1. Patrick Laird is going to win the Pac-12 rushing title and finish top ten nationally. Ronald Jones, Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay all graduated. That leaves Bryce Love and a hodge-podge of other runners to compete with Laird for the crown.
But even Love has the rising Cameron Scarlett to tag-team the Stanford run attack. Laird is going to be the focal point of a Cal offense that isn’t explosive nor flashy. With no likely running backs behind him to get more than a handful of snaps, he’s going to be fed that football a lot this season. I think this will be a very promising breakout season for Laird.
2. Cal will be a top four defense in the Pac-12. Aside from Washington and a few others, Pac-12 defenses spanned the baseline of mediocre to wretched last season. Cal overachieved last year defensively and returns most of their core. The Bears are well-coached and will always be defensive-minded with Justin Wilcox at the helm. Trajectory-wise, this seems like the next logical step.
With Washington, USC, and Utah the only real reliables among this group year-to-year, I see no reason why Cal can’t sneak in and claim some real estate.
3. Cal will have a winning Pac-12 record. Cal has not had a winning record in the Pac-12 since 2009, which was really the last year the Bears were competitive against elite competition.
This is the year the worm turns. With only two clear losses on the schedule (vs. Washington, at USC) and a ton of toss-ups (at Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, at Washington State, Stanford), the Bears have the foundation to win at least five in-conference. This is more than doable.
Speaking of which.
4. Cal will play a close, competitive trap game with Washington. The Huskies are the odds-on favorites to represent the Pac-12 in the College Football Playoff, and are loaded with talent. But Washington on the road has proven to be an inconsistent product, and their offense tends to lay one egg a year (usually in the state of Arizona, but still). With the Stanford grudge match the week after, Cal could catch them looking ahead.
5. Cal will beat Stanford. The streak is ending. Stanford barely escaped a pitcher’s duel on the Farm last season, relying almost exclusively on Love to carry them to wins last season. Stanford did the same thing to Christian McCaffrey three seasons ago, and the next season he was not the same.
This Stanford team is not nearly as good as that one, and this Cal team is much better-coached and better-schemed to stop the Trees.
The streak is ending. Book your tickets for November 17.
Here were last year’s bold predictions:
1. Cal will win at least one game as a double-digit underdog. They did this twice. Against UNC. Against Wazzu. Double credit!
2. Cal will have one of the most improved defenses in college football, top-six in the Pac-12. Cal actually did finish sixth in defensive S&P in the Pac-12! To be fair, most of the defenses in the Pac-12 were a . But still!
3. Demetris Robertson could be a Biletnikoff finalist. Whifffff.
4. The Pac-12 is not that good. Cal can make a bowl game. Cal was three or four plays away from seven to eight wins last year. Half credit!
5. Cal will beat Stanford. Nope. So damned close.