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Team countdown: No. 34 California

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California bounced back from the first losing season in the 10-year Jeff Tedford coaching era by winning seven games in 2011, but taking the necessary next step – getting back into the top 25 – isn't likely to happen this season.

Cal has recruited well the past three years, with the 2010-12 classes ranked a combined 17th in that span. And this is a key season for a lot of players in those recruiting classes. Cal has just 10 starters returning, meaning there is ample playing time available.

One positive is that California will have true home games again. Because Memorial Stadium was being rebuilt, the Golden Bears played at AT&T Park, home of baseball's San Francisco Giants, last season. There's a vastly different vibe in Berkeley than almost anywhere else, and maybe that will be worth an upset win this fall.

The particulars

Last season: 7-6 overall, 4-5 Pac-12 (4th in Pac-12 North)
Coach: Jeff Tedford (79-48, 11th season)
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season): Offense (6) – WR Keenan Allen, C Dominic Galas, QB Zach Maynard, G Brian Schwenke, TB Isi Sofele, T Matt Summers-Gavin. Defense (4) – CB Marc Anthony, LB Dan Camporeale, T Aaron Tipoti, CB Steve Williams. Special teams (0) – None.
Fast fact: Over the past three seasons, Cal has lost eight of its past 10 meetings against top-25 teams.

Offense

This has the makings of a potent unit – if the line comes around.

QB Zach Maynard developed consistency as last season progressed. He appeared overmatched at times early in the season, not surprising considering he hadn't played since he started for Buffalo in 2009.

Maynard finished 2011 with 2,990 passing yards and 17 touchdowns. He also threw 12 interceptions, but seven of those came in two games and he tossed just two picks in the final five games.

It helped that his No. 1 target was Keenan Allen, who also happens to be his half-brother. Allen had 98

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Keenan Allen had 98 catches last season and should be ultra-productive again this fall. (AP)

receptions for 1,343 yards and six TDs; that last number needs to climb into double-digits this season. One problem: Cal returns no other wide receiver that caught more than three passes last season. Thus, there is ample playing time available. There are high hopes for touted true freshman Bryce Treggs, a four-star recruit, and redshirt freshman Maurice Harris; as with Allen, Harris is from Greensboro (N.C.) Northern Guilford. Three other true freshmen likely will get opportunities, too.

TEs Richard Rodgers and Spencer Hagan might become a bigger part of the offense this season; Hagan had 12 receptions, including two TDs last season, while Rodgers played on special teams.

TB Isi Sofele returns after rushing for 1,322 yards and 10 TDs. Despite a lack of size (5 feet 8/183 pounds), he held up physically and proved to be an effective between-the-tackles runner. There is solid depth at tailback, with senior C.J. Anderson, sophomore Brendan Bigelow and redshirt freshman Daniel Lasco likely to get some carries, too.

The Golden Bears use a fullback at times, and Eric Stevens, who missed last season with a knee injury, is a solid blocker.

Cal returns three starting linemen, though two could switch positions. Senior Brian Schwenke, who started at guard last season, was listed atop the depth chart at center following spring practice. Conversely, senior Dominic Galas, who started at center last season, was listed as a starting guard after spring drills. The one starter who didn't move is T Matt Summers-Gavin, a former guard who played tackle for the first time last season.

The new left tackle seems likely to be senior Tyler Rigsbee, who has played in just eight games in his career. Four-star true freshman Freddie Tagaloa arrives with some hype, but can he handle the job this fall? The other starting guard spot likely will go to redshirt freshman Jordan Rigsbee, Tyler's brother, or sophomore Geoffrey Gibson; neither has played a down of college football.

Defense

The defense did a nice job for the most part last season, ranking 25th overall (332.9 ypg). Still, it gave up at least 30 points seven times and had breakdowns at inopportune moments.

The cornerback tandem of Marc Anthony and Steve Williams is a good one. Anthony, a senior, will be a three-year starter; Williams, a junior, is heading into his second season as a starter. They combined for three interceptions and 23 pass breakups, along with 82 tackles, last season. Sophomore Stefan McClure is a talented No. 3 corner, but he had knee surgery in November and might not be ready to go this fall.

The safety spots will have new starters. One slot should go to hard-hitting sophomore Avery Sebastian, while senior Josh Hill – who mostly has played cornerback in his college career – is the likely starter at the other. Depth is iffy at safety.

Cal uses a 3-4 set, and the line should be OK. NT Aaron Tipoti is a bit undersized (6-2/274) but is stout against the run. Backup Kendrick Payne is an experienced senior. Both end spots will be filled by new starters. There are high expectations for junior Deandre Coleman, and sophomore Mustafa Jalil is a former four-star recruit who was hand-picked by former defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Tosh Lupoi.

Dan Camporeale is the only returning starter at linebacker, and he could lose his job. The assumption is sophomore Chris McCain, another former standout at Greensboro Northern Guilford, is going to be a star sooner rather than later. He is one of three sophomores expected to play big roles, joining David Wilkerson and Nick Forbes. Senior Robert Mullins also will be in the mix. True freshman Michael Barton was a four-star prospect who was the No. 11 inside linebacker in this recruiting class.

Special teams

Cal will miss P Bryan Anger; the Golden Bears also will have a new kicker.

Junior Vince D'Amato, who was 7-of-12 on field goals as a true freshman in 2009 but hasn't attempted a field goal since, likely will be the new kicker. The new punter should be true freshman Cole Leininger, who also was a kicker in high school at Fruit Cove (Fla.) Bartram Trail, near Jacksonville. There's some serendipity there, as Anger was a third-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2012 NFL draft.

Allen (punts) and Bigelow (kickoffs) are the likely return men. Cal's coverage teams were solid last season.

Schedule

Well, there are back-to-back games with Ohio State and USC in September, which won't be much fun. For the most part, though, the other tough games are at home.

Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and Washington have to visit Berkeley, and the other tough road game is against Utah, which certainly is beatable (Cal routed the Utes 34-10 last season). All in all, the schedule is navigable.

Overview

The Golden Bears have hit a plateau of late, with a 36-28 record in the past five seasons. In addition, there hasn't been a bowl win since 2008.

This looks like another seven- or eight-win season, though playing a lot of tough opponents at home could be an advantage.

The flipside: If this team doesn't get some questions answered, most notably along the offensive line and at linebacker, a four- or five-win season could result. In that scenario, what happens to Tedford?

The recruiting side

Average recruiting ranking for past five years: 25th nationally
The buzz: Despite some late staff changes, Cal did a fine job closing on its recruiting class when things could have gone horribly wrong with a bunch of top prospects. Four-star recruit Zach Kline could be the quarterback of the future. The Golden Bears loaded up at wide receiver with four-star prospects Bryce Treggs, Darius Powe and Kenny Lawler. Getting WR Cedric Dozier late in the process was crucial, as well. Treggs could be a special player in Cal's offense. He turned down a late offer from USC. – Adam Gorney, Rivals.com

Breakthrough player

WR Bryce Treggs. His dad, Brian, was a star wide receiver for the Golden Bears in the early 1990s. Treggs has been deep in study with the X-receiver playbook, and his footwork and route-running workouts before he moved to campus were grueling. Physically, mentally and emotionally, he seems ready to go this fall as a true freshman. Don't count him out as being the No. 2 receiver behind Keenan Allen before the end of the season. – Ryan Gorcey, BearTerritory.net

For more on Cal throughout the season, check out BearTerritory.net

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