Sunday, December 31, 2006

Interesting Article

Jay Heater looks at Cal's 2007 prospects in his article today. I rearranged some parts and made some comments on his thoughts. (click here for article.)

Defensive Backfield

Cal's defensive backfield, as a whole, is in great shape. Starting rover Brandon Hampton returns as does starting cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson and free safeties Bernard Hicks and Thomas DeCoud, who split the starting duties. However, defensive coordinator Bob Gregory will have to decide whether to move a guy like DeCoud to corner, or hope that sophomore-to-be Robert Peele will be ready for the challenge. Junior college transfers seldom have much of an impact their first year so that route isn't likely. There also is a wild card in the mix. Cal will petition the NCAA for a sixth year for cornerback Tim Mixon, who blew out his knee in training camp and missed the 2006 season. Mixon was injured in the fourth game of a 14-game season in 2003 and missed most of that season as well.

We hope that Mixon gets another year. There have been some rumors that it is not looking so good. Terry Mixon, Tim's younger brother, is coming to campus next year and might be a replacement choice. While I think Hughes is a dominating player, it is not as if Cal had the best pass defense. The loss of Hughes can be mitigated with better play by the unit as a whole. More time together leads to better communication and less missed assignments.

Offensive Backfield

The next issue is tailback. Although Marshawn Lynch hasn't announced his intention to enter the NFL draft, he most likely is gone. Draft experts have been predicting that he will go in the first round and it would be a huge risk to his financial future to return.

In his place next season will be Justin Forsett, who has excelled as a part-time player but has yet to carry the load as a starter for an entire season. At 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, Forsett probably eased the minds of Old Blues with a 124-yard rushing effort in the Holiday Bowl.

One of Cal's top 2006 recruits, James Montgomery, also will be ready to go after redshirting his first season.

Montgomery is touted as the next great Cal tailback. Forsett can have a J.J. like season because he is a straight line runner that can hit holes quickly. Watch for Tracy Slocum, redshirt freshman, and Jahvid Best, an incoming speedster, next year.

Defensive Line

Shifting back to defense, Cal continues to search for the Holy Grail, also known as a pass rush force off the edge. Senior defensive end Nu'u Tafisi led the Bears with 5.5 sacks this season. That kind of sack total isn't going to strike fear into the heart of any quarterback.

Both Tafisi, and fellow senior defensive end Abu Ma'afala, will be gone. Defensive end Philip Mbakogu, expected to be Cal's top pass rusher this season, has never recovered from offseason knee surgery and his career might be over.

Rulon Davis, who missed most of this season with a stress fracture in his leg, looks the part at 6-5, 275 pounds. However, he is unproven.

Freshmen talents Cody Jones and Tyson Alualu will have to make some huge strides.

Although defensive tackle Brandon Mebane will be gone, defensive line coach Ken Delgado has stockpiled young talent in players such as Mika Kane, Derrick Hill and Michael Costanzo.

Pass rush was a concern all year. Cal did not have a dominating pass rusher like Andre Carter or Ryan Riddle. Philip Mbakogu was supposed to be the next big thing, but he has had injury problems. Incoming JC recruits can make an impact in pass rushing so many Cal has some help coming in there. Someone has to step up and I don't think we will know who until next year. Riddle really came out of nowhere before leading the nation in sacks.


Linebacker appears to be secure even though the Bears lost Pac-10 defensive player of the year Desmond Bishop along with Mickey Pimentel.

Sophomore Zack Follett is a huge playmaker who should be one of the conference's top defensive players in 2007. He will form a dynamite one-two punch inside along with junior-to-be Worrell Williams.

Anthony Felder had an injury plagued 2006 after earning freshman All American honors in 2005. Pimentel's departure should open up a spot for him.

Bishop was the heart of the defense and will be missed. But Cal is loaded at linebacker. Every year Tedford recruits bigger and faster linebackers and they learn the system with a couple years on the bench. Williams - Follett - Felder will be one of the top LB units in the nation. Also, Moye off the bench and Shea McIntyre, a hard hitting freshman, should lend depth to the unit.

Passing Offense

The offense should be dynamic with wide receivers Jackson, Robert Jordan and Lavelle Hawkins all returning. Quarterback Nate Longshore will have a full season under his belt and will be coming off a 19-of-24 passing performance in the Holiday Bowl. Cal has arguably the best returning tight end in the conference in Craig Stevens.

Jackson, Jordan, Hawkins, nuff said. Longshore had a great performance to end the season. He deserves to open the season as the starting QB. The 2nd year under Tedford is usually the break out year. (See Aaron Rodgers). Watch for Cameron Morrah in the TE position. He is Cal's version of Antonio Gates.

Offensive Line

...and the first-team all-conference center returning in Alex Mack and a second-team tackle in Mike Gibson.

If Mike Tepper, who will be a junior, develops into an impact player as expected, Cal's offensive line should be better.

No worries on the pass blocking. They do a good job of keeping Longshore upright. Lets hope that the road maulers that showed up at the Holiday Bowl are ready at the beginning of next season.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Full Circle

A short pass to the right, a nine yard catch and scamper, the ball carrier is brought down as the clock ticks down to zero. Nestled in the San Diego night among the loyal Blue and Gold faithful, a few words immediately came to mind: validation, redemption, respect. Sentiments echoed by Coach Tedford during the Holiday Bowl trophy presentation ceremony when he lauded the efforts of his graduating seniors (the first group of recruits that Tedford personally signed to Cal). For this group of young men, their Cal Football careers came to an end last night much in the same way it began way back in the first game of the 2002 season; a thorough domination of a Big 12 opponent from Texas.

At first glance, a 45-10 win in a bowl game over a nationally ranked Texas A&M team doesn’t seem to have all that much in common with 70-22 drubbing of lowly Baylor. After all, we’re the Sturdy Golden Bears, Pac-10 Co-Champions, and a 10 win team for the second time in 3 years. How easily we all forget the bad times. And God bless Jeff Tedford for making it so easy to forget.

When the Cal Bears kicked off their 2002 season against Baylor, they were coming off an utterly miserable 1 win season, and weren’t exactly huge favorites to do much better any time soon. But all I remember from that sunny Berkeley day was cannon shot after cannon shot, echoing through Strawberry Canyon. Time and again the blasts resounded, loudly proclaiming the dawn of a new era; shaking the Cal Team & Fans from the nightmare of the season before. Instant validation for the new regime, redemption for the downtrodden, respect taken by force.

A college career and a lifetime later, the freshman (most of whom red shirted) from that 2002 team can proudly call themselves the cornerstone of the Cal program. Sadly, many of these players don’t get the name recognition or love they deserve, even from the Cal fans. Ask yourselves; is there a Marshawn Lynch without the frightening road grater that is Erik Robertson? How did Rodgers or Longshore make that beautiful pass without guys like Scott Smith keeping the other teams’ uglies off them? How much did the Cal secondary miss the heady plays of Tim Mixon this year? Where would the program be today without Steve Levy riding from obscurity to the rescue last season? Does Cal get recruits like Lynch or D Jax without the success that these players engendered? Is there even a team at all without guys like Eric Beegun, Randy Bundy, David Gray, and Marcus O’Keith all unselfishly buying into the family atmosphere of Tedford’s program?

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this class is that they took a complete leap of faith when they signed with Cal. The immediate success that Tedford’s teams enjoyed made it much easier to land the big time HS superstars and the talented juco standouts. And this post isn’t about lifting this class above any others, or saying that one player's contributions counted for more. But these young men were the first. They were the trailblazers who helped put Cal football back on the path towards national respectability; to the Roses. Their portion of the road came to an end last night, but they went out the way that they came in. Validation of their faith in Tedford and Cal, Redemption for the shaky end to this season and a past Holiday Bowl failure, Respect well earned. Go Bears, and we wish you guys all the best.

Nice Win, Go Bears

Awesome win by the Bears at the Holiday Bowl. This is a great way to finish the season and plenty of momentum heading into 2007. Game recap to follow.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Game Day

When you break down the two teams in the Holiday Bowl, they are remarkably similar...

Both started the season strong with 8 wins in 9 games. Both stumbled at the end with 2 losses in their final 3 contests. One difference is that Texas A&M finished the season strong with an upset over rival Texas in the final game of the regular season. Cal limped through an uninspired win over hapless Stanford. But does a strong finish mean anything?

Let's ask UCLA. Huge win over cross town rival USC to finish the season. Lays an egg against FSU in the Emerald Bowl. How do you shut down USC but allow a Jeff Bowden offense to score 40+ on you. I hope DeWayne Walker secretly signed a head coaching contract prior to that game, because all the goodwill he gained for the USC game just went out the window.

So back to the Bears...

We already gave you our score prediction, so now we are going to tell you want to look for in the game.

- TAMU RB Jorvorski Lane vs Cal LB Desmond Bishop
Texas A&M has a 275 lb running back. Cal has a 265 lb linebacker. Much is being made of this match up and it should be interesting to watch. But Desmond is a solid tackler and does not seem to have problems with size so much as speed.

- TAMU QB Stephen McGee/RB Mike Goodsen vs Cal LB Worrell Williams/Mickey Pimentel
When TAMU runs the option wide it will be up to the outside linebackers to contain. Either force McGee to pitch to Goodsen and lets Hughes and Thompson make solid tackles on the outside, or force McGee to turn it back inside and face a big hit from Bishop. It is important that the linebackers do not over pursue, play within their assignments. McGee does not turn the ball over and Goodsen is a speedster averaging almost 7 a carry.

- TAMU pass defense vs Cal wide receivers
I really can't remember the last time the Cal receivers came up big as a unit. Sure, there were great individual efforts but you have to go back to the Oregon game to see the receivers really playing well together. What this means is no dropped balls, crisp routes, staying in bounds, not falling down over your own feet. TAMU pass defense is good (they shut down Colt McCoy and Texas) but the Cal offense is a different beast than what they face in the Big 12.

- San Diego Wind vs Cal QB Nate Longshore
Mother Nature is testing our boy Longshore. Windy conditions at Memorial Stadium against Stanford is normal. Windy conditions in San Diego, land of perpetual summer, is just a bad sign. It seems that unless conditions are perfect Longshore has the possibility of struggling. He has not gotten into a passing rhythm in quite a while and we will see if the wind will play with his head.

Enjoy the game in San Diego. Cheer for your Bears and celebrate a great win. Again, this is a program that is climbing and will climb to new heights. We are only at the beginning of the Tedford Era.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Holiday Bowl

For those fans who do not know anything about Texas A&M and want to bone up on the opponent prior to tomorrow's game, please check out Tightwad Hill.

He has done a great job of breaking down all the units of Texas A&M and also has a great Q&A with a rival blogger.

Here is our take on the Holiday Bowl:

1) Cal needs to win this bowl to shake the "soft" rep it has slowly been developing nationwide. Tedford has closed practice to the public and the media so it seems like the team is taking this game very seriously. There should not be any let down like in 2004 and the Bears should be ready for this game.

2) Texas A&M has one of those offenses that can really mess up DC Bob Gregory's bend but don't break approach. They have two good tailbacks and a QB that plays with a lot of heart. Texas A&M runs a variation of the option. Sometimes it is the spread option, other times it is the straight options and sometimes it is a pound it between the tackles run game. Is Cal disciplined enough to not over pursue and play assignment football? I am not sure... Cal always seems to give up some sort of big play at the wrong time. The key is Bishop. He needs to be able to quickly shed blockers and get to the point of attack.

3) The offense needs to get back on track. Let's send Marshawn out in the grand style he deserves. (Side note: SI had a small blurb about Marshawn being ROY in the NFL next year.) Also, it is time to start the DeSean Jackson Heisman campaign. No way, Texas A&M can keep up with DJax. Give Longshore sometime and let him air it out to Jackson. Also, I wouldn't mind seeing Ayoob or Levy get in the game.

Prediction: 42 - 31 Cal over Texas A&M

This will be a shootout. Tedford will have the troops ready but the defense will have a hard time against the option. Special teams (read Jackson) will play a role in deciding the game.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Is this the cause?

For why the passing game has suffered toward the end of the season. Excerpt from SF Chronicle story about DB's.

"When someone is trash-talking, it makes me play better," Hawkins said. "The way I see it: If I'm talking mess, I better back it up."

Hawkins' favorite line to defensive backs is simple.

"I told you," he said. "I tell them exactly what I'm going to do, and then, I beat them even though they know what's coming. That's the best feeling.

"You can come back and say, 'I spoke to you like a man, told you what I was going to do and you still couldn't stop me.' "

Based on Hawkins stats at the end of the season, perhaps he should keeps his routes to himself. Also, after you do beat them, try to stay balanced and cross the goal line.

This is all in good jest. Hawkins and Jackson will make a great WR combo next year. Jordan still has to show me more to prove he belongs and there are some freshman and incoming recruits that will push for playing time early.

Sorry for the lack of posts...

Interesting notes of lates...

- Stanford hires Jim Harbaugh as head coach. Perfect. If he performs even moderately well (.500) he will jump to any other job offered to him leaving the Furd back in the hole they currently reside. Harbaugh is a mercenary or better yet a whore, who will do anything for a bigger payday and more exposure. Good job Stanford.

- Byron Storer breaks arm and is out for the Holiday Bowl. We wish Storer the best of luck and thank him for his great work this season. (Interesting side story: the blog had a post about this news with a less positive tone about Storer. Follow the link and read the comments. It is an interesting debate about the younger generation of Bear fans and if they really understand how far the program has come. Read here.) There is also a diary entry about the topic that is interesting also. Read here.

- DeSean Jackson win Randy Moss Return Man Award. This was the first year for the award. Honestly, this should be renamed the DeSean Jackson Return Man award by next year.

- Recruiting news!!!
  • Devin Bishop commits. Younger brother of Desmond Bishop. Should be a solid contributor.
  • 2 Tight Ends commit, Skyler Curran and Savai'i Eselu. Cameron Morrah has the TE spot locked up until he leaves for the NFL, but we always need depth.
  • Jahvid Best, 4 star running back, commits to Cal (turned down USC and ND). Some are saying he is the fastest player ever to come to Cal. Yes, faster than DeSean. He ran a 10.39 in the 100 meter dash. Cal is pretty loaded at running back with Forsett, Montgomery and Slocum but who doesn't need a sub 10.5 100 guy to mix things up.
  • Terry Mixon commits. Younger brother of Tim Mixon. Will the Mixon brothers man both corners?
- 2 highly rated USC freshmen, Antwine Perez and Stafon Johnson, are looking to transfer. Looks like the luster is starting to fade. Expect Carroll to jump to the Arizona Cardinals this off season and avoid the sanctions imposed on the program after the Reggie Bush fiasco.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

USC Song Girl Cheers At Wrong Time - AGAIN

A friend sent this to me recently. It amazes me what people are able to pick out on camera and link back to the past.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Is it too early to talk 2007 Heisman?

Apparently not, CFN has listed the top 26 players for next year's Heisman. Cal's DeSean Jackson came in at #11: (Full article)
11. DeSean Jackson, WR/KR California
A blend of Reggie Bush and Ted Ginn, Jackson will make everyone's highlight reel week after week taking the honor of being America's most electrifying player.
Marshawn Lynch was left off the list because CFN is certain he is jumping to the NFL, but he would have been #11 if he stays. Colt Brennan, Hawaii's recording setting QB, is on top of the list. Don't laugh just because he plays in Hawaii, David Klinger and Andre Ware both played for lower profile schools and put up some crazy numbers to take the Heisman. For Brennan to win would take a lot, but at least he is getting some early pub. When does go up for the Heisman campaign?

Tedford's New Whipping Boy

Much to the surprise of no one, Stanford fired Walt Harris earlier this week. So who will be Tedford's new whipping boy in the Big Game. Here is a list of candidates being mentioned.

Norm Chow, Tenn Titans
The former USC offensive coordinator was actually passed over for Harris. Everyone knows he really wants to be a head coach but rumor has it he does not have a head coaching make up (read: gets walked all over).

Mike Leach, Texas Tech
There was a rumor going around the Leach was taking the Miami job but have not heard anything since. This is the same man that led his team over Cal in the 2004 Holiday Bowl. I would prefer he go to Miami.

Steve Kragthorpe, Tusla
Though the average fan may not know Kragthorpe, he is actually one of the hottest names in college coaching right now. I think Kragthorpe waits to see what happens with some of the larger vacancies (Miami, Alabama, BC), wait for the shuffling to start (Rich Rodriguez to Alabama?) and then find a place better suited for him than Stanford.

DeWayne Walker, UCLA
UCLA defensive coordinator just saw his stock shoot up after the USC game. He is riding a high wave right now and he should be ready to jump. I don't mind him moving to Stanford. Tedford has a good bead on Walker and should continue to light him up even across the Bay.

Jim Harbaugh, San Diego (University)
Captain Comeback is now coaching down in the land of SD. His father was an assistant at Stanford and he is a rising star. But with little experience, I would have no problem with him taking the job at Stanford.

And last but not least, Al Borges, Aurburn
If you recall, Al Borges was the vaunted UCLA OC that came to Cal for the 2001 season. His West Coast offense was suppose to take Kyle Boller to new heights. Well... Cal finished that season 1-10 and Borges moved on to another school. Under Borges, Cal average just over 18 points per game. The next year under Tedford, with essentially the same team, Cal average over 35 points per game. Please Al Borges, sign with Stanford, fulfill your dream to be a head coach and make that team even worse.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Are You Happy Now?

Let's say I told you before the season started that the following would happen for the Cal football team...

- Pac 10 co-champions
- Pac 10 Offensive Player of the Year: Marshawn Lynch
- Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year: Daymeion Hughes
- Fifth consecutive Big Game victory
- #1 in the Pac 10 in offense
- DeSean Jackson returns 4 punts for TD
- Stanford only wins one game the entire year

Would you have considered that a great season and given up your left kidney? I would. (I am partial to my right kidney.) So to all the people out there crying about how the Big Game was too close and Cal is not going to the Rose Bowl, try to see the glass at 15/16th full not 1/16th empty. Enjoy a great year by your Bears and get ready for a great game against Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl. This is a program that is continuing to reach new heights and the future looks very bright. Go Bears, Beat A&M.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Wow, talk about quitting...

The Cal Golden Bear Football News always posts great articles about Cal everyday. There was one of particular interest to us, from the Stanford Review, especially after our post on the #1 reason why Cal is better than Stanford. Here are some excerpts from the article.

Facing another year where the Stanford University football team will be crushed by Cal’s, the fifth consecutive time for those keeping score, our school stands at a bit of a crossroads. Berkeley coach Jeff Tedford is consistently producing top-25 football teams with Heisman candidates. We find ourselves in ESPN’s Bottom 10 rankings. These two facts mean that we won’t be beating Cal in football for the foreseeable future, which begs the question: should we continue to care about Cal? They have a much larger student body and lower academic standards for athletes. One Cal newspaper even declared that we were unfit to be rivals.

We’re happy to take our rivalry elsewhere. Cal clearly lucked-out having us a rival; if they would prefer UC Davis, well, they can have them. We always knew that we could do better than Cal...

It is interesting that the author chooses UC Davis as an example. After what Davis has done to Stanford the past couple years, it makes sense that the Trees would fear a rivalry with Davis. The author ignores that fact that Stanford, prior to the last 5 years has been competitive and actually won the previous 7 Big Games. During which time Stanford also went to the Rose Bowl. How quick they are to jump off the bandwagon on the Farm. When the going gets tough, the trees just quit.

...The task now is to find a new rival, one much more like our fine school (meaning a private school), a school that we can fairly compete against, and beat on occasion, and sometimes badly.

First off, we’d for once like to have a school that would be in the same academic league as us, and Princeton, with their #1 position in the U.S. News rankings, certainly fits the bill. We still have a higher yield and lower acceptance rate, so we’re about equal in the academic category. Second, we need to face the facts, and schedule Division I-AA teams for our football team to have a chance. We should play at least a couple of games that we have a chance in every year to keep morale above the “nihilism” level...

Once Princeton starts beating Stanford who will the Cardinal want next. Perhaps a local JC or maybe an international program where football is actually soccer.

...This will be far more inspiring than getting thrashed by Cal every year. Both schools could get into this rivalry of equals.

So we’d like to extend an invitation to Princeton University to be our rival. It’s in the best interest for both schools, and would make for an exciting cross-country rivalry. We’ve had enough of the Bears. And they have had enough of us, apparently. Bring on the Tigers.
Seriously, I did not make this up. This is an actual article. Here is the link: Stanford Says Uncle. This is some great writing. I particularly like how you can almost hear the whiny nasal toned voice of the author as you read the words. Go Bears.

Big Game Preview - Bullet Point Edition

Cal Offense
- Establish the run early with Lynch.
- Use play action to create opportunities for the WR.
- Get Jackson/Hawkins/Jordan involved early with a couple short passes.
- Use some early easy passes to get Longshore into his rhythm.

Cal Defense
- Pressure the QB. This is not absolutely necessary to win the game, I just want to see the Bears finally generate some pressure with the front 4.
- Tackle. Nothing gets an underdog team more excited than the broken tackle big play. Keep the man in front of you and take him down.
- Be aggressive. This contradicts the earlier points, but until 3 games ago, Cal was a ball hawking team. Interceptions and turnovers were out bread and butter. If a defender has a chance to create a turnover, take it, especially against this team.
- Don't have a let down. Defense played great for 3 quarters against USC, don't let the loss carry over to the Big Game.

This is a quiet Big Game. But it should be an exciting one for Cal fans because expect to see lots of big plays. Marshawn is possibly playing his last game at Memorial Stadium. Walt Harris has stated that he will not punt away from Jackson. So there should be many Sportscenter worthy moments. Lastly, if it is a blowout, watch till the end because you might get a glimpse at the future, particularly on the defense. Expect younger players to get playing time if this game gets out of hand early. Also watch for TE Cameron Morrah (who seems to be related to Contra Costa Times columnist Jay Heater for the amount of ink he gets for a backup) who is a future Tony Gonzales.

#1: Athletics

I had a hard time putting this into a single term because I am not talking about championships or wins, but the larger spirit of athletics. Cal students know that nothing is handed to them and you fight for everything. What does not kill you only makes you stronger... in that same vein, Cal athletics represents that spirit.
Regardless of the sports, Cal teams never quit. They always represent their school proudly and show up ready to play. I think this attitude is reflected in the general student body.

Similarly, Stanford athletics is reflective of their students. They feel entitled to things in life; coasting through undergrad with little regard for hard work. When the going does get tough (I assume that mean getting a "B" in a class) oftentimes they fold.

Here are two recent examples of the Stanford attitude:
1) The Stanford football team has been plagued by reports of players quitting. Leading tackler Michael Okwo was reported to have quit the team but then rejoined. Even when Cal was 1-10, the team played hard and never embarassed the school.
2) Stanford Rugby team forfeits match against Cal Rugby. This best exemplified the attitude of Stanford and its athletics. Greatly overmatch, the Stanford team choose to take the easy way out rather than man up and play. With the amount of monumental upsets that occur in sports every year, it take quite a group of quitters to think that they have no shot of winning. I imagine when the Stanford rugby players asked their friends on campus if they should forfeit the match, the overwhelming response was, "Sure, no shame in quitting, I just dropped 4 classes after I took the final."