Cal offense good, Cal defense bad. Cal offense good, Cal defense bad.
It's been eight loooong months since the Golden Bears played real live football against a real live opponent, and those two facts are just about all we've had to work with in all that time. But the seasons have been turning, however imperceptibly, and fall camp is finally upon us. And that means it is officially almost almost football season. So hop into your favorite armchair-quarterbacking armchair, because it's time to get to know the 2015 Cal offense. I hear they're pretty good.
Disclaimer: I am not Nam Le. I'm just some guy who can't always remember whether the offensive tackles line up inside or outside of the guards. Turns out they'll let pretty much anyone write about sports on the internet! With that said, if you have corrections, additions, or quibbles with my grammar, please share them in the comments. I'd love to hear your take on this year's team!
Here's the kind of insight you can expect me to provide: Jared Goff is good at football. The numbers back me up on this. He threw for the fifth most touchdowns, yards, and completions in the FBS last year, and in doing so scribbled all over the Cal all-time record books.
And yet, we still haven't gotten to the good news: Unless he's a secret agent sent from Palo Alto to get our hopes up and then disappoint us, he's going to be even better in his junior season.
He's bigger and stronger than he was last season, and is going to be given more responsibilities to direct the offense from his position in the backfield. He was (only) the fourth most efficient passer in the Pac 12 last year, so another year of familiarity with the Bear Raid and his receiving corps leave him with room to improve.
In case the previous paragraph didn't make it clear, Goff will be Cal's undisputed starter, so don't expect any camp controversy there. The picture behind him is pretty clear as well: redshirt freshman Chase Forrest projects to claim the backup spot on the strength of his performance this spring, well ahead of true freshmen Ross Bowers and Cole Webb. No offense to any of those guys, but Cal fans have no desire to see any of them get major playing time this season unless Goff is comfortably relaxing as they tend to his 40+ point lead.
The genuine x-factor here will be last year's backup, Luke Rubenzer. Sonny Dykes' two-QB experiment seems to be over, as Rubenzer spent most of spring practice honing his skills in the secondary. The word from my sources (read: other CGB writers who actually did the groundwork) is that the coaches felt good enough with Forrest at backup that Rubenzer could be more useful on defense. Luke is listed as below Forrest on the latest depth chart, but I wouldn't put it past Tony Franklin and the gang to cook up a special package or two, so keep an eye out for that kind of thing as we get closer to the season.
There's not a lot of mystery here either. Daniel Lasco put up over 1000 yards in his junior campaign, and with defenses focusing on containing the pass, he should have no problem repeating or surpassing that performance this year (barring the revelation that he's a double agent for the Trojans...it could happen!). It's unfair to skim over the owner of Cal's longest pass play ever, but drama sells in fall camp, and for that we have to look to Lasco's backups.
For an offense that is so well known for its passing game, the Bear Raid 3.0 sure is stacked at running back. Second on the depth chart appears to be the explosive Vic Enewere, who made the most of his 34 carries last season with a team-leading 5.7 yards per carry. He's the trendy pick for a breakout season after tearing it up in spring practice, and will likely get plenty of fall reps in preparation for September 5th.
Fellow sophomore Tre Watson isn't as flashy as Enewere, but figures to see more touches this season as well for a change of pace. Then there's Khalfani Muhammad, who seems to have been bumped down to fourth in the pack despite being the de-facto number two guy last season. Muhammad missed spring camp with track commitments and weighs in a full 15 pounds less than Watson, but he's sneaky fast and can break a tackle, so he'll see the field again this year, either in the backfield or on kick returns.
Lonny Powell may still be a year and four spots on the depth chart away from being a big contributor, but he's getting some hype as a possible two-way factor for the Bears. I can't personally attest to the Marshawn Lynch comparisons he's getting, but the word is that he runs hard and has hands softer than the Patriots' footballs. We'll keep you posted.
Chris Harper and his six touchdowns are gone, and his skills at wideout will be missed. Even so, the receiving corps is loaded. Tony Franklin likes his offense to spread the ball around, which means that seven guys who caught 20 or more passes last year will return.
Likely starters are Trevor Davis (X) and Kenny Lawler (Z) on the outside, with Bryce Treggs (H) and Stephen Anderson (Y) closer to the line. All but Lawler are seniors, so this year is pretty much all systems go for the Bear Raid receivers. Maurice Harris and Darius Powe are the experienced depth, while Ray Hudson and the impeccably named Matt Rockett will have to step up from their smaller roles at the Y spot last year.
As long as we're throwing out lots of names, familiarize yourself with Jack Austin, sophomore and eventual heir to the X position, as well as true freshman and someday Z receiver Carlos Strickland. This unit is deep, and a lot of new names will be fighting for the chance to contribute. Point being, don't forget your media guide at the games this year. Fall camp for the wideouts should be fun.
One of the reasons I like the Tony Franklin System (aside from creating one of college football's most watchable offenses) is that it gets rid of nearly half of the usual offensive positions. Next category, please.
Remember when I said I'm not Nam? This is the part where you'll really notice it. I'm going to do my best to sound like I can talk about the O-line here, but do make sure to fill in the gaps with some supplementary reading on the new guys from Trace Travers and on the position battles from Nam himself.
Outside of Chris Harper, the two big losses for the offense are C Chris Adcock and RG Alejandro Crosthwaite, last year's unchallenged starters at their positions. The battle at center is the most critical, considering the center's expanded role in Tony Franklin's offense. Junior Matt Cochran was in line for the starting job, but his recent departure from the program means that redshirt freshmen Addison Ooms and Michael Trani will take first and second string reps, respectively. Crosthwaite's position will likely be filled by utility man Jordan Rigsbee, who played at left guard and center before making all 12 starts at right tackle last year. Left guard is set with Chris Borrayo, who earned a couple of All-Pac-12 third team nominations for his work last season.
Steven Moore is listed at left tackle, but may take time to ramp up as he returns from a shoulder injury. Sophomore Vinnie Johnson will be slotted behind him, with JuCo transfer Dominic Granado and senior Brian Farley in the proverbial mix at RT. Farley comes before Granado on the depth chart as of this moment, but theirs will be a true battle throughout camp. With most of the offensive depth chart settled, the offensive line and especially that right tackle position bear watching (Get it? Bear?) in the lead-up to the season opener.