There's nothing like the smell of a fresh season of endless possibilities. Unfortunately for Cal fans, that means both the glorious possibility of success and the chilling chance of soul crushing defeat! With that in mind, the Cal Grid Club of Sacramento gathered to kick off the 2011 season. Last year's 5-7 season left many apprehensive about the 2011 Bears, but that doesn't mean there isn't reason for optimism.
Grid Club members searched for that optimism while talking to new-but-familiar offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, BearInsider.com writer Jim McGill and Fresno St. Collegian writer Jerry Huerta. After the jump get a taste for what they had to say.
All responses are heavily paraphrased. Sorry - presidential duties prevent me from taking detailed notes!
Coach Jim Michalczik
It's typical for Grid Club attendees to give coaches a warm welcome when they call in, but the applause Coach M received was a bit more enthusiastic than usual - Bear backers are thrilled to have the coach that built dominant offensive lines early in Tedford's tenure back in the fold.
Coach M is happy with what he's seen in his starters but did say that depth will be something to work on going forward. Regarding what he's focused on in his first year back he said there's been some 'back-to-basics' work on fundamentals. Since each coach goes about things differently he's going about coaching his way from the beginning.
When asked why Cal fans should get excited this year, he told us just to show up at AT&T and have fun - the Bears will play well. He's by nature a very pessimistic person but he's actually optimistic about plenty of things this year.
Jim McGill, Bearinsider.com
The Grid Club always likes to have Jim come at the beginning of the year because as a recruiting expert he's uniquely qualified to give us a sense of what the new players are capable of doing this year. And in that regard, this year is something of an embarrassment of riches, at least on the defensive side of the ball.
On the true freshmen expected to contribute this year
The fact that so many freshmen won't redshirt, and that a few even pop up on the two-deep, is a sign of how much talent the coaches brought in last year. And it's not like this is a team utterly bereft of talent - these freshmen are earning the opportunity to contribute this year because they're that good.
On 2012 recruiting
I won't say too much, since this type of work is what Jim provides behind a pay wall at bearinsider.com. But suffice to say, Cal has set themselves up for another excellent recruiting class, perhaps even top 10 or top 5 in the country.
On the impact of the new coaches
Keisau in particular completely changed the attitude of the wide receivers, emphasizing confidence and having fun while on the field. And Coach Blasquez's work has been key across the board as a number of players are clearly fitter and/or stronger.
On Brendan Bigelow
It's just a matter of him relearning how to play with confidence on his reconstructed knees, and adapting to facing better athletes on defense. He can't just run away from everybody with his speed the way he could in high school. He's likely to redshirt, but if he gets back up to game speed and the team needs him it wouldn't be a shock to see him later in the year.
On Zach Maynard and Allen Bridgford
The coaching staff will of course call plays that take advantage of Maynard's mobility - roll outs, moving pockets, designed runs, etc. It's true that injuries can be a concern for mobile quarterbacks but Maynard is thicker than you'd think and pretty good at moving to avoid really big hits. And it's a bit of a misconception that Bridgford is a classic pocket quarterback. He's reasonably mobile and if he's called on to play the coaches won't have to totally revise the playbook. And if he plays it won't be a big step down - Bridgford is talented and very nearly could have won the QB battle this offseason.
Jerry Huerta, Fresno State Collegian
What does this game mean to Fresno St.?
Bulldog fans are excited and many believe this team has the talent to do great things. Starting the season against a Pac-12 team is a great chance to measure where this team is.
Which players should Cal fans know?
Derek Carr is a first time starter, but he has the talent to be special and he's been making the throws in practice. Fresno St. fans are also excited about running back Robbie Rouse, who ran for 1,000 yards last year despite nagging injuries. With a year of experience and a clean bill of health he could do special things.
On defense, Logan Harrell was 2nd in the WAC in sacks last year, only behind departed teammate Chris Carter. Kyle Knox and Travis Brown are both experience returners at outside linebacker and safety Phillip Thomas will anchor the secondary.
What is Fresno St's offensive line situation?
The line is inexperienced in the sense that there's a lack of returning starters. But at the same time, a number of players got the chance to contribute last year because of injuries, so they're not completely green. And when they got the chance to play late in the season Fresno St. had some pretty successful rushing performances, so there's reason for optimism.
Any game predictions?
The special team matchup looks even, and Fresno St.'s defense looks relatively even against Cal's offense. The game will likely be decided based on Fresno St.'s ability to score against what was the #1 defense in the Pac-10 last year. If they can do that they can pull out a win, but if not Cal should take the game.