7th, 101st, 52nd, 40th, 104th
That last stat is particularly worrisome and something we'll have to keep our eye on in 2009. Tedford's quarterbacks have always been seen as great, but outside of Rodgers he has not developed a quarterback that he has recruited. They have yet to both learn and execute the complicated systems in Tedford's playbook, much less the simple things like completing a pass. If Kevin Riley
gets out of the box and struggles again...the Tedford QB guru image will begin to take sharper dents.
Special teams. ALAMAR!!!
Would you like some disturbing special teams trends?
20.52 (2004), 20.19 (2005), 22.38 (2006) 21.97 (2007), 20.48 (2008). These have been the average amount of yards Cal's special teams coverage has given up on a kickoff. We have never been ranked higher than 52nd nationwide in any of those five seasons. I'm not sure if this directional kickoff thing is working so great.
Our kickoff return average is even worse, going year by year from 2004 onward....
21.73 (34th), 19.93(75th), 20.52 (52nd), 21.1 (60th), 20.4 (82nd); again, frustrating numbers the past four seasons, especially the slippage the past three. And this is WITH Best involved in the kickoff game.
Add in the struggles with finding a solid kicker since Schneider, and you have a constant subject of worry for Cal fans going into this season.
Linebackers. Zack Follett
, Anthony Felder
, Worrell Williams
are gone. Now, while linebackers may be the most interchangeable component of a defense and more easily replaced than say a key secondary man or a defensive linemen, we're still losing about one-fourth of our team's tackles and one-third of our team's sacks. We have to be ready to adjust.
Our 3-4 defense was really good because we were very good at stopping the run and maintaining pressure on the quarterback as well as guarding against the deep ball. Against the short and medium range throws though, our linebackers had more trouble adjusting because their strength was not typical pass coverage.
This might not be as huge a concern this year. Mike Mohamed was the best linebacker we had in pass coverage. We are going to miss Follett's pass rush though, and we're not totally sure whether Kendricks is ready to step into the spotlight (Worrell Williams might be sold on him, but are you?).
We wouldn't be too surprised if Cal's run D and sack totals slip this season, so we'll definitely need more consistency on offense...and hence the quarterback.
Long, deep breaths everyone!
As for next season, I’m not drinking the preseason top-15 koolaid. I think we’re about a 7-5 to 9-3 team again. More towards the 7-5 range if our passing doesn’t improve, and more towards the 9-3 range if our passing improves. If everything really comes together next year, perhaps 10-2, but the likelihood of everything coming together rather than one or two things is less likely so I’m not betting the bank on a 10+ win season.
It's like Hydro is trying to reverse jinx the 2009 Cal season into unprecedented success! Right Hydro? RIGHT?
So guys, what's your biggest concern going into 2009 and why?