cal fans have a conflicted relationship with rankings. we like being highly ranked, but it makes us nervous. it's gotten us into trouble in the past. holiday bowl vs. tech. the 2007 slide. at tennessee in 2006. so it almost feels good to have modest expectations heading into 2010. most pac ten projections place us somewhere in the middle and we’ll start the season unranked, also the cgb community predicted another 8-4 season. i know we all hope to win more than 8 games and the more i think about the upcoming season the more i find myself mediating on reasons for optimism. so here are my 8 reasons the bears will win more than 8 games in 2010:
1. special teams. we spent a season of miserably short kickoffs, missed field goals, and mediocre kick-off and punt coverage damning alamar's name. now he's gone. there's no guarantee that genyk is our special teams messiah, but can any of us imagine special teams getting worse or even staying as miserable as last season? not me. field position improvement. some field goals that go through the uprights. and anger—the kind who punts the ball really far—not the kind you feel when a kickoff lands at the 23 yard line.
2. o-line. young and inexperienced on the line this last year. also, undermined by injury. we've got four starters back, including the always tenacious MSG.
3. targets. most exciting targets are back. Miller (4/70 against usc) and jones (6/107 at washington) showed some flashes in 2009. lagemann displayed sure hands in clutch moments at asu and stanfurd. sounds like keenan allen could make an impression as a true freshman.
4. riley has never had more experience than he has at this very moment. yes, this was true when we said it last summer, but it's even more true now. a more consistent o-line will definitely help. as will improved receiver play.
5. linebackers. like the o-line, big question marks and absences left by 2008 departures (felder, follet, williams) that were sort of glossed over in a lot of preseason assessments. bob gregory even shrugged them off, saying that losing these three was not like usc losing their big three. not saying lb play was especially weak in 2009, but that it looks to be strong this coming season with the return of mikey mo, holt, and kendricks. also, maybe one of the touted true freshmen (martin or whiteside) can contribute meaningful minutes, inject some youthful energy—like burfict at asu minus all of his bonehead penalties.
6. vereen and the interesting depth behind him. not going to say that that vereen plus sofele or yarnway or deboskie-johnson will represent a better tandem than that of best and vereen, but the depth is intriguing, because all three potential back-ups seem distinct and suited for specific purposes. maybe they can all see time depending on the circumstances. i see this variety at running back as an asset.
7. OSU doesn't actually have our number. the last two games played in berkeley turned, arguably, on some of the freakiest most heart-stopping, heart-breaking plays in recent cal football history. the game before these two in berkeley, 2005, involved joe ayoob. in corvallis in the tedford era, with no such freakish plays or ayoobery, we've done okay. splitting two for two, but when we've lost have lost small, but won big 41-13, 49-7. if they really had our number how could we have square-rooted them?
8. pendergast brings some pressure. i’ve read cgb long enough to know that maligning bob gregory doesn’t go uncontested for long, but i’m glad to see him go. the scheme vs. personnel argument is like nature/nurture: hard to disentangle one from the other. the scheme looks bad because the talent is bad or the talent looks bad because the scheme is bad. who knows. but gregory had enough talent on last year's defense to manage better than 108th in the nation and 9th in the pac in pass defense.
do you think the bears will be improved, but the pac is improving more rapidly? the 8-4 prediction seems prudent and based on more rigorous analysis than i'm doing here, but i think there is actually more to hang our hopes on this preseason than there was last season despite the lack of a preseason heisman candidate or top 25 ranking. thoughts?