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ESPN’s 2023 preseason SP+ has California ranked 58th nationally, 8th in the Pac-12

ESPN is projecting another bleak year in Bear Territory...

NCAA Football: UCLA at California Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Three CGB posts in three days? Is CGB back??

No. Just the perfect storm of news, the piqued interest of a homeless writer, and a site that hasn’t otherwise been touched in nearly two years.

Speaking of homeless writers and things that haven’t been touched in two years, it’s me—your writer. Thanks to the dozens of bots and readers who are still clicking on dead sites following suggestions by our friendly overlords at search engines.

Today’s news of interest? ESPN released their SP+ for the 2023 season. Bill Connelly’s SP+ predictions are outlooks for every team based on returning production, recruiting success, and on-field success from the past two to four years. With this, Connelly ranks the teams from A–Z (or in this case, from the Georgia Bulldogs to the Kent State Golden Flashes).

As shown below, the California Golden Bears are ranked 8th in the Pac-12, 58th nationally.

2023 Preseason SP+ rankings

P12 rk Nat'l rk Team
P12 rk Nat'l rk Team
1 8 Oregon
2 10 USC
3 13 Utah
4 16 Washington
- 19 TCU
5 21 UCLA
- 26 Auburn
6 31 Oregon State
7 53 Washington State
8 58 California
9 63 Arizona State
- 67 Fresno State
10 78 Arizona
- 84 North Texas
11 94 Colorado
12 102 Stanfurd
2023 Preseason SP+ rankings for Pac-12 teams, former Cal coaches, and 2023 OOC opponents. ESPN

The Pac-12 is pretty top-heavy this year, with five teams ranking in the top 25 (and the Oregon State Beavers peeking in just outside at 31st). The worst team in the Pac-12 is shaping up to be the Stanfurd Cardinal, but even that stings a little these days with a Golden Bear at the helm.

There is an alarming spread between top and bottom halves of the conference. (Nostalgic flashbacks to writing about gaps in our Power Rankings.) Nationally, there is the same span of teams between the sixth- and seventh-best Pac-12 teams (Oregon State and Washington State, respectively) as there are between the Pac-12’s second- and sixth-best teams (USC and Oregon State, respectively) at ~20 national teams.

As for our beloved for California head coaches, we’ve got a sandwich going with one ranked above us and one below. The story of 2022 was Sonny Dykes taking his first-year TCU Horned Frogs on a Cinderella run to the national championship, but suffering a loss in the Big XII Championship game and getting humiliated by Georgia in the national championship game; they’re shaping up to kick off the 2023 season ranked 19th in SP+ against Deion Sanders’ Colorado Buffaloes. Jeff Tedford has had two recent runs with the Fresno State Bulldogs (with a two-season pause for health reasons) where he has enjoyed rampant success—36–18 overall and three seasons with 10 or more wins. Despite ending 2022 with 10 wins and ranked 24th, they’re projected to take a big plunge in 2023 and are ranked 67th in SP+.

UNLV Rebels against the California Golden Bears Photo by Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Bringing things back to California, our 2023 schedule skips the Arizona Wildcats and the Colorado Buffaloes—both teams are ranked below us in SP+, but Arizona has only gotten feistier since upsetting us in 2021 and Colorado is recruiting like crazy and probably a bigger unknown than they are a definitive #94.

If we take SP+ as gospel, then things are looking bleak in 2023. Seven games are looking like pretty sure losses to teams that are ranked 20 spots or higher than us (Oregon, USC, Utah, Washington, UCLA, Auburn, and Oregon State); two games are looking like toss-ups against teams that are 5 spots away from us (Washington State and Arizona State); and three games are looking like they should be wins (North Texas, Stanfurd, and FCS Idaho). If we steal those two toss-ups, that would put us at 5–7 for another bowl-less, losing season. Wilcox teams are traditionally pretty good at stealing a big upset here or there, but it would be pretty disappointing in Wilcox’s seventh year if he needs an upset just to get to a bowl.


Is Cal going to be the 8th-best team in the Pac-12 in 2023?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Too low because we’ll be #1! But I’m a homer...
    (0 votes)
  • 50%
    Too low—we’ll finish better than this
    (4 votes)
  • 50%
    Just about right—we’ll finish somewhere around here
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Too high—into the basement for the Bears!
    (0 votes)
8 votes total Vote Now