Of Pac-12 teams, ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura reports this week that Cal has the third-most former players in NFL camps right now, with 37.
Utah, by comparison, has 30. Washington State has 10.
Twenty of Cal’s NFL players have three years of experience or less. So what gives? How is this a team that has lost 31 games in the last three seasons?
That’s the question Sonny Dykes has to answer.
Dykes said at Pac-12 Media Days last month that rather than overhaul the program, he’s made “a lot of screwdriver adjustments.”
“We’re bigger. We’re stronger. We’re faster. We’re going to be a different-looking football team than we were last year,” Dkyes said. But, “still not where we need to be.”
Dykes said Cal has few seniors. On the offensive side of the ball, at least, there is cause for hope, and that starts with quarterback Jared Goff.
Goff passed for 3,508 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a true freshman, and will be surrounded by proven talent at wide receiver and a burgeoning group of speedy backs. Dykes said the emphasis this year with Goff will be on consistency.
“A lot of times last year, we threw him to the wolves a little bit,” Dykes said. “We had to score a lot of points every game. I think he felt pressure to do that. I think you look at his performance last year, middle of the season, he kind of hit a period where he didn’t improve that much. Maybe he took a step backward.”
This year will be all about steps forward. Dykes said the goal is simple: It’s not to win two games, or three games, or six games. It’s very simple now: Improve.
“You don’t circle five games and say we can win these games. ... At the end of the day, you try to play better and perform better and coach better.”
2013 IN REVIEW • 1-11, 0-9 Pac-12
RETURNING STARTERS • 15 total (9 offense, 6 defense)
TOP RETURNING PLAYER • As a true freshman, Khalfani Muhammad led the Bears with 446 rushing yards on just 74 carries — a 6.0 average — and though he was No. 2 behind Daniel Lasco on the preseason depth chart, he figures to play a key role in the kick return, receiving (187 yards last year) and rushing games. And he might have entered fall camp the starter if he wasn’t busy running 10.55 in the 100 for the track team this spring.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK • Cal averaged 45.9 points per game last season. How do they stop the bleeding? That’s the problem new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman is charged with solving, and if he doesn’t, there may be a fourth defensive coordinator in four years, starting 2015. Dykes was asked at Pac-12 Media Days if he’ll pay more attention to defense after last year’s struggles: “I paid more attention to defense last year than I ever have before, so maybe I’ll pay less attention this year.”
SCHEDULE OUTLOOK • Brutal. The problem with being Cal in the Pac-12 North, right now, is that you don’t get to play Cal. The Bears open as 11-point underdogs at Northwestern, and the only somewhat likely win on the schedule comes in Week 2, against Sacramento State. The season ends with a gauntlet of Washington, UCLA, Oregon, at Oregon State, at USC, Stanford and BYU. Even if they entered that stretch undefeated, they might miss a bowl game — and it is highly unlikely that they enter that stretch undefeated.
— Matthew Piper