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The big 2014 California football guide: Nowhere to go but up

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Cal started a true freshman quarterback and couldn't keep 11 defenders healthy at a time in 2013. In the improving Pac-12, this resulted in total disaster. The Bears should improve quite a bit in 2014, but will it matter in the win column?

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. First impressions vs. lasting impressions

Well, that wasn't very well-timed.

In Sonny Dykes' first season in charge at California, his freshman quarterbacks struggled, his efficiency offense was woefully inefficient, and his defense gave up bigger big plays than almost anybody in the country. The Golden Bears beat Portland State, then watched as the rest of the conference surged into fifth gear and left them behind.

The average Pac-12 team improved from about 50th to about 28th in the F/+ rankings last year, and two years after ranking 42nd, California fell from 77th to 103rd. The result: Cal's first one-win season since the last time someone other than Jeff Tedford coached the team (Tom Holmoe went 1-10 in 2001, then Tedford was hired). That's not the type of bookend a program normally tries to achieve.

The 2013 season was one of faulty first impressions. Early in the year, Cal looked full of promise. The Bears started the season by scoring 30 points and gaining 548 yards on what was supposed to be a solid Northwestern team, but they threw two pick sixes in the second half and lost by two touchdowns. Two weeks later, they put up 34 points and 503 yards on what was supposed to be a national title-caliber Ohio State team.

Then the promise expired. After averaging 34 points per game in their first three contests, the Bears averaged 16 over their next five. And when the offense got its bearings in November, the defense collapsed, allowing 50 points per game in the final four.

A team full of supposed promise lost eight of nine conference games by at least 17 points. Average score against Pac-12 teams in the F/+ top 20: Opponent 52, Cal 17.

So now Dykes hopes the false first impressions can continue. Here's where I insert the predictable paragraph about how plenty of great coaches have overcome awful first seasons before. Here's where I mention George O'Leary going 0-11 at UCF in 2004 and Lou Holtz going 0-11 at South Carolina in 1999. Long-term, a coach's first season on the job doesn't always mean that much. But whereas Cal appeared to have a hill to climb heading into 2013, the Golden Bears are now staring up a mountain. They might end up alright, but one figures it might take a while now.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 1-11 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 103
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug Northwestern 59 30-44 L 26.1 - 33.7 L
7-Sep Portland State N/A 37-30 W 22.2 - 59.3 L
14-Sep Ohio State 9 34-52 L 35.9 - 28.7 W
28-Sep at Oregon 5 16-55 L 17.8 - 17.6 W
5-Oct Washington State 53 22-44 L 28.5 - 31.4 L -8.0
12-Oct at UCLA 15 10-37 L 18.3 - 28.5 L -8.6
19-Oct Oregon State 42 17-49 L 19.2 - 40.9 L -5.5
26-Oct at Washington 18 17-41 L 26.8 - 33.2 L -8.2
2-Nov Arizona 25 28-33 L 30.8 - 21.9 W -6.5
9-Nov USC 11 28-62 L 34.9 - 53.6 L -9.6
16-Nov at Colorado 95 24-41 L 19.5 - 37.7 L -11.2
23-Nov at Stanford 3 13-63 L 27.1 - 40.0 L -9.5
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -6.7% 88 -10.0% 99 -3.4% 116
Points Per Game 23.0 96 45.9 124
Adj. Points Per Game 25.6 91 35.5 112

2. One unit improves, the other regresses

In terms of its performance against the baseline, Cal was about the same team for most of the season. There were high points (hanging with Ohio State, nearly upsetting Arizona) and low points (losing by 32 points at home to Oregon State, losing by 17 at Colorado), but on average Cal was about 10 points worse than an average FBS team in September, October, and November.

But whereas both the offense and defense were a few points below average in the first eight games, one unit improved while another regressed late in the year.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): Opponent 34.2, California 24.4 (minus-9.8)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Opponent 38.3, California 28.1 (minus-10.2)

The Cal offense wasn't great late, but the Bears did average 424 yards and 23 points per game against a mostly solid set of late opponents.

But the defense went from bad to awful. USC averaged an unholy 9.8 yards per play, scoring 62 points and gaining 499 yards in just 51 snaps. Colorado averaged 6.6 yards per play (which is almost as bad as allowing 9.8 to USC), and Stanford averaged 8.6. Cal finished the season with some of the worst big-play numbers you'll ever see. The Bears allowed 217 gains of 10+ yards (122nd in the country), 81 of 20+ (125th, dead last); they were balanced breakdown artists, too, allowing 29 rushes of 20+ yards (119th) and 58 passes (122nd). It was as if Cal's safeties occasionally forgot to take the field.

Defensive coordinator Andy Buh was demoted, then left Cal altogether; his replacement, Art Kaufman, is nothing if not a veteran. He's been the D.C. at Louisiana Tech (1992-94), Ole Miss (1995-00), Arkansas Tech (2001-02), North Carolina (2011), Texas Tech (2012), and Cincinnati (2013). He's got some work to do.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.16 58 IsoPPP+ 109.5 22
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.2% 103 Succ. Rt. + 90.4 94
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.4 98 Def. FP+ 98.4 76
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.7 109 Redzone S&P+ 84.5 109
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 29.9 ACTUAL 28 -1.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 34 80 95 37
RUSHING 106 108 111 87
PASSING 10 70 71 17
Standard Downs 83 94 39
Passing Downs 67 86 13
Q1 Rk 77 1st Down Rk 57
Q2 Rk 73 2nd Down Rk 92
Q3 Rk 65 3rd Down Rk 62
Q4 Rk 86

3. Pace vs. (a complete lack of) efficiency

Operating at an average pace, a team with Cal's run-pass ratios in 2013 would have averaged about 74.3 plays per game. Cal averaged 87.1. Only BYU's offense moved faster. But as with BYU, the Bears had a bit of an efficiency problem. Here's what I wrote in BYU's 2014 preview:

BYU had big plays to go around and operated at a breakneck pace. So where did things go wrong? BYU's biggest issue was in simple efficiency: the Cougars didn't make enough mundane plays to go with the big ones. The downside of pace is that if you go three-and-out, you go three-and-out in the blink of an eye. Do that enough, and your defense suffers.

Cal, however, was an exponential BYU -- the good was better and the bad was much worse. BYU ranked 59th in Success Rate+ and 27th in IsoPPP+; Cal ranked 94th and 22nd. The big plays were enormous and nearly non-existent. And the three-and-outs and turnovers were infinite.

This is an area where a little bit of improvement can lead to a lot of it. Pace is a cumulative thing, a tactic packed with risk and reward; if California can improve its efficiency numbers to even BYU levels, and if the Bears can cut just a couple of three-and-outs per game off of the averages, they could flip the effects from their own defense to opponents'. And with a dramatically improved level of overall experience, those efficiency numbers really could rise.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Jared Goff 6'4, 195 So. 4 stars (5.9) 318 529 3488 18 10 60.1% 30 5.4% 5.9
Zach Kline 43 82 443 3 4 52.4% 4 4.7% 4.8
Austin Hinder 6'4, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.7)
Kyle Boehm 6'3, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.7)
Cole Webb 6'0, 180 Jr. NR
Luke Rubenzer 6'0, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Brendan Bigelow RB 107 430 2 4.0 3.4 38.3%
Khalfani Muhammad RB 5'7, 170 So. 4 stars (5.8) 74 445 4 6.0 8.1 37.8%
Daniel Lasco RB 6'0, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 67 317 2 4.7 3.8 40.3%
Jeffrey Coprich RB 5'8, 175 So. 3 stars (5.5) 40 156 1 3.9 1.9 40.0%
Darren Ervin RB 35 124 0 3.5 1.5 37.1%
Jared Goff QB 6'4, 195 So. 4 stars (5.9) 29 123 1 4.2 2.5 51.7%
Zach Kline QB 9 40 0 4.4 3.5 33.3%
Richard Rodgers WR 7 9 0 1.3 0.9 14.3%
Austin Harper RB 5'6, 160 RSFr. NR
Kenny Portera RB 5'10, 170 RSFr. NR
Tre Watson RB 5'10, 185 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)





4. Give the ball to Muhammad

Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

The 2013 season was one of experimentation for Cal. Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, a spread offense veteran who came with Dykes from Louisiana Tech to Berkeley, surveyed a landscape of inexperienced skill position players and basically gave them all a shot at one point or another. Cal had five running backs with at least 35 carries and nine wideouts with at least 10 targets (five with at least 40).

The results were mixed, but of the running backs, then-freshman Khalfani Muhammad showed the most promise. He had 25 carries for 184 yards and two scores during Cal's final three games, and while all five Cal backs finished with approximately the same efficiency numbers (they all had Opportunity Rates between 37.1 percent and 40.3 percent), Muhammad more than doubled anybody else's explosiveness potential. His per-target receiving averages also dwarfed that of any other running back.

With the departure of Brendan Bigelow to the pros, Muhammad is now the leader of the remaining foursome. That could be a good thing. The ball distribution in a fast-paced spread like this will always be relatively even (especially if incoming four-star freshman Tre Watson quickly lives up to his billing), and Muhammad won't be getting 20 carries per game any time soon. But the more touches he gets, the higher Cal's offensive upside becomes.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Bryce Treggs WR-H 5'11, 185 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 126 77 751 61.1% 21.6% 65.9% 6.0 -207 6.1 83.3
Chris Harper WR-Z 5'11, 175 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 111 69 846 62.2% 19.0% 62.6% 7.6 -5 8.6 93.8
Kenny Lawler WR-Z 6'3, 190 So. 4 stars (5.8) 65 37 351 56.9% 11.1% 55.6% 5.4 -127 5.7 38.9
Richard Rodgers WR-Y 64 39 608 60.9% 11.0% 58.1% 9.5 122 8.8 67.4
Brendan Bigelow RB 45 32 192 71.1% 7.7% 52.9% 4.3 -177 4.3 21.3
Darius Powe WR-Y 6'3, 220 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 40 25 231 62.5% 6.8% 55.2% 5.8 -76 5.7 25.6
Khalfani Muhammad RB 5'7, 170 So. 4 stars (5.8) 24 14 178 58.3% 4.1% 57.1% 7.4 0 7.1 19.7
Stephen Anderson WR-Y 6'3, 215 Sr. NR 24 14 125 58.3% 4.1% 55.6% 5.2 -53 6.5 13.9
Jackson Bouza WR-H 19 12 199 63.2% 3.3% 60.0% 10.5 52 8.1 22.1
James Grisom WR-Z 5'11, 180 Sr. NR 16 10 169 62.5% 2.7% 45.5% 10.6 46 13.2 18.7
Daniel Lasco RB 6'0, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 14 11 74 78.6% 2.4% 45.5% 5.3 -47 4.7 8.2
Maurice Harris WR-X 6'2, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 10 7 100 70.0% 1.7% 14.3% 10.0 19 20.0 11.1
Bryce McGovern WR-H 5'10, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 1 1 34 100.0% 0.2% N/A 34.0 24.5 N/A 3.8
Drake Whitehurst WR-H 6'6, 215 Sr. 2 stars (5.4)
Trevor Davis WR-X 6'2, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Jack Austin WR-Z 6'3, 210 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Raymond Hudson WR-Y 6'3, 235 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Erik Brown WR 6'2, 170 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)

5. Youth becomes experience

Quarterback Jared Goff is no longer a true freshman. The offensive line returns eight players with starting experience (74 career starts). Because of those two sentences alone, Cal's offense should be a bit more stable in 2014.

But of those five running backs and nine receivers referenced above, three backs and seven wideouts return. And only two of the 10 combined returnees are seniors. Continuity just wasn't a thing for Cal last year; that won't remain the case for long.

While recruiting hasn't been outstanding in some units, there is a wealth of former four-star recruits here. As I like to say, recruiting rankings expire at some point, but lord knows there have been glimpses of four-star potential here and there. Muhammad was excellent late in the season. Bryce Treggs had 30 catches for 348 yards in September before trailing off. Kenny Lawler had 20 catches and five touchdowns (as a freshman) in November. Darius Powe was perhaps Cal's second-best receiver in October.

Of course, the highest ceiling among the receivers might belong to a former three-star guy. Chris Harper hinted at high potential with 19 catches for 250 yards in the last four games of 2012, then caught 37 passes for 558 yards and four scores in the first five games of 2013. Opponents adjusted, then Harper suffered an injury late in the year, but the potential is obvious, and the catch rate is high.

As one would expect, Goff was terribly hit-or-miss as a true freshman in what may have been FBS' best conference in 2013. His production was sporadic -- a graph of his week-to-week passer ratings would be seismic -- but he survived. And now, with experience and potential all around him, he'll be asked to thrive in 2014.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 82.1 2.48 2.91 38.8% 50.0% 21.1% 104.0 2.7% 8.4%
Rank 121 120 99 71 121 89 63 19 86
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jordan Rigsbee C 6'4, 315 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 24
Chris Adcock C 6'3, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 16
Steven Moore LT 6'6, 295 So. 3 stars (5.6) 11
Alejandro Crosthwaite RG 6'4, 295 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 9
Freddie Tagaloa RG 7
Christian Okafor RT 6'6, 325 So. 3 stars (5.6) 5
Chris Borrayo LG 6'3, 310 So. 3 stars (5.6) 5
Bill Tyndall LG 5
Mark Brazinski C 3
Matt Cochran RG 6'3, 310 So. 3 stars (5.7) 3
Brian Farley LT 6'7, 285 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 1
Donovan Frazer RG 6'3, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0
J.D. Hinnant C 6'4, 280 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Aaron Cochran LT 6'8, 355 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Myles Bunte LG 6'7, 320 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Vincent Johnson LG 6'5, 275 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.42 125 IsoPPP+ 80.4 123
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.8% 95 Succ. Rt. + 104.4 44
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 25.6 123 Off. FP+ 94.4 115
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.1 120 Redzone S&P+ 103.6 44
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.1 ACTUAL 13.0 -4.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 124 92 44 102
RUSHING 87 53 27 66
PASSING 125 105 62 119
Standard Downs 72 28 122
Passing Downs 106 88 122
Q1 Rk 98 1st Down Rk 86
Q2 Rk 83 2nd Down Rk 75
Q3 Rk 81 3rd Down Rk 81
Q4 Rk 15

6. The defense just never had a chance

The California offense went three-and-out a lot and created sketchy field position in a league that features all sorts of high-tempo offenses. That meant that even a good Cal defense was going to give up points and yards and wear down after a while.

Add to that the full-season absence of defensive end Brennan Scarlett (wrist injury), the almost-full-season absence of safety Avery Sebastian (Achilles), the half-season absence of cornerback Stefan McClure (knee), and minor to moderate injuries to almost literally every linebacker and cornerback on the roster, and you've got a defensive disaster on your hands.

Walk-on Isaac Lapite and converted receiver (and freshman) Cedric Dozier saw a lot of action in an offense-friendly league, and Cal was without its best defensive end. So yeah, it goes without saying that the pass defense was awful. The Bears ranked 105th in Passing S&P+ and 106th in Passing Downs S&P+. And while they were pretty efficient against the run, if you got to the second level of the defense, you were probably going to get to the third and fourth as well.

It's almost a shame that Andy Buh didn't get a second chance to try to prove himself last year. He might not have succeeded, but almost anybody would have failed as Cal D.C. in 2013.

In 2012, Art Kaufman inherited a Texas Tech defense that had struggled with depth issues and ranked 115th in Def. F/+ in 2011; with his guidance, a more experienced, healthier unit improved to 64th. It's never smart to predict improvement of 50 spots in the rankings, but one can see how a more experienced, healthier unit could find its footing in 2014, especially if it gets fatigue and field position help from the offense.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 117.1 2.68 3.66 38.4% 59.6% 22.9% 56.5 4.0% 2.4%
Rank 15 31 100 54 22 19 119 75 125
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Deandre Coleman DT 12 30.5 4.5% 8.5 2.0 0 1 0 0
Brennan Scarlett (2012) DE 6'4, 265 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 9 30.0 4.1% 6.0 2.5 0 2 2 0
Viliami Moala DT 12 28.0 4.1% 4.0 1.5 0 0 2 0
Kyle Kragen DE 6'2, 240 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 22.5 3.3% 4.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Dan Camporeale DE 12 20.0 2.9% 6.5 1.0 0 0 1 0
Jacobi Hunter DT

12 14.0 2.1% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Puka Lopa DE 6'2, 260 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 11.0 1.6% 3.0 2.0 0 1 1 0
Todd Barr DE 6'2, 250 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 9 6.0 0.9% 3.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Antione Davis DE 6'5, 250 Jr. NR 8 4.0 0.6% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Ted Agu DE 7 4.0 0.6% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mustafa Jalil (2012) DT 6'3, 305 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 7 4.0 0.6% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Sione Sina DE 6'3, 265 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)
Marcus Manley DT 6'2, 295 So. 2 stars (5.4)
Tony Mekari DT 6'1, 270 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Jonathan Johnson DE 6'2, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Trevor Kelly DT 6'2, 315 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)

7. Ted

Real life interrupts sports talk sometimes, and it is impossible to provide smooth segues in between. But while we can talk about Cal's tough season on the field, and we can talk about the Bears' chances for redemption this fall, the Cal squad has been going through a different, far tougher struggle this offseason.

Ted Agu passed away at a local hospital after a training workout in the Berkeley Hills. He was 21 years old. [...]

Agu was a walk-on to the Cal football team who earned his scholarship this past season. The junior from Frontier High in Bakersfield was a true Golden Bear in every sense. He was an honor roll student all four years in high school and brought that success with him to Cal, finishing with a 3.28 GPA last semester and making the Pac-12 All-Academic Second Team. He has made a few tackles off the bench in a few games this season, and his positive presence was felt all throughout the locker room.

Before he passed away, before he became an unwitting pawn in an unfortunate statement by Bret Bielema, Ted Agu was a hard-working football player, good student, and great teammate. He shouldn't be gone, but he is, and that's a heartbreaking shame.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jalen Jefferson SAM 6'2, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 11 55.0 8.1% 6.0 2.0 1 2 0 0
Hardy Nickerson MIKE 6'0, 225 So. 3 stars (5.6) 10 49.0 7.2% 5.0 1.0 0 1 1 0
Michael Barton MIKE 6'0, 230 So. 4 stars (5.8) 11 48.5 7.1% 9.5 2.0 0 1 0 0
Khairi Fortt WILL 11 46.0 6.7% 3.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Lucas King WILL 11 24.0 3.5% 3.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Chris McCain LB 3 9.0 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Chad Whitener MIKE 12 5.0 0.7% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jason Gibson WILL 6'2, 210 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 6 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Johnny Ragin III LB 8 1.5 0.2% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Nathan Broussard MIKE 6'3, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Maximo Espitia WILL 6'2, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Edward Tandy MIKE 6'1, 225 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Raymond Davison LB 6'2, 220 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Sam Atoe LB 6'0, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)








Devante Downs LB 6'3, 240 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Michael Lowe FS 5'11, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 54.5 8.0% 3.5 0 1 5 0 1
Cameron Walker CB 5'10, 180 So. 3 stars (5.7) 10 54.0 7.9% 0.5 0 0 3 1 0
Damariay Drew FS 5'11, 205 So. 3 stars (5.5) 12 40.5 5.9% 1 0 0 3 1 0
Kameron Jackson CB 12 35.0 5.1% 2 0 1 6 0 0
Stefan McClure CB 5'11, 200 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 5 22.5 3.3% 1.5 0 0 5 0 0
Joel Willis CB 5'10, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 10 19.0 2.8% 0.5 0 0 3 1 0
Cedric Dozier CB 5'10, 180 So. 4 stars (5.8) 12 15.0 2.2% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Adrian Lee CB 6 13.5 2.0% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Isaac Lapite DB 10 9.0 1.3% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Alex Logan DB 4 8.5 1.2% 1 0 1 0 0 0
Avery Sebastian SS 5'10, 195 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 2 8.0 1.2% 0.5 0 1 0 0 0
Darius Allensworth CB 5'11, 190 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Trey Cheek CB 5'10, 175 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Caleb Coleman CB 5'11, 185 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
David Garner SS 5'9, 190 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2)
Darius White CB 6'1, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)

8. Young play-makers

And here's the awkward segue back to football talk.

Scarlett returns in 2014, as do upperclassmen Kyle Kragen, Puka Lopa, and Todd Barr. They won't make for one of the Pac-12's best defensive end units, but they should improve on last year's results. But Cal ranked 15th in Adj. Line Yards last year, and tackles Deandre Coleman and Viliami Moala played large roles in that; Coleman graduated, and Moala declared for the draft, however, which leaves junior Mustafa Jalil (who missed 2013 with a knee injury) and a bunch of new pieces to flesh out the two-deep. That could result in regression when it comes to run efficiency.

Meanwhile, the top three tacklers at linebacker and six of the top seven in the secondary are back, and of those nine players, only one (safety Michael Lowe) is a senior. It might take another year of seasoning for this defense to come together overall, but if there's a bright side, it's that this year's returnees, from front to back, were some of last year's most successfully aggressive players.

And while Cal probably won't fix its leakiness in a single offseason, the Bears might at least make some big plays to go with the ones they allow.

Sophomore linebackers Hardy Nickerson and Michael Barton combined for 14.5 tackles for loss, ends Puka Lopa and Todd Barr had three sacks in minimal opportunities, and five sophomore or junior defensive backs (Cam Walker, Damarlay Drew, Stefan McClure, Joel Willis, and Cedric Dozier) combined for 3.5 tackles for loss and 16 passes defensed. The return of senior safety Avery Sebastian can't hurt from a stability standpoint, but the youngsters are the play-makers here.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Cole Leininger 6'1, 200 So. 69 42.9 2 25 14 56.5%
Jared Goff 6'4, 195 So. 3 40.3 2 0 1 33.3%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Vincenzo D'Amato 56 59.4 20 5 35.7%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Vincenzo D'Amato 31-32 11-11 100.0% 6-9 66.7%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Khalfani Muhammad KR 5'7, 170 So. 46 21.9 0
Bryce Treggs KR 5'11, 185 Jr. 7 19.6 0
Bryce Treggs PR 5'11, 185 Jr. 20 2.0 0
Chris Harper PR 5'11, 175 Jr. 2 9.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 116
Field Goal Efficiency 11
Punt Return Efficiency 88
Kick Return Efficiency 110
Punt Efficiency 125
Kickoff Efficiency 109
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 75

9. A field position disaster

It was a perfect storm of awfulness in 2013. The offense went nowhere at breakneck speed, the defense couldn't keep 11 healthy players on the field, and the special teams unit could neither cover nor return kicks. Cal had the least efficiency punting game in the country, kickoffs weren't far behind, and return success was non-existent. This is a good way for a struggling team to do itself some favors; Cal did itself none. And with the loss of automatic place-kicker Vincenzo D'Amato, Cal has to replace its only special teams strength, as well.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug at Northwestern 50
6-Sep Sacramento State NR
20-Sep at Arizona 36
27-Sep Colorado 99
4-Oct at Washington State 68
11-Oct Washington 28
18-Oct UCLA 20
24-Oct vs. Oregon 3
1-Nov at Oregon State 43
13-Nov at USC 9
22-Nov Stanford 6
29-Nov BYU 33
Five-Year F/+ Rk -5.6% (75)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 37
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -15 / -12.9
TO Luck/Game -0.9
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 14 (8, 8)

10. Progress away from the win column

I think Cal will improve in 2014. A more efficient offense should be able to take advantage of the pace it sets, and a defense that is simply healthy should at least improve back to the 60s or 70s in the Def. F/+ rankings. After bottoming out in 2013, the rebound begins in 2014.

Well, it begins as long as you're not simply looking at wins and losses. Granted, the presence of Sacramento State assures the Golden Bears of one win, and Colorado does have to come to Berkeley this year. That's probably two. But most of the other beatable opponents on the schedule -- Northwestern, Arizona, Washington State, Oregon State -- play host to Cal, and even if the Bears undergo significant improvement (back to, say, the 70s overall), they'll still be underdogs in as many as 10 games this year.

They'll still finish the seasno with five projected top-30 opponents in their last seven games. They'll still be playing from behind.

You can overcome bad first years and faulty first impressions. But at a time when so many Pac-12 rivals are taking huge steps forward, it was not a great time for a lost season. Sonny Dykes has success on his record and could eventually craft a strong team in Berkeley. But even in the best-case scenario, it's going to take him a while.