2012 Cal Football Part 3: The Scheduleby Nam Le on Aug, 29 2012
The California Golden Bears will return home to Memorial Stadium on September 1st, kicking off the 2012 season against Nevada. Find out whether that game will be a victory, and what the rest of the year should have in store in the last of our 3 in-depth preview articles – previous looks at the offense and defense can be found here and here.
September 1st vs Nevada – W
The first thing you should know is that Jeff Tedford has never lost a home opener in his Cal career .
The second thing you should know is that it would be an embarrassment to start now – and not because Nevada is expected to be a cakewalk (it isn’t). No, with a brand new Memorial Stadium opening up, the emotional energy and momentum in this game will belong squarely with the Bears. Coming out flat and unprepared to play would be downright inexcusable. Admittedly, Cal has struggled with Pistol type teams recently – you only have to look as far as 2010 at Nevada or 2011 at UCLA to know that. Still, the team will have had weeks to practice and prepare for this game. The Pistol offense relies on inexperience and unfamiliarity, an advantage mitigated to some extent by the long offseason.
While it is true that the Bears struggled mightily against the Wolf Pack two seasons ago, this edition of Chris Ault’s offense is a little less lethal – Cody Fajardo and Mike Ball aren’t exactly Colin Kaepernick or Vai Taua.
All things considered, Cal should pick up a win to open the season.
September 8th vs Southern Utah – W
Winnability: 99% [because crazier things have happened...]
Coach Tedford has an A-B-C philosophy when it comes to out of conference games – one “A” upper-tier FBS opponent, one “B” opponent that you have a good chance to beat, and one “C” opponent who you absolutely should demolish. 
Meet the “C” opponent. Let’s just move on.
September 15th at Ohio State – L
And now, meet the “A” opponent.
Despite the probability listed above, this is not an impossible game. The Buckeyes are in their first year with Urban Meyer’s spread option offense, and quarterback Braxton Miller didn’t exactly set the world on fire with his debut last season. Could the Bears catch Ohio State off-guard? Certainly. This game is early enough in the season where rust and sloppiness could still be factors, but facing a defense that ranked 19th in the country last year is a tall order, especially when they return a whopping ten starters. Cal, for the record, ranked 25th, meaning that any hopes of victory hinge solely on Zach Maynard protecting the ball – an iffy prospect, admittedly – and pulling out a defensive slugfest.
It is highly unlikely that that occurs, for several reasons:
1) There are many possible explanations as to why, but Jeff Tedford is not a very good coach on the road, going a horrifying 6-10 over the last three seasons. 2010 and 2011 were even worse, as the Bears went 2-8 in those campaigns.
2) Also complicating things is the sheer magnitude of this game. Ohio Stadium is one of the most legendary venues in college football, routinely topping 100,000 rabid fans in attendance. Cal plays in some hostile environments pretty regularly – Autzen Stadium in Eugene and USC’s Colliseum, in particular. Neither of those quite compares to the Horseshoe, and the last non-conference game the Bears played in with these types of conditions didn’t turn out so pretty. Raise your hands if you trust Zach Maynard to roll into the most hostile environment he’s ever faced and come out victorious. Not all at once, now.
3) This game is being played at 9AM West Coast time. The last time that happened? Also not pretty. To be fair, though, this is something the staff has planned for, as the team will be flying in earlier than usual to get acclimated to the early start. It’s doubtful that matters.
September 22nd at USC – L
Winnability – 10%
The saying often goes that the only sure things in life are death and taxes, but it’s starting to look like you can add a California loss to USC to that list. It’s been 8 years since Cal toppled the Trojans, and each season, they seem to get further and further away from beating their rivals down south.
The bad news is that the streak doesn’t seem likely to end this season, either, as this USC squad is absolutely loaded. Much has been written about quarterback Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, but part of their continual success has been the way they reload talent. This offseason, the Trojans added Penn State transfer – and all Big 10 Second Team – Silas Redd to the backfield, giving them yet another offensive toy…to say nothing about incoming freshman Nelson Agholor, who is simply blowing people away. The defense will be led by Dion Bailey and Nickell Robey, both of whom gave Cal fits last year. Bailey intercepted two Maynard passes in that game, if you recall – and in truth, the Trojans boast depth and experience at nearly all their positions, returning 17 starters from a team that went 10-2 [and was one duel with Andrew Luck from 11-1, really] in 2011. There is a reason why they are BCS contenders this season. One position of weakness could be the defensive line, especially after the Trojans lost defensive end Devon Kennard to a torn bicep – but even then, Lane Kiffin’s bunch should score enough to compensate.
Despite a final that said otherwise, the defense actually held Barkley in check last year, thanks in part to a stellar effort by Stefan McClure on Robert Woods. Five Zach Maynard turnovers (see how that’s becoming a theme?) eventually caught up with them, but if there is a glimmer of hope for an upset, it starts on that side of the ball. Still, this one could get ugly.
September 29th vs Arizona State – W
Winnability – 55%
Last year’s duel in the desert was a fun way to close out the season – the two teams traded touchdowns throughout, but the Bears ended up escaping Tempe with a 47-38 victory. They were helped, of course, by several ill-advised penalties by Sun Devil linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who has since moved on. Even without the presence of Burfict to assist in moving the chains, Arizona State will also be without quarterback Brock Osweiler, who gave the Bears fits as well. Replacing him will be sophomore Taylor Kelly, who won the job in a bit of a surprise decision – it’s hard to imagine the youngster giving the talented California defense any trouble, especially when this game is played at home. The Sun Devils are rebuilding under new head coach Todd Graham, and public perception reflects it, as many people have them penciled in for fifth in the Pac-12 South. This is a must win game, if the Bears want to be bowl eligible.
For what it’s worth – and admittedly, not much – Tedford has only lost to ASU once in his career.
October 6th vs UCLA – W
Winnability – 60%
The Bears should have beaten UCLA last year; the Bruins had just suspended 6 players for a brawl the previous week and the Bears had just come off a big win against Utah. Both programs were on drastically different trajectories. And yet, the result was an embarrassing 31-14 defeat down in Los Angeles. To some degree, each of Cal’s other 5 other losses last season could be explained away – Oregon, USC, Texas and Stanford were vastly more talented, Washington was a coin flip gone wrong – but this one, much less so.
With October 6th being homecoming weekend, do not expect the Bears to come out flat and emotionless again. It took Zach Maynard playing one of the worst games anyone could possibly imagine for UCLA to pull out a victory last season, and it would be highly unexpected he repeats that performance. UCLA’s fall camp is also going disastrously: players are getting injured left and right in the heat of San Bernardino, the Bruins just lost their starting middle linebacker to medical retirement, they are breaking in a new starting QB in Brett Hundley, and to be honest, there aren’t many offensive weapons for opposing defenses to be afraid of. Leading receiver Nelson Rosario is now a Carolina Panther, and none of their backs cracked the thousand yard marker in 2011.
Having learned from their mistakes last year, expect the Bears to come out motivated and ready to bully the Bruins around.
October 13th at Washington State – L
Winnability – 50%
New Washington State head coach Mike Leach is an offensive mastermind. He has beaten Tedford before, too. The Cougars are in the first year of Leach’s “Air Raid” system, which, in its most simple form can be described as pass first, pass second, pass third…and then pass some more. This will be a game where the California secondary must come up huge if there is any hope of victory, especially because the Cougars return wide receiver Marquess Wilson, who led the Pac-12 in receiving yardage last year. While the secondary has looked much more solid as fall camp progressed, this is a game where the presence of Stefan McClure would be of utmost importance. Because he is likely not to be available, there is added pressure on Josh Hill, Marc Anthony, and Steve Williams to come up huge. Still, with this game being played in Pullman – and because Cal traditionally loses on the road to conference foes – this matchup looks to be a coin flip.
October 20th vs Stanford – W
Winnability – 55%
Of all the losses suffered last season, the Big Game was probably the most heartbreaking. On a rainy night in Palo Alto, the Bears played better than they had all year, but some conservative decision-making in the first half left points on the board – points that eventually factored into Cal’s 3 point loss.
A year later, expectations for this Cardinal team are much lower than they were with Andrew Luck behind center – primarily because Andrew Luck is no longer behind center. Stanford faces the challenge of replacing not only their brilliant quarterback, but nearly half their offense, as 4 others traveled with Luck to the NFL – linemen Jonathan Martin and David Decastro, as well as tight end Coby Fleener and receiver Chris Owusu. The Cardinal are talented on defense, of course – returning starter Shayne Skov was predicted to be a high draft pick, yet couldn’t even crack the two deep in 2012 – but they will likely take a step backward this season overall, and they are beatable. Having this game at home gives the Bears a slight edge, because as it is, both teams appear to be similarly talented.
[This game is also the 30th anniversary of The Play. I'd rather die than mark this down as a loss.]
October 27th at Utah -W
Winnability – 50%
The Bears beat Utah by over three touchdowns last year, but expect that margin to be closer in 2012 – the Utes played that game without starting quarterback Jordan Wynn, who will [presumably] be healthy for this one. Many pundits have picked the Utes to finish second in the Pac-12 South, and it’s easy to see why: with Wynn behind center, all-Pac-12 1st team running back John White IV in the backfield, and future first round draft pick Lotuleilei at defensive tackle, Utah has some Star power on both sides of the ball. Though they may not get the buzz that some other Southern division teams do, we would be wise to remember that Utah was one loss from squaring off against Oregon in the Pac 12 Championship Game last year.
In a way, this game is not too different from the matchup against Washington State. Both were easy wins at home, but do not figure to be quite so effortless when played on the road. The Cougar offense merely presents a bigger challenge to overcome.
Nov. 2 vs Washington – W
Winnability – 55%
For Cal fans who keep up with recruiting, the game against Washington has become much more than a battle for Pac-12 supremacy. It has become a point of pride, a game that has been circled on calendars for months.
The short version of the story is this: last January, Cal’s ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi, who played in this program and worked in it for years, suddenly took off for the same job up at Washington. Over night, he switched allegiances, and began actively recruiting against the school he was selling kids on just a week earlier. At that point, the Bears had amassed an impressive list of recruits – thanks in large part to Lupoi – including 5 star prospects Ellis McCarthy and Shaq Thompson, with even more likely to come.
Two weeks later, many of them – including the aforementioned McCarthy and Thompson – had decommitted to different programs. A recruiting class that was on pace to be top 10 nationally fell to the low 20s, all brought about or triggered by Lupoi’s stealthy move up north. November 2nd marks his return to Berkeley, which will be motivation enough for the Cal players, many of whom had close relationships with Tosh. The Bears have also lost to Washington two years in a row, both times on heartbreaking end of game situations. It seems safe to say that they are not eager for a third.
Sure, the Huskies are a dangerous offensive team, trotting out dark horse Heisman contender Keith Price behind center to go with Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins as receiving threats. All will likely be factors in this game. But Washington is also struggling to rebuild a porous defense, and with the sheer emotional weight of this matchup (played under the bright lights of ESPN!), it is hard to think that the Bears won’t have an extra bounce in their step for this one. They will be ready. 
November 10th vs Oregon- L
Winnability – 35%
Of the three major opponents on the schedule, Oregon is probably the most beatable. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has shown an ability to defend Oregon’s “blur” offense before – check the tape of the near upset in 2010 for proof. As that blueprint showed, slowing the Ducks requires several different things, all of which Cal has again this year:
1) A strong run game to keep the ball out of Oregon’s hands. Compared to just Shane Vereen in 2010, the Bears boast four starter worthy backs this year. Check. 
2) A strong defensive line to crash through gaps and cause general chaos in the backfield. Cameron Jordan? Derrick Hill? Ernest Owusu? Meet Deandre Coleman, Mustafa Jalil, Todd Barr, Aaron Tipoti, Kendrick Payne and Viliami Moala. Check.
3) Depth on said line to counteract the no-huddle pace. Check.
4) Playmakers and athleticism to meet the Duck running backs/wide receivers in space. Check…sort of. It remains to be seen how the some the secondary will respond after being burned repeatedly in man coverage against DeAnthony Thomas last year, but the front seven can certainly compete with Oregon.
Their game in 2011 was much closer than 43-15 would indicate – Cal led by 1 at halftime before a 22 point deluge to open the third quarter, and almost certainly would have kept it closer than that if they hadn’t gotten away from the run. Considering Isi Sofele was averaging 9.9 yards per carry that night, it may have been smart to give him more than 12.
That being said, much of the Cal’s defense from last season will return, and they should be better equipped to handle the speed of Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas the second time around . Barner, while talented himself, is a step down from LaMichael James, and first year starter Marcus Mariota will be making an appearance before a crowd that hasn’t forgotten 2010.
So, strong defense, at home, opponent starting a first year starting quarterback…all the ingredients are there for a possible – although not probable – upset. Fried duck, anyone?
Nov. 17 at Oregon State – W
Winnability – 60%
Much has been made of Cal’s recent record against USC, but after the Trojans, Cal’s most recent nemesis has been…the Oregon State Beavers? Indeed, it may surprise many to discover that the Bears have gone 1-4 against Mike Riley’s program in recent seasons, but for whatever reason, the Beavers have packed some serious bite against the Bears. Some of those losses have stung particularly painfully (this is the part where you remember the Kevin Riley debacle). The good news is that this year’s Oregon State team doesn’t appear to be serious contenders at all. Certainly, their running game that finished 118th among FBS programs should improve – if only by sheer mathematical probability – and the Beavers will bring back several key starters who were hurt last year, but the Beavers appear to be an opponent the Bears should roll right on over.
Realistically, Cal should finish in the range of 7 to 8 wins before the bowl game – the projection here has 8, but because the Bears have made a habit out of losing at least one game they shouldn’t each year, it’s easy to see them falling off that pace. With most of the team still young and the talent of recent recruiting classes yet to fully develop, better days are still ahead. 2013 should bring double digit victories, and by 2014, California could once again be a national power.
But what you’re saying is…no Rose Bowl again, right?
Well, no. Not entirely.
The Pac-12 North is down this year – Stanford and Oregon have enough question marks and uncertainties for California to slip in there and steal the division. It will take improved play from the offensive line and steady improvement from Zach Maynard to do it, of course – but it is possible. The defense is certainly capable enough, and already has the looks of a division winning unit.
A quick glance at the schedule reveals only 3 games where the Bears will be clear underdogs: at Ohio State, at USC, and against Oregon at home. The rest of the games are either clearly winnable, or outright toss ups.
Assuming that the team wins those – no easy proposition, considering their recent history – and upsets Oregon, they could go 10-2 (5-1 in division), which would be good enough to slip into the Pac-12 Championship Game, likely against USC.
And from there…
Well, that’s why the games are played, aren’t they?
 The scores, beginning from 2002: 70-22 over Baylor, 34-2 over Southern Miss, 41-14 over New Mexico State, 41-3 over Sacramento State, 42-17 over Minnesota, 45-31 over Tennessee, 38-31 over Michigan State, 52-13 over Maryland, 52-3 over UC Davis, and 36-21 over Fresno State.
 A little more on A-B-C scheduling: The value of an A opponent is for posterity, as well as visibility – beating elite programs is a huge boost in public perception, especially in the BCS rankings and AP polls. Still, a win is a win, and this game gets us closer to being bowl eligible. So there’s that.
 This is also the kind of game Cal must win if they hope to become more than a middle of the road Pac-12 team. Washington is much like Cal in that sense – both are programs hoping to break into the upper echelon of conference play, but part of doing so means winning games against other middle of the road teams consistently. I like to think that this one is the litmus test for how much Cal has improved.
 Taking out the final 9 minute drive Oregon had, Cal controlled the ball for the majority of the game because of this. You can’t score if you don’t have the ball.
 At the very least, the hope is that a year in the weight room and a long offseason will help the linebackers “set the edge” better against Oregon. The fault on this play falls both on #11 [Sean Cattouse] and #40 [Chris McCain] – the former took a poor angle to try to chase down James, and the latter could not get off his block fast enough to force James back toward other defenders. You will find similar moments throughout this game. Here’s another example of poor linebacker play outside – a missed tackle on an end around led to another Oregon score. For Cal to hope to contain the Ducks, there must be a better effort and execution on the outside – reducing the space the Duck players have to run in will, in turn, negate their speed advantage.