Coming into the 2012 season, there were thoughts that the California Golden Bears might be able to sneak into the Pac-12 North Division title picture along with defending conference champion Oregon and arch-rival Stanford.
The first five weeks of the season have dashed that notion.
The Bears, coming off a 27-17 loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 29, are 1-4 overall this season and are off to an 0-2 start in Pac-12 play. The road doesn't get any easier, with No. 25 UCLA (4-1, 1-1) coming to Berkeley, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 6.
Worse is the fact that Cal hasn't defeated an FBS opponent this season. The lone win came over FCS Southern Utah on Saturday, Sept. 8.
Some familiar problems reared their heads against the Sun Devils. Quarterback Zach Maynard absorbed seven more sacks - running the total allowed by the Golden Bears to 20 in the past three games.
While it's easy to point the finger at the offensive line - which has been inconsistent, some of the blame has to land on Maynard, as well. The junior quarterback has been indecisive in the pocket, which has led to protection breakdowns.
As the sacks have mounted, Maynard's frustration has risen and Coach Jeff Tedford has cautioned Maynard to keep his composure because it can bring down the entire team to see its quarterback reacting so openly to bad plays by the offense.
UCLA brings in the conference's top-ranked offense-even better than high-octane Oregon-and features a dual-threat quarterback in freshman Brett Hundley and a star runner in senior Johnathan Franklin. Hundley is throwing for 296 yards a game and has 11 touchdown passes to just three interceptions while Franklin averages 139.4 yards a game on the ground.
The Bruin defense has been vulnerable against the run, allowing 155.6 yards a game, so one way the Golden Bears can take some of the pressure off Maynard is to get the running game - led by Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson - going. Cal rushed for 159 yards against Arizona State, a total affected by the 54 yards lost on sacks, and is averaging 172.4 yards a game on the ground this season.
Phil Watson is a 20-year newspaper veteran and has been a fan of the Cal Golden Bears since seeing "The Play" against Stanford as a high-schooler.