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The future of Cal football: What do the next five years hold for the Bears?

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Some musings about the future.

NCAA Football: Texas at California John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

As we turn to a new generation of California Golden Bears football, I decided to make some early projections about what comes next for Cal. Will Cal finally return to being a perennial seven to eight win team, as the Bears tended to be for much of the 2000s? Or will things be a bit more unpredictable?

Here are five quick predictions.

1. Cal will struggle to maintain a top 25 offense.

The Bear Raid days are over. Beau Baldwin is in and he’ll definitely be able to lead a competent offense. He’s proven his worth at Eastern Washington. And the offensive staff is definitely of a promising nature, particularly with coaches like Baldwin, Marques Tuiasosopo, and Steve Greatwood involved.

But the days of a scheme designed primarily to maximize offensive efficiency are at an end. Cal is breaking in a new quarterback, and it’s clear whichever choice we make, Cal will struggle to be as optimal as they were before. The Bears will also be losing their two best running backs after 2017, and then the bulk of their current wide receiving talent in 2018. Everything changes on a yearly basis.

Also, with a defensive-minded coach, offense is more likely to not be the central identity of the new Cal offense. Expect Justin Wilcox to strive for balance.

2. Cal should see an immediate uptick and eventually constantly hold one of the top five defenses in the conference.

On the bright side, the days of Cal being a defensive doormat will likely be over. Justin Wilcox has almost always been lucky enough to produce a top 25 defense at every stop. The Bears have historically had an easier time building up defensive talent (the Bear Raid era being the bizarre aberration) in modern times, and with some solid recruiting should be able to find the talent to start thriving there once again.

As hinted at before, the defensive improvement will likely come at the expense of offensive supremacy. Even at the Cal spring game, we’re seeing signs that both teams are starting to equalize in terms of execution.

3. Cal will start closing the door on the Bay Area and score some major recruiting wins locally.

It might not happen this year, or even next year. But in the next five years, Cal is going to start putting down the groundwork to win Northern California recruiting battles, in both the Bay Area and the Central Valley/Sacramento area.

Cal started out the 2017-18 recruiting cycle by landing a few local prospects. They aren’t highly touted, but it is a sign that the new group of coaches is dedicated to building up the program’s roots on a local level. It’ll eventually pay dividends down the road for regional recruits who are looking for the excuse to stay close to home.

4. Cal will continue to struggle to hold onto top-performing assistants.

The hiring of Wyking Jones does not seem to portend good fortune for high-budget spending on Cal athletic programs. If an assistant like Baldwin or Tuiasosopo or Greatwood or anyone starts punching above their weight, it won’t be long before the Bears are forced to consider paying a massive calling card to retain their talents.

Given Cal’s history of retaining assistants who are maximizing their ability with the Bears, I am not optimistic staff retention will be feasible. Just be prepared to see a tinkered staff in some iteration every two seasons, if not every season.

5. Cal will end its losing streak to Stanford, but it’s unlikely to tip the scales back in its favor.

Cal has not beaten Stanford since 2009 (thanks Obama), and aside from a brief flareup of excitement in 2011 the series has not been close. Cal has lost by three scores or more in five of the last seven Big Games, and were particularly non-competitive during the Sonny Dykes era.

This should change with Justin Wilcox. Wilcox has historically had success against even the best Stanford teams, besting David Shaw twice as a defensive coordinator at both USC and Washington, and coming close to beating them once more. Wilcox tends to do better against pro-style, run-heavy offenses, so he can punch above his weight against Shaw.

However, I don’t imagine Wilcox starting to beat Shaw regularly. Stanford’s recruiting advantage is still pronounced. The Cardinal have boasted a better class than Cal almost every season since the start of the new Streak. To turn the tables that decisively will require a longer-term investment that requires more than just a good coach—it requires program commitment and special players making their impact felt.

What do you think of these predictions? What predictions do you have for the next five years of Cal football? Let us know in the comments!