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Update: Herbstreit recognizes Cal in five preseason categories—incl. our secondary as one of the best units

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No pressure.

Washington v California Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Update: On Friday, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit released his nominees, “finalists”*, and “winners”* for the Preseason Herbie Awards. The official awards will be released in the postseason, but today, Herbie announced the list of nominees (the favorites heading into the season and listed on ESPN.com), the “finalists” (typically three candidates who were covered on an ESPN special, and the “winner” (the most favorite of favorites heading into the season). As a caveat, Herbstreit acknowledged that his list is to “spread [the recognition] out a little bit” to keep his list from being too “repetitive” with other preseason hype lists, thus “creat[ing] dialogue”.

*These terms are completely mine; sorry, but the program was kind of weird and ambiguous to me.

We’ll start things off, though, with some negative perception. Chris “Bear” Fallica is their college football researcher and picked the California Golden Bears as one of his Teams to Take a Step Back. Bear projects the Bears will win “under six wins” because we made it to seven wins in 2017, but on the backs of upsets and wins with field-goal margins. With our defense’s elite performance being needed to win last year, Rece Davis noted this puts “a lot of pressure on [the defense] to maintain that type of winning level”.

While Herbie projects the Pac-12 Championship game will come down to the Washington Huskies vs. the Arizona State Sun Devils, he did list the Bears as his sleeper pick.

The Bears did earn nominations in two categories. One of the nominees for Best Tandem was Camryn Bynum and Elijah Hicks, though the duo was not one of three “finalists” covered on TV. I don’t think they covered Best Linebacker on their show, so all we have is the list of nominees, among which Evan Weaver was named. But this wasn’t Weaver’s only recognition by Herbstreit...

There’s already a lot of attention heaped onto Evan Weaver after his performance in 2018, but don’t let that keep Herbie from heaping. Weaver was one of the three “finalists” for Best Throwback Player and Herbie made sure to highlight him as most of his viewers “don’t follow the Pac-12” and thus don’t know him; Herbie described our secondary as one of the best nationally (see below) and named Weaver as one of the defense’s leaders. The number of times he repeated sentiments of “look out” during this segment really made it tough to ignore the team and this player.

Our fifth recognition (as I’m not counting the dubious prediction that we will take a step back) is covered below in the original article. The video that I watched of the Herbies did not include Best Unit so I can’t speak of the coverage, but Gerald Alexander’s tweet certainly looks like we won the award.

Original: All it takes is one innocuous article from Sports Illustrated to let the secret out on the Cal secondary nationally.

Kirk Herbstreit is spreading the preseason love for the Cal defensive backs, pairing them along with the Alabama wide receivers and Auburn defensive line as the standout units in college football to watch out for.

There’s no doubt the Cal secondary has the potential to be special. Cal returns all five major contributors from last season—cornerbacks Camryn Bynum and Elijah Hicks, safeties Ashtyn Davis and Jaylinn Hawkins, as well as nickelback Traveon Beck.

The turnaround in the Cal secondary to best unit in the country level has been remarkable. In 2016 they ranked 125th in passing down situations according to S&P+. Defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander, defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter and the entire Cal defensive staff issued a quick turnaround in that category—by 2017 they were 37th in this category, and last year they were 10th—along with being 10th in passing defense S&P+ and 6th in isoPPP (limiting offensive explosive plays).

But it’s definitely a collective effort—the Cal linebackers could be just as good this season with the return of Cameron Goode and the addition of Kuony Deng to join Evan Weaver and Tevin Paul. Cal’s defensive line is a group of senior-laden talent, led by likely draft prospect Luc Bequette. As Nick has mentioned, this definitely has the potential to one of the best groups in Golden Bear history.

Alexander was rumored to be courted by multiple teams last season, and it’s unlikely that Cal will . The carousel will open a few spots for him this year as well. I’m not sure the tricks Wilcox will have to pull to keep Alexander this cycle around, but he has quickly become one of his most indispensable coaches on the staff.