Leland Wong: These are my three top reasons, but in no particular order.
- Luck, which goes both ways. A lot of bad luck went into all of the injuries last year. I'm not saying that being unable to stay healthy is what kept us out of the Rose Bowl, but I think if we had just the typical number of injuries, then we'd have the players needed to win a few more games, which is particularly important in a coach's first season. We've also caught some lucky breaks and bad luck this year in these close calls.
- Improved run game. This is thanks to the offensive line and the running backs. It took a year, but the O-line is more accustomed to the style of the spread offense like the wider splits and two-point stance. Our running backs--particularly Daniel Lasco--have become stronger runners thanks to their significantly improved ability to make it past the first contact and make some big runs. (Honorable mention goes to improvements elsewhere in the offense thanks to a deep crew of receivers and improvements in Jared Goff's skillset.)
- Defensive improvements, which is crazy since the defense is still struggling. The defensive line has clogged up the middle and is even getting better penetration than last year. Coach Kaufman's new schemes has our players in the right position and ready to make tackles instead of chasing from behind.
TwistNHook: OK, I will do that right now.
Nick Kranz: I would like to illustrate why Cal is now a competitive team with a few simple stats:
2014: 95.24% (10th in the nation)
He's thrown the second most touchdowns, has the third best passer efficiency, and is fifth in yards per pass attempt among all FBS quarterbacks. He's thrown only one real interception this year (the other two were tip-drills). He's authored two straight double-digit comebacks and came out of the gates torching Northwestern and Arizona. He's the best quarterback we've had since Aaron Rodgers.
Oh, don't get me wrong. This is not a good defense right now. If anyone else goes out, I have my doubts we can win any game this year if we don't #drop50. But I have faith that they can improve from week-to-week and the young players we throw out there will improve over time. This was not something I could say at all at this point last year.
3. I agree the schedule has been much kinder than last year. We started out last season playing two top ten teams, and we were pretty much wiped after that. This year there doesn't particularly seem to be any one great team we'll play this year (and Northwestern and Arizona are starting to look pretty good), but it's quite clear the tougher games are ahead of us rather than in front of us.
Now we're heading through the gauntlet where two wins would seem awesome. But now that the Bears know that bowl eligibility is in sight, they'll be raring to go every week.