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The Cal Bears will go bowling if their defense is merely bad, not historically awful

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The Bear Raid is set to light up half of the scoreboard again. If its counterpart can dim the glow of opposing offenses just a little, Cal will enjoy 2015.

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Halfway there

Coaches far more successful than Sonny Dykes have had awful first years.

You have issues at quarterback, you suffer general attrition, your two-deep features a terrifying number of freshmen and sophomores, and voila, you lose most of your games.

If not for a late comeback against mighty Portland State in 2013, California would have lost all of its games in Dykes' first season. With an inconsistent young offense and a dreadful young defense, against a schedule that featured six teams with at least nine wins, the Bears weren't ready. Average score against those six excellent teams: Opponent 52, Cal 20.

The quicker you can turn the page after a painful Year Zero, the better.

And on one side of the ball, the Bears moved on as quickly as possible. The Golden Bears improved from 67th to 30th in Off. S&P+. Quarterback Jared Goff threw for almost 4,000 yards with a 35-to-7 TD-to-INT ratio, thriving on passing downs. Four players had at least 580 receiving yards, and Daniel Lasco became Cal's first 1,000-yard rusher in three seasons. The Bears gained at least 500 yards seven times and scored at least 30 points 10 times. This was the offense we expect from a Dykes team.

By September 6, Cal had won more games than it had in 2013. The Bears would start 4-1 before struggling with a brutal schedule; they scored their fifth win at Oregon State but lost four times to teams in the F/+ top 20 and dropped a home heartbreaker to BYU to finish just short of bowl eligibility.

Anytime you win 400 percent more than you did the year before, the season is a success. And 2014 was a clear step forward ... on one side of the ball.

In those losses to F/+ top-20 teams, the Cal offense averaged 31 points and 430 yards. The Cal defense allowed 43 points and 506 yards per game. The Bears allowed 630 yards to Colorado, then 812 to Washington State. They were decent against the run but apocalyptic against the pass, not a good arrangement in a conference where almost everybody can pass really well.

Over the last three seasons (including his last year at Louisiana Tech), Dykes' defenses have ranked 115th, 114th, and 108th in Def. S&P+. Granted, a bad D wasn't enough to hold back a weaponized O at Tech -- Dykes' Bulldogs still went 9-3 -- but it's an impediment in college football's second-best conference.

A team this dedicated to tempo passing can succeed with minimal depth and structure on defense, but that's clearly a hurdle Dykes' Bears still have to clear. And with both Washington and Oregon State going through transition and Washington State battling its own defensive demons, this wouldn't be the worst year for Cal to learn to make some stops.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 6-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 65
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Northwestern 71 31-24 W 67% 10.2 81%
6-Sep Sacramento State N/A 55-14 W 93% 34.6 100%
20-Sep at Arizona 28 45-49 L 66% 9.8 67%
27-Sep Colorado 83 59-56 W 57% 4.2 76%
4-Oct at Washington State 77 60-59 W 30% -12.5 20%
11-Oct Washington 58 7-31 L 23% -17.0 4%
18-Oct UCLA 12 34-36 L 58% 4.5 40%
24-Oct Oregon 3 41-59 L 45% -3.1 3%
1-Nov at Oregon State 74 45-31 W 51% 0.5 54%
13-Nov at USC 16 30-38 L 21% -18.6 1%
22-Nov Stanford 18 17-38 L 34% -9.3 2%
29-Nov BYU 46 35-42 L 49% -0.5 22%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 35.2 30 34.9 108
Points Per Game 38.3 11 39.8 123

2. Diminishing returns

The October 4 game between Cal and Washington State was a long, exhausting, hilarious affair. WSU gained 812 yards to Cal's 589, but both teams averaged more than 8 yards per play, and the game ended up turning because of special teams: Trevor Davis returned two third-quarter kickoffs for touchdowns (which contributed to a ridiculous stretch of four combined touchdowns in just over three minutes), and, with WSU down 1, the Cougars missed a 19-yard field goal in the final minute.

The game was a classic in its own way, and it apparently left both teams as shells of their former selves. Wazzu played at a far lower level after the game, and so did Cal.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 4 games): 71% (~top 40 | record: 3-1)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 8 games): 39% (~top 80 | record: 2-6)

The win made the Bears 4-1 even though they hadn't played well in Pullman; in terms of F/+ rankings, the best opportunities for a fifth and sixth win were going to come against Washington at home the next week and Oregon State on the road in November. Cal took down OSU, but the Bears were lifeless in a 24-point loss to the Huskies. That loss would haunt them.

Five games in, Cal was averaging 7.3 yards per play and allowing 5.9. Over the final seven, the Bears averaged 5.3 and allowed 6.5.

Part of that was obviously due to an increase in schedule strength -- four of their five weakest opponents came up in the first five games -- but even adjusting for that, the Bears fell flat. The defense was banged up (facing 106 snaps against Arizona, 110 against Colorado, and 95 against WSU made it feel like they had already played an extra game), and the passing game went from torrid to fine.

Depth should be far less of an issue. Cal returns eight of its top 10 linemen (plus a starter who missed 2014), virtually every linebacker, and six of the top eight defensive backs. Sophomores littered last year's two-deep and are now juniors. And the recruiting class includes both high-three and four-star talent and a few JUCOs to liven things up.

Oh yeah, and the offense returns eight starters, including every running back and all but one wideout. Depth: check! Now we just need to find out about the talent.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.94 25 IsoPPP+ 126.2 19
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 45.2% 33 Succ. Rt. + 112.0 30
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.4 96 Def. FP+ 96.0 108
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.8 31 Redzone S&P+ 107.3 47
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.1 ACTUAL 20 -6.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 13 24 31 19
RUSHING 87 41 36 48
PASSING 6 23 31 16
Standard Downs 31 40 31
Passing Downs 13 16 7
Q1 Rk 30 1st Down Rk 16
Q2 Rk 61 2nd Down Rk 55
Q3 Rk 6 3rd Down Rk 4
Q4 Rk 21

3. And they were young, too

Cal's offense faded, but for the season, the Bears were still dramatically improved. That makes sense considering how many freshmen and sophomores the Bears were playing in 2013.

Junior quarterback Goff's passer rating improved from 123.0 to 147.6 last year, and he'll have a chance to top 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns this year. After two years as a bit player, running back Daniel Lasco found his form, gaining nearly 1,500 combined yards. The Bears basically had three No. 1 receivers in Kenny Lawler (83 targets), Chris Harper (81), and Bryce Treggs (81), and two return, as do all five players targeted between 27 and 65 times. And the experience continues up front: five players with starting experience (80 career starts) are back.

Cal's variety and relentless tempo were too much for iffy defenses. The next trick: damaging good defenses. The Bears had their moments, averaging 8 yards per play against Arizona (48th in Def. S&P+) and 6 against Oregon (28th), but they averaged 5.4 against Stanford (fifth), 5.0 against UCLA (25th), and 4.9 against USC (35th).

Tempo only works if you're getting first downs; otherwise you're just failing at mach speed. The offense's high-tempo, mediocre performances only exacerbated defensive issues. Thanks to the pure number of reps this year's first team will have gotten together, you have to figure the Bears will improve offensively once more.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension/position change.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Jared Goff 6'4, 210 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9127 316 509 3973 35 7 62.1% 25 4.7% 7.1
Luke Rubenzer 6'0, 190 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8472 12 21 166 2 3 57.1% 2 8.7% 6.7
Austin Hinder
1 3 13 0 0 33.3% 0 0.0% 4.3
Chase Forrest 6'3, 190 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8232
Ross Bowers 6'2, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8697

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Daniel Lasco RB 6'0, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9019 210 1115 12 5.3 4.0 44.8% 3 2
Luke Rubenzer QB 6'0, 190 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8472 50 218 3 4.4 3.1 38.0% 2 1
Khalfani Muhammad RB 5'9, 170 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8768 46 215 4 4.7 5.6 30.4% 0 0
Vic Enwere RB 6'1, 225 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8535 34 193 2 5.7 4.7 47.1% 1 0
Jared Goff QB 6'4, 210 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9127 30 150 0 5.0 3.0 53.3% 9 4
Tre Watson RB 5'10, 195 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8608 25 94 1 3.8 2.1 36.0% 0 0
Chris Harper WR
5 17 0 3.4 2.7 20.0% 1 0
Austin Hinder QB
4 11 0 2.8 1.9 25.0% 0 0
Jeffrey Coprich RB 5'8, 175 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7913
Lonny Powell RB 5'11, 210 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8827







4. A few more big run plays wouldn't hurt

The line should be solid, and Goff is attracting attention as a potential 2016 draftee. The backbone of the offense is solid. Really, the one area of improvement could be the number of big plays the Bears produce, especially on the ground.

Lasco, Khalfani Muhammad, Vic Enwere, and Tre Watson combined for about 26 carries per game, and while Lasco was the primary ball-carrier, the backups were a little more explosive (and less reliable). With quarterback Luke Rubenzer moving to safety, Cal won't have the mobile element at QB -- it'll be all Goff. So the backs will be asked to create a little bit more; will that mean more carries for the backups? Does Lasco have a gear we haven't seen yet?

If the passing game does better against good defenses, the added stress could open up a few more lanes for the backs.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Kenny Lawler WR-Z 6'3, 195 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9011 83 54 701 65.1% 16.4% 60.2% 8.4 50 8.4 101.0
Chris Harper WR-X
83 52 634 62.7% 16.4% 65.1% 7.6 2 7.5 91.3
Bryce Treggs WR-H 5'11, 185 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9591 81 52 583 64.2% 16.0% 56.8% 7.2 -46 7.2 84.0
Stephen Anderson WR-Y 6'3, 220 Sr. NR NR 65 46 661 70.8% 12.8% 53.8% 10.2 115 10.2 95.2
Maurice Harris WR-Z 6'2, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.7662 47 25 252 53.2% 9.3% 66.0% 5.4 -62 5.4 36.3
Daniel Lasco RB 6'0, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9019 41 33 356 80.5% 8.1% 63.4% 8.7 -28 8.8 51.2
Trevor Davis WR-X 6'2, 180 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000 39 24 399 61.5% 7.7% 59.0% 10.2 106 10.2 57.4
Darius Powe WR-Y 6'3, 220 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9153 27 20 328 74.1% 5.3% 59.3% 12.1 92 12.2 47.2
Khalfani Muhammad RB 5'9, 170 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8768 11 7 63 63.6% 2.2% 36.4% 5.7 -22 4.7 9.1
Raymond Hudson FB/WR 6'3, 235 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8267 10 8 124 80.0% 2.0% 60.0% 12.4 31 12.5 17.9
Matt Rockett WR-H 5'10, 180 So. NR NR 4 3 18 75.0% 0.8% 75.0% 4.5 -17 3.5 2.6
Jack Austin WR-X 6'3, 210 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8404
Chad Hansen WR-X 6'2, 195 So. NR NR
Patrick Laird WR 6'0, 210 So. NR NR
Kenny Portera WR 5'10, 175 So. NR NR









Erik Brown WR-Z 6'1, 175 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9306
Carlos Strickland WR 6'5, 200 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9261
Jaylinn Hawkins WR 6'1, 200 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9019
Austin Aaron WR 6'5, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8593
Kanawai Noa WR 6'0, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8528
Brandon Singleton WR 6'0, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8506
Greyson Bankhead WR 5'10, 160 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8460

5. All the receivers you could want

Considering the potential 2016 reset -- Goff could be gone, and five of this year's top six returning wideouts are seniors -- now would be a good time for the passing game to peak.

Lord knows a lot of players were trending in the right direction. Lawler emerged as a lovely go-to option. After missing the Oregon State game with injury, he caught 25 passes for 297 yards and three scores (all against BYU) in the final three games. That's a 100-catch, 1,200-yard pace projected over a full season.

Perhaps the most interesting breakout belonged to Stephen Anderson, an unheralded receiver/tight end who nearly quadrupled his receptions total and had a couple of huge performances in close wins: seven catches for 136 yards against Colorado and nine for 117 against Oregon State.

Between Lawler, Anderson, possession man Bryce Treggs, Trevor Davis, Darius Powe, Cal has too many experienced receivers to keep satisfied. Meanwhile, exciting players like sophomore Jack Austin, redshirt freshman Erik Brown, and a load of higher-upside freshmen are just waiting. They'll get their turns in 2016, but it will be interesting to see who among the youngsters breaks into such an experienced rotation.

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 107 2.97 4.24 41.7% 66.7% 18.2% 122.4 2.6% 7.7%
Rank 44 61 3 34 66 49 37 17 72
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jordan Rigsbee RG 6'4, 300 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9147 36
Chris Adcock C
28
Steven Moore LT 6'6, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8288 23
Alejandro Crosthwaite RG
21
Chris Borrayo LG 6'3, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8272 16
Matt Cochran C 6'3, 295 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8823 4
Brian Farley RT 6'7, 280 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) NR 1
Dominic Granado LT 6'4, 290 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7826 0
Myles Bunte OL 6'7, 335 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8934 0
Aaron Cochran LT 6'8, 335 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8678 0
J.D. Hinnant LG 6'4, 290 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8525 0
Vincent Johnson RT 6'5, 295 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7994 0
Addison Ooms C 6'4, 290 RSFr. NR NR
Michael Trani OL 6'3, 290 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8217
Semisi Uluave OL 6'5, 235 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8907
Ryan Gibson OL 6'3, 265 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.92 105 IsoPPP+ 82.8 112
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 47.5% 119 Succ. Rt. + 93.3 96
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 30.6 54 Off. FP+ 102.0 38
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 5.0 117 Redzone S&P+ 94.1 90
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.4 ACTUAL 17.0 -0.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 124 112 97 113
RUSHING 38 61 59 57
PASSING 128 121 111 123
Standard Downs 91 72 104
Passing Downs 123 123 121
Q1 Rk 86 1st Down Rk 107
Q2 Rk 92 2nd Down Rk 101
Q3 Rk 104 3rd Down Rk 124
Q4 Rk 111

6. The run defense wasn't awful (but nobody chose to run)

Cal was pretty stiff in short-yardage situations and allowed only 10 carries of 20-plus yards all season. The Bears ranked 59th in Rushing Success Rate+, got a nice push in the middle from tackles Mustafa Jalil, Trevor Kelly, and Austin Clark (two of whom return), and benefited from strong pursuit by linebackers Michael Barton, Jalen Jefferson, and Jake Kearney (combined: 14.5 non-sack tackles for loss).

Cal didn't have a great run defense, but it got the job done.

Unfortunately, nobody had to worry about running because, at 121st in Passing S&P+, California had the worst power-conference pass defense in the country. The only FBS defenses with worse: Idaho, UNLV, Old Dominion, UMass, WKU, SMU, and Tulsa. Yuck.

The failure was comprehensive. Cal had the third-worst pass rush in the country (the only teams that generated less pressure: Navy and New Mexico State) and defensed only 51 passes (80th in the country) despite opponents passing non-stop.

You name it, and it was an issue. Youth? Definitely -- four of the top five tacklers in the secondary were freshmen or sophomores. Injuries? Yep. Cal had 14 DBs who averaged at least 0.5 tackles per game, and only four played in all 12 contests. A couple of wideouts (Bryce McGovern, Patrick Worstell) even got a shot.

With so much returning for coordinator Art Kaufman in the front seven, one can assume the run defense will again be decent. And with 11 of 14 DBs back, experience at least won't be as much of an issue. But wow, does the pass defense have a long way to go to simply be mediocre.

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 105 2.95 3.32 36.8% 61.4% 17.5% 43.6 1.9% 4.3%
Rank 43 68 71 37 33 93 126 122 116
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Mustafa Jalil DT 6'3, 300 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9254 12 24.5 3.4% 5.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Kyle Kragen (2013) DE 6'2, 245 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7959 12 22.5 3.3% 4.5 3.0 0 0 0 0
Todd Barr DE 6'2, 245 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9515 12 14.5 2.0% 4.0 2.0 0 0 2 0
Trevor Kelly DT 6'2, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8514 12 14.0 1.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Austin Clark DT
11 13.5 1.9% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Noah Westerfield DE 6'3, 245 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8383 12 13.0 1.8% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jonathan Johnson DE 6'2, 240 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8464 7 11.0 1.5% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Tony Mekari DE 6'1, 280 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8210 12 11.0 1.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Brennan Scarlett DE
5 8.5 1.2% 2.5 2.0 0 1 1 0
Marcus Manley DT 6'2, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7483 12 7.5 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Puka Lopa DE 6'2, 260 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8168 10 6.0 0.8% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Harrison Wilfley DE
11 4.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
David Davis DT 6'1, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8161 10 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kennedy Emesibe DE 6'3, 255 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8479
DeVante Wilson DE 6'5, 255 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8317
James Looney
(Wake Forest)
DT 6'3, 285 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8397
Russell Ude DE 6'4, 250 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8721








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Michael Barton WILL 6'0, 230 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9185 12 58.5 8.1% 7.5 1.5 0 2 0 0
Hardy Nickerson MIKE 6'0, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8121 12 51.0 7.1% 2.0 0.0 1 0 1 1
Jalen Jefferson SAM 6'2, 235 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8781 12 45.5 6.3% 6.5 2.0 1 1 0 0
Jake Kearney SAM 6'3, 220 Jr. NR NR 10 29.5 4.1% 4.0 0.0 1 2 0 0
Devante Downs MIKE 6'3, 245 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8891 12 26.5 3.7% 5.0 3.0 0 0 0 0
Arthur Wainwright LB 6'3, 215 Sr. NR NR 11 7.5 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Raymond Davison SAM 6'2, 225 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8277 11 7.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Edward Tandy MIKE
6 5.5 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Aisea Tongilava WILL 6'1, 220 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8244 8 4.5 0.6% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Hamilton Anoa'i SAM 6'3, 235 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8253 11 4.5 0.6% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Nathan Broussard LB 6'3, 250 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8389
Maximo Espitia LB 6'2, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8148








7. Wanted: a pass rush, even a mediocre one

The non-existent pass rush can't be pinned on the secondary, at least not really. Sure, quarterbacks didn't have to wait long to find an open receiver, as evidenced by their 65 percent completion rate.

But as decent as Cal was against the run, the Bears liked to leave QBs upright. The Bears faced more than 45 pass attempts per game and somehow managed just 16 sacks. Sixteen! In 560 attempts! Linebacker Devante Downs had three sacks in reserve opportunities ... and nobody else had more than two.

The return of senior Kyle Kragen will help; he missed 2014 with mono, and his three 2013 sacks would have tied for the team lead last year. And between sophomores Noah Westerfield and Tony Mekari, seniors Puka Lopa and Jonathan Johnson, and perhaps freshmen Kennedy Emesibe and Russell Ude, surely someone else will emerge as a replacement-level pass rusher, right? And maybe Downs will develop further? Right?

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Michael Lowe SS
11 60.0 8.3% 5.5 0 0 1 0 1
Cameron Walker CB 5'11, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8666 12 46.5 6.4% 0.5 0 1 4 0 0
Cedric Dozier CB 5'10, 180 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8923 12 41.5 5.7% 1 0 0 5 0 0
Stefan McClure FS 5'11, 200 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9394 8 39.0 5.4% 1.5 0 1 0 0 1
Griffin Piatt S 6'3, 200 Jr. NR NR 6 32.5 4.5% 1 1 3 6 0 0
Darius Allensworth CB 5'11, 190 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8630 12 26.0 3.6% 1 1 0 6 0 0
Bryce McGovern SS
12 22.0 3.0% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Darius White CB 6'1, 180 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8585 10 21.0 2.9% 0 0 1 3 0 0
Joel Willis (2013) CB 5'11, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8585 10 19.0 2.8% 0.5 0 0 3 1 0
Avery Sebastian FS
7 15.5 2.1% 0 0 1 0 1 0
Caleb Coleman CB 6'0, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8119 9 12.5 1.7% 0 0 2 3 0 0
Patrick Worstell DB 6'2, 190 Jr. NR NR 8 5.5 0.8% 0 0 0 1 1 0
Trey Cheek CB 5'10, 175 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8369 6 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 1 1 0
David Garner S 5'9, 195 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR 3 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
A.J. Greathouse CB 6'0, 190 So. NR NR 9 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Luke Rubenzer S 6'0, 190 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8472
Quentin Tartabull S 5'11, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8514
Antoine Albert DB 6'1, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8590
Khari Vanderbilt DB 6'2, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8356
Derron Brown S 6'2, 190 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8116
Malik Psalms DB 6'3, 175 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8646
Trey Turner DB 6'2, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8435

8. Find a first string, then keep it on the field

Darius Allensworth led Cal cornerbacks with six passes defensed as a freshman. Caleb Coleman had five in minimal opportunities. Trey Cheek made a couple of plays in even fewer opportunities. Cameron Walker and Cedric Dozier are juniors now. Darius White is a senior. Joel Willis is back after missing almost all of 2014 with injury.

At safety, Stefan McClure is both a rare senior and former four-star recruit. Converted receiver Patrick Worstell made a couple of plays. JUCO transfer Derron Brown made an immediate impact this spring. Converted quarterback Luke Rubenzer looked decent.

Two more JUCO transfers could hit the rotation, as could star freshman Malik Psalms.

And hey, the names here are great: Psalms, Vanderbilt, Greathouse, Cheek, Tartabull, Piatt. Sounds like members of a country club waiting list. (And that says nothing of 2015 signee Evan Rambo.)

There are options here, is what I'm trying to say. Decent potential, none proven.

McClure, Worstell, Tartabull, Trey Cheek, and Griffin Piatt were all hurt this spring, and granted, Dykes said "the safety situation is a little bit of a mess." I'm trying here. Find your four or five best players, find a couple of decent backups, hope they stay healthy, hope the pass rush ... well ... exists ... and you've got an improved defense.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Cole Leininger 6'1, 200 Sr. 52 39.8 5 17 16 63.5%
Jared Goff 6'4, 210 Jr. 3 40.7 1 0 2 66.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
James Langford 77 58.5 25 2 32.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
James Langford 56-57 7-7 100.0% 4-10 40.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Tre Watson KR 5'10, 195 So. 20 20.4 0
Khalfani Muhammad KR 5'9, 170 Jr. 14 20.6 0
Trevor Davis KR 6'2, 180 Sr. 13 32.6 2
Chris Harper PR 13 7.7 0
Trevor Davis PR 6'2, 180 Sr. 8 8.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 72
Field Goal Efficiency 71
Punt Return Efficiency 43
Kick Return Efficiency 26
Punt Efficiency 95
Kickoff Efficiency 90
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 21

9. Wanted: better legs

It speaks volumes that opponents were kicking off enough for three different Cal return men to have at least 13 returns, but returns were a strength. Punt returns were consistent, and kick returns (especially Trevor Davis') were explosive. But Cal's own kicks/punts and coverage were lacking, and while James Langford wasn't amazing on kickoffs, he was automatic inside of 40 yards as a place-kicker. His absence could be felt in that regard.

Cal would have produced strong special teams ratings with decent kicks. We'll see if that changes.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep Grambling State NR
12-Sep San Diego State 77
19-Sep at Texas 36
26-Sep at Washington 55
3-Oct Washington State 66
10-Oct at Utah 39
22-Oct at UCLA 7
31-Oct USC 13
7-Nov at Oregon 4
14-Nov Oregon State 70
21-Nov at Stanford 11
28-Nov Arizona State 24
Five-Year F/+ Rk -6.3% (72)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 46 / 28
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -3 / -8.6
2014 TO Luck/Game +2.3
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 17 (8, 10)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 4.7 (0.3)

10. Play well at home

Cal's in a weird place. The Bears don't enjoy a lustrous history; before Jeff Tedford showed up in 2002, they had been to six bowls and finished ranked four times in the previous 50 years. So they don't hold any long-term entitlement to success.

But Tedford engineered a sustained period of solid football -- at least seven wins every year from 2002-09, plus 10-win, top-15 campaigns in 2004 and 2006 -- and over the last five years, Cal has recruited at a top-30 level. So nine wins in three seasons is far below the realm of acceptability.

It's easy to see the Bears improving further, but it's hard to see the win total increasing beyond about 6-6 or 7-5. If the old "defense travels" truism holds, and if defense is still Cal's bugaboo, then the schedule isn't kind: five road opponents are projected top-40 teams, and the sixth (No. 55 Washington) isn't that far off the mark. If you go 1-5 or 0-6 on the road, then you have to basically win out at home to reach a bowl, and that means going 1-1 against Arizona State and USC.

The Pac-12 North is in a bit of transition. Oregon is replacing some of its stars, Stanford's season could go in quite a few different directions, Washington State's ceiling is probably 6-6 or so, and Washington and Oregon State are undergoing facelifts. Now would be a good time for Cal to put a semi-competent defense on the field and win some games.

But the odds are still in favor of a poor defense and a record that tops out around 6-6. Cal games are high-scoring and entertaining, and the Bears' offense should be fantastic, but at some point Cal fans are going to demand a little more.