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Gameweek eve: Psychology of the fanbase

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How do Cal fans feel about the dawn of a new season after the misery and pain of a 1-11 record in 2013? I have no clue, but I'll egotistically tell you how I feel!

Will fans like this little dude have more reasons to cheer in 2014?
Will fans like this little dude have more reasons to cheer in 2014?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Here are some facts:

Last year, Cal went 0-11 vs. BCS competition, with an average margin of defeat of 25.6 points*. Cal lost all but one of those games by at least a two touchdown margin. On an average play from scrimmage, Cal's offense gained 5.1 yards, while the defense allowed 7.0.

*For comparison's sake, Cal's average margin of defeat in 11 games against BCS competition in 2001 was 20.9.

Here is an opinion:

I believe that Sonny Dykes is a good head coach who has assembled a solid staff, and that Cal has enough talent on the roster to be competitive in a power five conference.

Those facts do not jive particularly well with my opinion. Thus, here is our question for the day: Is my opinion, one that I suspect is shared by a significant portion of the Cal fan base, insane? Is it blind optimism, homerism, magical thinking, or simply a reflex survival mechanism?

I'm honestly not sure. There is a very real possibility that I am deluding myself. All of the available concrete evidence suggests that Cal football in 2014 will be nearly as miserable as 2013. But if you're a die-hard fan, and tuning out isn't an option for you because your brain is hard-wired to be as naïve as Don Quixote, then believing in the possibility (nay, likelihood!) of success is necessary. And in just eight days we'll all start tilting at windmills in earnest.

And the alternative to this leap of faith? The alternative is to either suffer through months of miserable fandom, or to ignore Cal football entirely. Those choosing the first option have likely migrated towards unceasing bitterness, while the latter have disappeared from this website to preserve their own sanity. I . . . kinda don't blame them.*


I've just (unintentionally?) made an argument in favor of despair, and yet. And yet. I still think Cal could be an OK team this year. Sometimes I even definitely think that Cal will be an OK team. There's no way that the Bears can't get healthier, right? Sonny Dykes always starts to see improvement with his 2nd year in charge of an offense. Art Kaufman is like replacing Eli Whiteside with Buster Posey. Players often see their biggest developmental leaps in their 2nd year of regular playing time.

Perhaps my favorite argument is that sometimes, college football is just unexplainably weird. Wake Forest went 5-7, 4-7, 4-7, Orange Bowl. Auburn went National Champs, 8-5, 3-9, National Runners Up. Cal went from 1-10 to within nine yards of the BCS title game in three years, then back to 1-11. When you change 20-25% of your roster annually, and that roster is made up of 18-22 year olds still in the middle of their physical and mental development, weirdly unexpected things happen Every Single Year.

Sure, clinging to the chance that something unforeseen and unpredictable happening isn't the most palatable option. But after 1-11, that might be all we have left at the moment.

For roughly four years, very few things have gone right. Many of those results can be blamed on poor process, but plenty of it has been bad luck too. Maybe this is the year that Cal recovers 75% of available fumbles. Maybe this is the year that batted passes find their way into the arms of OUR middle linebackers. Maybe this is the year a two star recruit develops into an all-conference performer, the year an unexpected true freshman makes a key contribution, the year an upper classman buried down the depth chart steps up to save a game. The year that Stanford collapses under the weight of its own do-things-the-right-way-ego into a black hole that swallows Erector Set Stadium.

Is it realistic to expect all of these things to happen? Hell no. It may not be realistic to expect any of these things to happen. To the extent that there is order and structure to the world of college football, most every tangible piece of evidence suggests that Cal football fandom will not be a fun pastime in 2014.

But you know the truth. Order and structure? Nah, college football is beautiful, tragic chaos. One of these years, that chaos will favor our Bears. Maybe even this year.

So we'll watch. Against our better judgment we will watch, and root, and hope. Maybe this will be another year in which football related joy can only be found at the pre-game tailgate and the post-game bar, or with gallows humor on the internet. But that won't change the fact that we addicted dummies will watch anyway.

Yet strangely, I still can't wait.

Wanna watch with me?