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Cal football: 14 predictions for the 2014 season

Don't anybody go posting these predictions in my face later in some attempt to discredit me. You can't discredit someone who has none to start with! Hah!

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Still, I'm writing anyway because I'm not afraid to be wrong, even if I probably will be. Below are some things I think heading into the start of practice next week, mostly related to the offense...supported with why I think them.

Sound off, disagree, counterargue below.

1. Jared Goff will break his own program record for season passing yards and touchdowns. Starting this column with what seems like a gimme. Although the recent trend in college football has been quarterbacks playing earlier and earlier, where these young signalcallers really begin to take off is that redshirt freshman year, or their sophomore ones, if they played right away. You no doubt remember the likes of Johnny Manziel, or Jameis Winston, the Marcus Mariotas and the Brett Hundleys, all of who became household names their -- you guessed it -- 2nd years. Throw in possibly the best set of receivers in the Pac-12 flanking Goff on the outside, and this might be the easiest call on the list.

This prediction also operates with the luxury of those program marks not being particularly high in the first place. Yay, me!

2. He will also complete over 65% of his passes. Another gimme, one that I've apparently been calling since last year, according to some of my past Monday columns, so I'm going to keep it here, too. And why not? Goff hit 60% behind a line that was shuffled more often than John Cena's five knuckles -- yeah! a pro wrestling reference in this space! Bet you weren't expecting that! -- last season. Now, he's healthy from his December shoulder surgery, and should be ready to take at least this minimal jump in efficiency. A much higher figure wouldn't surprise me, since we throw so much short game, but this seems like a reasonable minimum yielding huge results for the offense as a whole.

3. Barring some injury to Jared Goff, Luke Rubenzer will not take a snap this season. In other words, I think Goff hangs onto his starting spot, no matter what else happens, losing spells or not.

And to those people hopping in and insisting for The Skywalker to debut as a freshman, I would remind you that people much smarter than us are convinced of #16's talent, both on the staff and outside of it. True, Rubenzer arrived a month earlier than most freshman and took place in extra workouts, but he's still playing from a significant disadvantage in trying to beat out an already entrenched starter. This isn't the same situation as last year, where no guy had any accumulated playing time whosoever.

I just don't see them burning Rubenzer's redshirt, and would kind of prefer it doesn't, especially because there's still the long term to think about it with him.

4. The Bear Raid will finally, finally #drop50 this season. In a win. It will be glorious. Sac State, we comin for you.

5. ...but they still won't be anywhere close to a finished product. They will, however, average at least 33 points a game. Again, reasonably speaking at this point and time, with any form of improvement on defense, the offense should have the ball more often, moving it at a much better clip and efficiency than last year. Look north for further proof of how a year of reps works in the Air Raid family of offenses -- Washington State, perhaps our closest analogue in philosophy and situation, went from a paltry 20.4 in 2012 to 31.0 a season later. It's not a stretch to think we have the personnel to match that, if not outright exceed it.

(33 points per game would be the 70th percentile in 2013. For reference, we averaged 23.0, which was the 22nd percentile.)

6. If healthy, Daniel Lasco, not Khalfani Muhammad, will lead the team in rushing. Call it a gut instinct, but I say this thinking that Lasco has a more natural body type to take top back carries. Coach Likens said about the same in our pre-fall meeting, and while the freshmen will certainly play, until I see them hit the field at camp, I'm not quite ready to make any kind of claim about them or their number of touches.

7. A Cal receiver will make the All Pac 12 team. Although it could be any one of the four big name wideouts, the best bet is probably on Chris Harper, who cracked third team in Phil Steele/Athlon's previews. He's another If Healthy guy.

Just for fun, I think they break down like this, in terms of statistical production this season: Harper, Lawler, Treggs, Davis.

8. Two Cal receivers will crack a thousand yards. YEAH I'M GOING OUT ON A LIMB YOU'RE DAMN RIGHT I SAID IT

For perspective:

  • There were 44 guys to reach that mark last season.
  • Ball State (Willie Snead, Jordan Williams), Fresno State (Davante Adams, Isaiah Burse, Josh Harper), Florida State (Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene), LSU (Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry) were the only ones to place multiple 1000 yard receivers.

Combine that with the last comment, and I guess I'm saying Harper and Lawler both crack a thousand yards.

9. Because half them are recovering from something or another or have yet to really practice together, projecting on this side of the ball is extremely difficult, which is why I've oriented most of my predictions toward the offense. Still, I'll take a shot in the dark and say the defense will improve by over 10 points per game, down from a previously horrendous 45. This may not seem like much, but that kind of bump would generate maybe 2-3 more wins singlehandedly. Is anyone willing to turn down that kind of record improvement? No? Didn't think so.
Plus, last year was simply the worst case scenario all around in terms of players getting hurt and personnel being moved around, issues that appear to now be fixed to some degree. Add a defensive coordinator who regularly engineers turnarounds in performance in the mix, and questions about the depth be damned -- Scott covered most of them earlier today -- you can put me down for thinking they're significantly more effective.

10. The most impactful returner from injury won't be Brennan Scarlett. It'll be Avery Sebastian. Many people are higher on Scarlett than I am, which is fine and understandable, considering his tremendous athletic gifts. I'd just like to see the big guy produce first -- remember, he hasn't seen the field since 2012, and didn't strike me as particularly memorable back then -- which is why I went with Sebastian, who I expect to win the strong safety job and who we know far better. The senior by way of Georgia has consistently been a force in the run game since his first start, cleaning up ball carrier after ball carrier long before they ever reach the second level. The sight of Sebastian crashing into opposing running backs was missing as much as anything last season, and if that Sebastian returns, it could go a long way to softening the losses of Deandre Coleman and Villiami Moala up front. The only worry is whether or not he has enough flexibility to turn and run for pass coverage, which remains the weak point in his game.

11. I'm still on the Trevor Kelly bandwagon. He's listed as behind Austin Clark and Marcus Manley right now, but I would really surprised if he doesn't at least pass Clark and hit the field somehow. I could also see him sliding over and making waves on the other DT depth chart -- Harrison Wilfley has been a pleasant surprise all spring and the coaches seem to like him a lot, but there are some concerns (on my end, anyway) about how his smaller frame will hold up in extended run action. If there's anyone who could take that spot besides Mustafa Jalil, Kelly seems like another logical guy to do so, provided his conditioning and weight are finally on point.

12. They will beat Northwestern*. Of course we're underdogs for this one. We should be.

Still, do I feel good about our chances? You bet. Last year's edition was a lot closer than the 14 point loss would suggest, and it's well within the realm of possibility that the football gods give us the bounces this time, instead.

[*Thought may or may not be influenced by me wanting to see a win on my birthday weekend for the first time in forever.]

13. They will beat USC. Besides my smoldering desire year-in, year-out for it to be correct, I have no reason to really think we can win this, but I'm still obligated to write it, simply because I hate losing to them so damn much, and mathematically speaking, one of these years, we have to overcome Sarkisian. One of these years.

I think. Expect to see this item again in 2015, in any case.

14. Sonny Dykes will be the head coach of the California Golden Bears when they take the field next September 5th against Grambling. Admittedly, my thought here is surely influenced by my lack of interest in or know how regarding the inner workings of the Athletic Department's politics. Even with that in mind, my money is on Coach Dykes making it to 2015 anyway. It'd almost certainly a rushed judgment if we acted any earlier than that, because he's just getting the team's feet under them this year. Another could pay much greater dividends, so that will be the make or break for him, in my eyes. At that point, he'll have had a few classes in, and all of the players will have had their prerequisite reps for the Bear Raid. There can be no real defense after that. Now? Struggles remain somewhat understandable.