Cleat Geeks

2016 Pac 12 Preview: California Golden Bears

Pac12IntroPhotoFor nearly the past decade, the North division has dominated the Pac-12, bringing in the conference champion every year since 2008 and hovering as the best overall division in all of college football. In a division that has been headlined by Oregon and Stanford during that span, there is much more competition heading into 2016. Washington is much stronger this season and faces huge national expectations with a possible conference crown on the horizon. Washington State is no team to sleep on due to their fast-paced offense and high-powered passing attack headlined by All-Pac 12 QB Luke Falk. The bottom feeders of the division this season figure to be California and Oregon State. The Golden Bears are faced with the tough task to replace 1st overall pick Jared Goff under center, while the Beavers are tasked with the mission of bouncing back from a win less season in conference play. Both, however, will be scrappy teams who could serve as a threat to end a team’s Playoff hopes.

Take a look as we dig deep into the Pac-12 North division. Comment below with some predictions of your own regarding the California Golden Bears and how you think Jared Goff’s departure will effect the program. Follow @JonValencia_WiB for more Pac-12 updates throughout the off-season as we gear up for opening week.

6 – California Golden Bears (3-9, 1-8 – NORTH)

Players to Watch: QB Davis Webb, RB Vic Enwere, RB Khalfani Muhammad, RB Tre Watson, WR Demetris Robertson, WR Melquise Stovall
Key Departures: QB Jared Goff, RB Daniel Lasco, WR Trevor Davis, WR Kenny Lawler, WR Bryce TreggsDavisWebb

Replacing a starting QB is never an easy task, especially when it was the 1st overall pick in the NFL Draft. Jared Goff stays in-state, although he will not be under center for the Golden Bears any longer. Enter Davis Webb. The former Texas Tech Red Raider used his graduate transfer in what was a long, mulling process to come to Berkeley and be showcased in Sonny Dykes’ Bear-raid offense. Webb has NFL quality tools and has been dubbed as Mel Kiper’s top senior QB prospect for the 2017 NFL Draft. His 6’5”/224 stature will be coveted under center. While at Texas Tech, Webb compiled over 5,550 passing yards with 46 TDs to 22 INTs. A suitable replacement for Goff.

As if losing the most decorated passer in program history wasn’t enough, the Golden Bears lost their top six receivers from last season as well, along with playmaking running back Daniel Lasco. Who will step in to replace all this offensive production? The speedy junior Chad Hansen is the leading returning receiver with 19 catches for 249 yards last season. In a late, surprising decision, five star Demetris Robertson committed to Cal and steps on to campus with huge expectations. An elite athlete with great explosiveness who should contribute from day one and can be the best receiver for Cal since DeSean Jackson. The Golden Bears are also very excited by the potential of  four star freshman Melquise Stovall. He highlighted the Spring Game with 128 yards and 2 TDs. Another contributor to watch for is junior Raymond Hudson who brings the best size to the table.

KhalfaniMuhammadEven with the loss of Daniel Lasco, Cal still holds a deep backfield with their trio of Tre Watson, Vic Enwere and Khalfani Muhammad. It will be a backfield-by-committee as each of them rushed for over 500 yards last season. Watson enters his junior year poised to be the top back for Cal this season. A smaller, elusive back, Watson averaged 5.2 yards per carry and makes a habit of breaking tackles and making guys miss. Enwere is the bigger back of the trio. He brings a good combination of power and speed and led the team with 8 TD rushes last season – will be the main weapon on the goalline. Khalfani Muhammad is the unsung hero in the backfield, leading the team with 586 yards on the ground last season. He’s small and shifty and brings world class speed and big play ability, indicated by his 6.7 yards per rush in 2015 and place on the school’s track team. The offensive line returns four starters and should be a sturdy unit.

While the offense has a lot of potential heading into 2016, the defense is full of question marks. Expected to return as the heart and soul of the defense, senior linebacker Hardy Nickerson transferred to the Big Ten to play for his father at Illinois. It doesn’t look like Cal possesses that type of player who can emerge as the leader they’re desperate for after Nickerson’s departure. Junior Ray Davison has potential in the middle, although he is without a career start. He is flanked on the outside by Devante Downs and Hamilton Anoa’i, both of whom missed the spring as they recover from knee injuries.

In the trenches is where the defense holds the most experience. DeVante Wilson and James Looney have 19 combined starts. Junior Tony Mekari chips in with six starts and bolsters the interior a bit. Cal ranked 105th against the run last season and should be slightly better this year. The secondary is filled with holes to fill. Damariay Drew is a disruptive force at safety, but is recovering a knee injury which kept him out most of the Spring. A pass defense which ranked 89th last season may be even more ineffective this season.

For a team that lost their most decorated passer in school history and top pick in the NFL Draft, it’s unethical to think Cal will enjoy another 8 win season which included a victory against Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. While I do like the upside of Davis Webb under Sonny Dykes along with the spread of weapons, there is just too much inexperience in that offense. Don’t forget they lost their top 6 receivers from last season as well. Mesh that together with an inexperienced, ineffective defense, Cal will be lucky to go 500 in 2016, although a lot of potential surrounds the program, especially if they can improve their defense in the next couple of seasons. This won’t be a popular prediction, but I project them as the last place finishers in the Pac-12 this season with 3-5 wins.

8/27: vs Hawaii WCalHelmets
9/10: @ San Diego State W
9/17: vs Texas L
9/24: @ Arizona State L
10/1: vs Utah L
10/8: @ Oregon State L
10/21: vs Oregon L
10/27: @ USC L
11/5: vs Washington L
11/12: @ Washington State L
11/19: vs Stanford L
11/26: vs UCLA W

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