1. Who will be the team's starting running back?
This is the biggest question heading into the fall. It seems like Daniel Lasco has the edge after playing most of the spring while Khalfani Muhammad competed on the track. Lasco has the bulk to carry multiple reps a little bit more than the smaller and speedier Muhammad, but Muhammad probably is more likely to break out for big plays and produce in the open field. And lest we forget about the wild cards. Tre Watson and Vic Enwere will step on campus and will have ample opportunity to prove that they deserve reps.
Starting running back might not even be a huge thing in this offense. Not one Cal ball-carrier took up a major amount of the carries last season, and Lousiana Tech employed a dual running back system where two ball carriers took the majority of the snaps. Lasco and Muhammad are shoo-ins to take the majority of snaps at the start of the season. The big question might be whether they can stave off Watson or Enwere from taking some of them by October/November. Pierre Ingram proved he will play his freshman if they're willing and able, so it's good.
2. What will Cal's secondary look like when they go into the nickel formation?
At about some point last season, Cal ran out of safeties, which meant in turn they ran out of players who could operate as the nickel back. That led to constant breakdowns in the secondary that turned into huge gains which led to easy touchdowns and football games being over by halftime.
This year, Cal should be a bit deeper when it comes to how they align their secondary. It appears as if the cornerbacks look set in stone: Darius Allensworth and Cameron Walker have been the starters since spring and don't look ready to relinquish it away, not even from the highly touted Darius White. It feels like Michael Lowe will start until the moment Avery Sebastian gets to 100%, at which point Lowe could move over to free safety. Then it'll just depend on whether Lowe or Stefan McClure is the best option in the free position.
So who goes in the nickel spot? There are plenty of options, from McClure to Cedric Dozier to White to the redshirts like Caleb Coleman and Trey Cheek. And the questions only multiply when teams go empty set and force the Bears into the dime formation. Offenses were happy to put four wide receivers on the field last season knowing full well Cal would not stop any of those teams for long enough, and a lot of new faces will be put to the test.
3. Where is the pass rush coming from this season?
Cal's pass defense wasn't just bad due to a subpar secondary. Their front seven was incapable of generating any pressure at any point, and quarterbacks were free to sit back and tee off downfield. Art Kaufman is expected to get a lot more out of this unit, but it's still unclear who we're looking for to generate the heat.
One potential option is Sione Sina, but the touted JuCo defensive end has been unhealthy since the moment he got on campus. Another is Brennan Scarlett, but there are a lot of question marks as to whether he can come up and be a disruptive force on the line. Scarlett was good in 2012, but he wasn't a disruptive pass rusher. Can Kyle Kragen rebound from a disappointing first year campaign? Will the linebackers be able to create anything in the midst of learning how to occupy gaps? And what of the new and quite green defensive linemen?
4. Who will create big plays for Cal?
Despite the prolific offense, the Bears were surprisingly punchless last season in generating huge plays, and it kept them from producing anything above 30 points a game in conference play. The Bears couldn't go deep and get scores, couldn't get to the red zone and get scores, and went three-and-out a bit more than you'd like.
Cal's wide receivers are steady, solid contributors. But Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper don't usually produce the big plays. Kenny Lawler showed flashes near the end of last season, but against most of his scores. Is Trevor Davis the guy who could really showcase his talent? The WAC highlights are promising, and there are definite reasons he's pencilled in as a starter.
5. Who will stop the big plays on Cal's defense?
The million dollar question. And there are definite question marks at each part of the interior. The defensive tackle situation is fraught with peril--not one of Cal's regular rotation DTs is back this season. Marcus Manley and Harrison Wilfley didn't play a single snap last year, Mustafa Jalil has missed almost the entirety of two seasons, and Austin Clark has never ever seen the field. Trevor Kelly was hyped up going into spring, but he has work to do to be that game-changing nose tackle Cal desperately needs.
At the linebacker spot, Nathan Broussard is getting plenty of raves through camp, but like Scarlett didn't play a single snap in 2013, and will now be tasked with the most important job in the 4-3 front at the Mike. And of course there are the lingering questions about what forms the best run defense combo between Lowe, healthy Sebastian and McClure at the back. On the bright side, the edges should perform better with a healthy stable of cornerbacks--hopefully.
What are your answers to these questions? What big questions do you have going into camp? Leave your thoughts in the comments!