2011 Season Preview: The California Golden Bears And Schizophrenia Medication

California showed symptoms of schizophrenia last fall, playing like a top ten team at home and an FCS team on the road. Time to at least try to make some sense of a team that made none in 2010. Can you fix mental instability in one offseason?

NOTE: Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom. And as always, if you hate numbers, just skip to the words.

Wha ... what happened? How could such a good home team be such a bad road team? How could such an athletic team be so lacking in explosiveness? How could a defense allow 15 points to Oregon and 35 to Oregon State? What the hell was up in Berkeley last fall? And will they go 0-12 this year since all their games are away from Memorial Stadium?

What Greg Schiano is to Rutgers, Jeff Tedford is to California. In the last nine years under Tedford, Cal has had eight winning seasons; in the 28 years before Tedford took over, Cal had eight winning seasons. But like Schiano, Tedford's program has regressed in recent years, and he's reached the "Has he peaked?" portion of the general coaching life cycle. He has recruited rather well and produced plenty of individual talent, but the overall product on the field is not as good as it was in the 2006-07 window. Can he get it back? And ... exactly what happens if he doesn't?

I don't think things have reached Glen Mason Territory yet (if only because Tedford brought them to some serious heights compared to their recent history -- double-digit wins twice, and four different seasons where they spent at least one week in the Top 10 -- and surely earned himself some goodwill in the process), but they are trending in that direction. With a spiffy new quarterback, a potentially deep receiving corps, and some remaining playmakers on defense, Cal could surprise this year. Of course, I would have said something resembling the same thing last year, and I'd have been horribly incorrect.

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 7-5 | Final F/+ Rk**: 68
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
4-Sep UC-Davis 52-3 W 29.1 - (-4.5) W
11-Sep Colorado 52-7 W 31.4 - 19.5 W
17-Sep at Nevada 31-52 L 43.1 - 33.4 W
25-Sep at Arizona 9-10 L 17.9 - 18.7 L
9-Oct UCLA 35-7 W 31.0 - (-4.1) W
16-Oct at USC 14-48 L 18.4 - 36.5 L
23-Oct Arizona State 50-17 W 30.6 - (-5.6) W
30-Oct at Oregon State 7-35 L 7.6 - 37.3 L
6-Nov at Washington State 20-13 W 22.7 - 19.4 W
13-Nov Oregon 13-15 L 17.9 - 0.8 W
20-Nov Stanford 14-48 L 22.8 - 29.7 L
27-Nov Washington 13-16 L 12.0 - 26.3 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 25.8 73 22.6 40
Adj. Points Per Game 23.7 87 17.3 6

This is, I believe, the 59th team profile I've written using this general format, and I had yet to see anything like the one above. That is absolutely nuts. Some teams have ups and downs; Cal needed a Thorazine prescription.

So what is it about Cal's Memorial Stadium? Within the confines of their home stadium, the Golden Bears had the best defense in the country and looked excellent overall. Away from home, meanwhile, the defense was distinctly below average. In their first five home games, they allowed just 49 points. In their first road game, they allowed 52. You are supposed to be better at home, but ... good lord.

Adj. PPG in Berkeley: Cal 25.0, Opponents 8.9 (+16.1)
Adj. PPG away from Berkeley: Opponents 29.1, Cal 21.9 (-7.2)

Adjusted for opponent, that is a 23.3 point swing between home and road games. A season-long, plus-16.1 Adj. PPG margin would get you ranked eighth in the country. Minus-7.2 would rank you 94th. This isn't normal.

What is perhaps most staggering is that the largest fluctuation came on defense, when there were not as many personnel changes from week to week. The offense trended downward, but that could be attributed in part to Kevin Riley's mid-season injury. In the seven full games before Riley was lost to a knee injury, the Golden Bears averaged 28.8 Adj. PPG, which would place them around 48th in the country; with beautifully-named Brock Mansion in charge of the offense, Cal averaged 16.6 Adj. PPG, which would place them around 118th.

So the offense had at least a bit of an excuse. But the defense had more emotional highs and lows than an episode of Six Feet Under.

Offense***

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 88 88 87
RUSHING 56 47 61 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 106 112 102 42
Standard Downs 74 91 69 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 99 101 95 69
Redzone 24 33 12
Q1 Rk 96 1st Down Rk 93
Q2 Rk 83 2nd Down Rk 42
Q3 Rk 89 3rd Down Rk 103
Q4 Rk 29

California's offense resembled Maryland's and Kentucky's with the way they blurred the lines between positions and did whatever they could to get the ball into playmakers' hands. Running backs Shane Vereen (1,167 yards, 5.1 per carry, +5.6 Adj. POE, 13 TD) and Isi Sofele (338 yards, 4.9 per carry, -5.8 Adj. POE) were targeted with 48 passes (they caught 27 for 222 yards), while receivers Marvin Jones, Keenan Allen and Jeremy Ross carried the ball 35 times (those carries went for 321 yards and a +12.9 Adj. POE -- very effective).

The main problem for Cal was that the receivers were not nearly effective enough at their primary jobs, catching passes. That, or perhaps more accurately, the person charged with getting the ball to them couldn't do so. Mansion (646 yards, 4.7 per pass, 49% completion, 2 TD, 5 INT -- all horrid numbers) just didn't get the job done when given the opportunity, which is why a newcomer will begin the season as Cal's No. 1: Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard. Maynard was outstanding for a youngster in Turner Gill's final year at UB (2,694 yards, 7.1 per pass, 58% completion, 18 TD, 15 INT; 411 pre-sack rushing yards), and his upside seems much higher than that of Mansion and the other returnees. Which, after all, is probably why Tedford announced him as the starter before August even rolled around.

If Maynard is strong, then it certainly seems as if the receiving corps could be strong too. Ross is gone, but Jones' stats were solid for a go-to target (765 yards, 15.3 per catch, 61% catch rate, 4 TD), and sophomore Allen (490 yards, 10.7 per catch, 61% catch rate, 5 TD) could mature after getting thrown into the fire last year. They will need help (tight end Anthony Miller and receiver Michael Calvin did little with the opportunities presented to them), but there is certainly hope that, if Maynard stays healthy like Riley couldn't, the passing game that completely fell apart in 2010 (they ranked 106th in Passing S&P+ after an average ranking of 30th from 2006-09) could put itself back together again quickly. There is simply too much speed in this receiving corps to have ranked 102nd in Passing PPP+. If I had been the quarterback (or, you know, Spencer Hall), they should have still been able to manage a Top 90 ranking.

Other tidbits:

  • Golden Bear running backs should find decent-sized holes running to the left. Left tackle Mitchell Schwartz enters 2011 having started 38 career games; or, to put it another way, all of them.. Meanwhile, guard Matt Summers-Gavin is entering his second season as a starter. The line was a relative strength, at least in terms of run blocking, and it should be even stronger this fall.
  • You have to respect the aggressiveness of Cal's play-calling and passing game. In Tedford's time, they have always sacrificed efficiency for explosiveness, and it has often paid off. But it didn't in 2010. They were more hit-or-miss than normal on standard downs ... and just miss-and-miss on passing downs. Average with Riley, atrocious with Mansion.

Defense

Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 22 18 28
RUSHING 32 37 40 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 14 7 23 54
Standard Downs 26 20 29 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 11 8 11 8
Redzone 49 33 59
Q1 Rk 11 1st Down Rk 26
Q2 Rk 54 2nd Down Rk 14
Q3 Rk 19 3rd Down Rk 12
Q4 Rk 5

At first glance, Cal's defense seemed rather strong. Very efficient against the pass, outstanding on passing downs, great at getting to the quarterback, great at the beginning of halves, better with each progressive down. Of course, Cal very much stretched the usefulness of averages. They never actually played like the 22nd-best defense in the country (according to S&P+) -- they were either top five or terrible, never in between.

Digging into the numbers a bit doesn't cause it to make any sense either; there wasn't a single aspect in which Cal struggled on the road but thrived at home. Cal was night-and-day in every single category.

  • Rushing S&P+: 266.5 at home, 79.4 on the road
  • Passing S&P+: 181.5 at home, 107.6 on the road
  • Standard Downs S&P+: 152.4 at home, 98.7 on the road
  • Passing Downs S&P+: 201.1 at home, 115.4 on the road
  • Q1 S&P+: 220.5 at home, 102.3 on the road
  • Q2 S&P+: 259.5 at home, 87.2 on the road.

Even if you have no idea what those numbers mean (hint: 100.0 = average, and anything above is good), you can rather quickly grasp the differences. Teams are supposed to be better at home, but not this much better. Your guess is as good as mine regarding the cause, and your guess is as good as mine regarding whether 2011 will be any different, though as mentioned, Cal's Memorial Stadium is undergoing serious renovation, and the Golden Bears will be playing their home games away from home. That clearly shouldn't matter, but...

Anyway, let's talk a little about the unit itself. Cal plays a 3-4 defense, and you can tell: 15 players had at least 2.0 TFL/sacks last year. They attacked from every direction, and when it worked, it obviously really worked. Their success rates were better than their explosiveness ratings, which is often a sign of solid aggression; so, too, is the fact that they had one of the nation's best passing downs defenses (it was even pretty decent on the road). They both harassed opposing quarterbacks and swarmed the ball with a deep secondary. Depth takes a little bit of a hit with the losses of cornerbacks Darian Hagan (34.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 5 PBU) and Bryant Nnabuife (19.5 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT) and safety Chris Conte (58.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 3 PBU), but there is still a lot to like about Cal's defensive bacfkeidl. Safeties Sean Cattouse and Josh Hill (combined: 82.0 tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 14 PBU) are hard hitters, and corner Marc Anthony (40.0 tackles, 2 INT, 6 PBU) is a decent anchor.

Other tidbits:

  • Of the 15 players with at least two TFL/sacks, only seven return. The biggest losses come on the line, where end Cameron Jordan (47.5 tackles, 12.5 TFL/sacks, 3 FF, 4 PBU) and tackle Derrick Hill (9.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL/sacks) are gone. Hill's stat line was not altogether impressive, but he was Cal's leading playmaker at the position. The middle man in the 3-4 does not tend to make many plays -- he's too busy eating up blockers -- but considering Cal's worst ratings came in the Adj. Line Yards category, the tackle position probably needs to make a bit more of an impact on the stat sheet this fall. Expect giant incoming freshman Viliami Moala (6-foot-2, 325 pounds, four stars) to make a run at early playing time (other candidates: Aaron Tipoti, Kendrick Payne), and expect end Trevor Guyton (19.0 tackles, 8.5 TFL/sacks) to do a reasonable Jordan impersonation.
  • At linebacker, Cal must replace Mike Mohamed (71.0 tackles, 5.0 TFL/sacks, 2 FF), but a couple of killer playmakers return in Mychal Kendricks (52.5 tackles, 15.0 TFL/sacks, 3 FR) and D.J. Holt (63.0 tackles, 5.5 TFL/sacks, 3 FF, 3 PBU).

California's 2010 Season Set to Music

For obvious reasons...

"Always Coming Back Home To You," by Atmosphere
"Bring It On Home," by Led Zeppelin
"Come On Home," by Franz Ferdinand (remember them? me neither)
"Halfway Home," by TV on the Radio
"Home," by John Popper
"Home Again!" by Menahan Street Band
"Home Is Where The Hatred Is," by Gil Scott-Heron (RIP)
"Homecoming King," by Guster
"Lead Me Gently Home," by Johnny Cash
"New York's Not My Home," by Jim Croce

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit

Here.

Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in this summer's Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 41
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 25
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** +2 / -0.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (7, 5)
Yds/Pt Margin***** -1.2

Cal returns a decent level of experience, they should potentially fix their single biggest weakness from last fall (quarterback), and their recruiting rankings suggest that their level of talent is better than what they showed last year. That's good. But ... this is a team that went 5-7 last year despite getting a bit lucky in terms of both fumbles luck and YPP margin. If those regress a bit, then the odds of a serious bounce back get smaller. I expect them to get back to a bowl game this fall, but a cruel opening month could set the narrative either way. Two "home" games (in San Francsico) versus Fresno State and Presbyterian are complemented by road trips to Colorado, Oregon and Washington in the first five games; this typically isn't the recipe for succeeding with a new quarterback. Cal could conceivably start anywhere between 1-4 and 4-1 before a stretch of four "home" games in five weeks.

Figuring out where this program is headed is just about as difficult as figuring out what the hell happened to them last year. Recruiting is still strong (Cal's recruiting class ranked 17th in Rivals.com's rankings, 18th on ESPN.com), and both the offense and defense have been good recently. But last year's odd struggles show that something isn't right in Berkeley, and since I cannot completely identify what that 'something' is, I cannot really say whether it's fixable or not. How about we just predict Cal to go 6-6 or 7-5 this year and move on with our lives?

 

 

---

* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

*****Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.

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