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Monday Errata: Football hires and an unexpected sweep

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Quick glances at the latest Cal MBB and WBB results, plus all the directions the Bill Musgrave hire could go

NFL: Preseason-Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is going to be a short one, because 1) Late Sunday WBB kept me from writing 2) Vox fired us and as a result I’m a demotivated employee! Anyway, here are some half-baked thoughts on new and events from the last week:

MBB gets an unexpected home sweep

When the Bears were struggling through their 2-8 stretch from late November through the new year, I began to worry. Mark Fox arrived in Berkeley with a well-established level of performance as a coach: above average, occasionally stifling defenses, with offenses that struggled to score. But what if, for whatever reason, at Cal Fox delivered more of the same on offense, but without the positives on the defensive side of the ball?

Well, while two games don’t necessarily make for a trend, Cal’s home stand against the Washington schools will hopefully mark something of a turning point. The Bears held Wazzu to slightly below their season average offensive efficiency, then held Washington well below their season efficiency. And the Bears also started passing the eye test, holding up better at the point of attack and breaking down less often.

Do caveats potentially apply? Certainly. Washington State may end up having the worst offense in the league, and Washington was playing offense as if their head was figuratively cut off. The Pac-12 schedule and circumstances have been kind to the Bears.

The schedule will stay kind, in that the Bears will face more teams with offensive issues over the next two weeks. USC and UCLA both have shooting issues, and if the Bears really have taken a step forward defensively, that means a real opportunity to steal a game in LA.

Cal hires Bill Musgrave and Angus McClure

My reaction to Cal’s new hires on offense? High variability.

What do I mean by that? Well, my reaction is partly informed by ignorance. I’ve been watching less NFL football over the last few years, and Bill Musgrave has mostly spent his time coaching for NFL teams that I don’t particularly follow even within the limited amount of attention I give to the league. It’s clear that, at the NFL level, is is an above average offensive coordinator, and that alone makes him a credible choice at a place like Cal. The thing is, the NFL-to-college transition can go so many different directions.

For example - imagine if a Cal fan from three years in the future found a way to send us all a message and reported back any of the following stories:

  1. 2020 was a banner year for the Cal offense, but ended up being something of a flash in the pan. With a veteran group of returning talent including a junior quarterback with lots of on-field experience, Musgrave was able to hit the ground running and immediately make the most of his talent. For the first time in ages, Cal had an above average offense AND defense in the same year, and the Bears went 9-3. Unfortunately, Musgrave’s offense wasn’t easy to pick up for younger players, and so Cal’s offense took a big step backwards once Cal started having to replace talent, and quickly regressed back to the levels seen in 2018/19
  2. In retrospect, Bill Musgrave (and Angus McClure) was the right hire at the wrong time. Musgrave ended up being reasonably successful at Cal, but the transition costs of learning a new offense ended up costing Cal in 2020, which was poised to be a special year otherwise. McClure, likewise, initially upgraded Cal’s recruiting but had trouble getting individually talented offensive linemen to play together as a unit. By the end of the season the Cal offense was scoring lots of points, but early and midseason inconsistency haunted the Bears. A 7-5 season ended up feeling like a wasted opportunity, and though the offense stayed strong in 2021, the defense took a step back. Musgrave then returned for an opportunity in the NFL, and the entire era felt like a narrowly missed opportunity.
  3. It seemed like the right hire at the time, but after nearly two decades away from college ball, hiring a long time NFL coordinator just wasn’t a good fit. Musgrave struggled to simplify his concepts for college players, struggled to recruit, and never managed to build an offense at Cal that was above average in the Pac-12. Sometimes, the transition from one league to the other is just too vast.
  4. More and more the gap between college and NFL offensive design is narrowing, and Bill Musgrave ended up being the perfect hire at the perfect time. Using concepts that helped players as diverse as Matt Ryan, Michael Vick, and Nick Foles succeed, Musgrave turns Chase Garbers into a dual threat monster and the most efficient quarterback in the Pac-12. Meanwhile, Angus McClure compliments him as a recruiter who convinces the best California talent that they need to play for a coach who is blending the best of what college and NFL offensive play calling has to offer. Cal’s program under Justin Wilcox takes the next step.

Sure, some of the scenarios above are probably a little on the extreme in one direction or the other, but they’re all probably within a standard deviation on the bell curve. I’d believe any of them, and I don’t have any particular idea which scenario I’d put money on actually playing out. Analysis!

Women’s Basketball: Halfway through the Gauntlet

Reef and I will have more detailed thoughts over the next few weeks, but sadly there isn’t a ton of insight to be pulled from Cal’s current schedule. Stanford demonstrated this week, and Oregon and Oregon State will likely demonstrate next week, the difference between rebuilding teams, and teams that have legitimate Final 4 level talent, coaching, and aspirations. It’s unfortunate that Cal’s schedule is stacked up this way, and that the Bears weren’t able to grab winnable games against the Washington schools to start league play. Keep watching, and let’s check back in for more tangible progress once the Mountain schools visit in a few weeks.