This is the first in a series of 12 roundtable-style previews for the upcoming season.
Game #1 : August 30 vs. Michigan State, 5:00 PM (televised on ABC).
ragnarok: For the second straight year, Cal will host the season-opening edition of ABC's Saturday Night Football. Last year's two-touchdown victory over Tennessee brought the Bears tons of media acclaim and vaulted them squarely into national title contention. Though expectations for Cal (and their opponent) are decidedly less ambitious this year, it's still a prime-time opportunity to demonstrate to the nation that last year's collapse was just a hiccup in Cal's rise to national prominence -- if the Bears can win.
So, what are the Bear's chances of starting 2008 the same way they started 2007? Well, here's a couple of encouraging trends: Tedford's Bears are a perfect 6-0 in home openers, and they're a perfect 4-0 vs. Big 10 teams. Sure, OK, one could quibble with the meaningfulness of such statistics, so here's a trend that might bear a little more weight (via Black Shoe Diaries): since 1980, the Big 10's road winning percentage when playing a regular season game vs. the Pac-10 is a mere 22% -- 11 wins vs. 39 losses. Even more startling is when you look at just matchups involving teams that finished the season with a winning record (as we all expect Cal to do), the Big 10's winning percentage drops to just 15% -- that's just 3 wins (against 17 losses) in the last 28 years. There's lies, damn lies, and statistics, but that right there is a trend, and there's gotta be something substantial behind it.
Please, before I get to cocky, someone build up Michigan State. Why might the Spartans buck these trends?
HydroTech: HydroTech is going to sleep now. He'll respond later.
TwistNHook: Still acting the diva, eh, Hydro? Classy all around!
(4-5 hours later...)
HydroTech: I'll build up Michigan State. Here's something we should be concerned about: 6.1. What's 6.1? Michigan State's starting runningback, Javon Ringer, is averaging 6.1 yards per attempt in his career. This just so happens to be the same average that BEAST MODE had his senior year although BEAST MODE averaged 6.6 yards per carry in his career. If we do a little math, and divide 6.1 by 6.6, we can see that Javon Ringer is about 92.4% as good as BEAST MODE. Look, nobody is as good as BEAST MODE. But if you're 92.4% as good as BEAST MODE then you're sort of good. So we Cal fans should be ready for #23 Javon Ringer and his 6.1.
Let's talk QBs. (Vote Brock Mansion for QB in 2008!!!) MSU's returning QB is Brian Hoyer. He threw for 26 TDs and 14 INTs last year. He also had a 59% completion percentage which leaves a little to be desired. Nevertheless, this guy appears to be a servicable QB. But who is Hoyer throwing to? Well, MSU lost their top two receivers from last year. Actually, their top receiver that is returning this year is runningback Javon Ringer. Ringer has 75 more yards receiving and 15 more receptions than MSU's top returning WR Mark Dell. So it looks like both Cal and MSU will be breaking in fairly green WRs in the first game of the season.
As for defense, well, MSU has a bunch of guys on their 4-3 defense whom I really know nothing about and none seem to be Sunday talent. So uh, as for building up MSU, I'm a tad worried about this Ringer running back dude but other than that I can't really find anything to be overly afraid about. Here's a fun little fact though. In the last 8 years when MSU is an away dog, they are 15-11.
TwistNHook: My focus is clearly on the Running Back Javon Ringer. He averaged almost 6 yards a carry last year. This will be a good test for the new 3-4 defense. This could be a very running oriented game, which I think will suit Cal just fine. But Ringer can definitely do a LOT of damage out there.
Yellow Fever: Why, I just hope he's a DEAD Ringer! Oh ho ho ho!
Wait, wait, I just hurt my knee. Slapping it so hard. Oh god, it hurts so much. HAHAHHAHAHHA. BUT I CAN'T STOP LAUGHING!
"Feva, that joke was terrible! I'm comin' for ya!" - Image via montaraventures.com
Yellow Fever: I've gotta be honest, I'm a bit surprised by the amount of hype that Michigan State is getting. Not that it's a lot of hype, mind you, but that they're getting much hype at all. After all, the most memorable Michigan State game to me in the past few years (aside from our Boller-led win over the Spartans, of course) was their EPIC FAIL game against Notre Dame. Come on guys! You're better than that!
I still don't feel particularly threatened, though. Most of what I've seen has said that the Spartans could surprise and finish as high as fourth in the Big 10/11, behind Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio State. That isn't too bad, but isn't the failure to meet those kinds of expectations one of the recent hallmarks of the Spartans program? Just saying.
ragnarok: It is, but I think it was a hallmark of the John L. Smith Spartans [insert Demolition Man reference here]. Instead of the stunning upset/stunning collapse yo-yo of the past few years, Mark Dantonio's first season as head coach was pretty much 'steady as she goes' through the middle of the Big Ten -- no big upsets (they lost to all 4 ranked teams they played -- Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Boston College), but no inexplicable losses either (their worst losses were to 6-6 Iowa and 6-6 Northwestern. Even more encouraging for Sparty is the fact that all 6 of their losses were by a touchdown or less; these guys were not getting blown out by anyone.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Dantonio comes from a defensive background, including having served as defensive coordinator for Ohio State from '01 to '03 -- which, by the way, includes the Buckeyes' 2002 Mythical National Championship team. Though Michigan State isn't on that level yet (they gave up more than 30 points 5 times last year, including 48 at Northwestern), it's probably the lack of NFL talent that Hydro mentioned that is holding them back.
Yellow Fever: I don't know if it's a lack of NFL talent holding them back. They had Drew Stanton. They had Charles Rogers. I'm sure they've had other NFL players that I haven't heard about. Now, granted, the guys that I just mentioned are guys who were around during the John L. Smith years, but still...
CBKWit: Charles Rogers...didn't he start the dynasty of highly drafted terrible receivers in Detroit? I do remember him almost singlehandedly beating Spurrier's last Gator's team in some crap bowl and destroying my bowl pick 'em. Wait, that might have been Plaxico Burress.
TwistNHook: Do you find it difficult to keep track of all the different terrible bowl picks you have done?
CBKWit: Nope! Each one is a unique and painful memory (damn you Tebow how could you lose to Michigan they lost to App St!)
I think this will be a great barometer game for our defense. Ringer appears to be the Spartans' best player, so if our nose tackle duo of Derrick Hill and Mika Kane can step up and help shut down him down, I'll be a lot more confident about our run defense for the remainder of the year. On the other hand, if Brian Hoyer (a pretty so-so quarterback from what I've seen) and his completely untested receivers can sit back and pick our secondary apart, it would contradict all the post spring ball optimism I have for our pass rush and pass defense. Let's hope that our pass defense performs is as strong as I think it should be and the run defense is a strong as I hope it could be.
TwistNHook: Yknow, the more I read about MSU, the more similar they seem to Cal. They:
a) had a lot of close and brutal losses last year to take them out of elite team territory.
b) lost all their WRs
c) have a stud RB with health issues. I just read that Ringer (HAHAHAHAH, OH MAN REMEMBER YELLOW FEVER'S JOKE, THAT WAS KILLER!) had surgery and has missed a lot of time in the spring. He apparently will be healthy by the game, but who knows?
d) had trouble last year with the Bend Don't Break philosophy.
Yellow Fever: I think we win on one important count, though:
We're not in Michigan. HIYOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
TwistNHook: YF, you grew up in New Jersey. And now you live in Brooklyn! Who are you to mock others for living in terrible, terrible places?
Yellow Fever: Actually, I live in Queens, but whatever. Anyway, I'm calling another 35-21 win. That is what our Bears won by in 2003, right? I always enjoy nice, poetic endings.
Cal's Matt Nixon recovers a fumble at the one-yard line during Cal's 2002 victory at Michigan State. Image via cache.gettyimages.com
ragnarok: Actually, we won by the unlikely score of 46-22 back in 2002. Tedford's third game, and first road game.
I'll call it at 34-24. I think they keep it reasonably close, but the Bears get a late field goal to go up two scores, and MSU can't get anything going in their hurryup drives.
TwistNHook: My prediction:
4-0 Cal victory.
ragnarok: Mmmmm, a bold move. Two safeties, eh? You must be very confident in the quality of our pass rush, given the switch to the 3-4 defense.
HydroTech: Cal 31, MSU 24
CBKWit: 24-21 Cal.
ragnarok: Wow, a consensus. BTW, I just looked up the current betting line on this game, and Cal is favored by anywhere from 5 1/2 to 7 points. I wouldn't call this an easy victory by any stretch, but I'm fairly confident Cal will pull it out, especially if the fans can kick the home field advantage up a notch by GOLDING OUT MEMORIAL STADIUM.