Pac-12 preview: California

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Everything about football at Cal-Berkeley is new this season: new coach, new quarterback, new offensive scheme, new defensive scheme.
And a true freshman starting at the key quarterback position.
Unless everything falls into place perfectly, the Bears are going to struggle this season, much like they did last year when they went 3-9.
Coach Jeff Tedford is gone, replaced by Sonny Dykes, who is expected to liven up the attack with an up-tempo, pass-happy, spread offense that enabled his Louisiana Tech team to lead the nation in total offense in 2012.
That offense relies heavily on the skills and decision-making of its quarterback. But Cal does not have a quarterback who has ever thrown a pass in a college game.
And last Friday (Aug. 16), Dykes announced he will go with true freshman Jared Goff as the starting quarterback.
Goff, 6-4, 205, from nearby Novato, starred at Marin Catholic High, where he threw for 7,687 yards and 93 touchdowns with 18 interceptions in three years.
"I'm honored to get the chance to start for Cal and am looking forward to going out and helping the team win," Goff said. My competitors are great quarterbacks as well. It was a tremendous competition that has helped all us become better quarterbacks."
Dykes said naming the starting quarterback was critical.
"We have had a fiercely contested competition for our starting quarterback position," Dykes said in a statement. "It's important to name a starter and give them the reps they need to be prepared to play. We feel that right now Jared Goff gives us the best chance to be successful as a team."
Goff began fall camp virtually even with freshman Zach Kline and third-year sophomore Austin Hinder.
Dykes' offense requires a number of wide receivers, and he has two with considerable potential in Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper, both of whom started last year as freshmen. The loss of Keenan Allen to the pros hurts, however.
Speedy tailback Brendan Bigelow, who averaged 9.8 yards per carry in limited playing time last year, seems perfectly suited to the offense, which provides space to running backs.
However, the offensive line has little experience.
It will interesting to see how Dykes uses tight end Richard Rodgers in his spread offense. Tedford raved about Rodgers' potential last year, saying he was a future NFL player. Rodgers caught 20 passes last season, including seven for 129 yards against UCLA. But the tight end is not always used in Dykes' offense. However, Rodgers was a wide receiver in high school, so perhaps he can make the adjustment.
Defensively, the Bears are switching from a 3-4 defense used last year by Clancy Pendergast, who is now USC's defensive coordinator, to a 4-3 alignment under new defensive coordinator Andy Buh.
Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett were two of the team's best defensive players last season when they were outside linebackers in the 3-4 scheme. But n the 4-3 alignment, they have been switched to defensive end, putting them on the line of scrimmage with their hand on the ground.
The biggest challenge is the schedule, with the Bears facing seven teams ranked in the preseason coaches' poll. Two of Cal's first four games are against teams ranked among the top three -- Oregon and Ohio State. That, and an opener against No. 22 Northwestern, will make it difficult for Cal to get off to a good start.
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: With new systems on offense and defense and an untested quarterback, Cal would have liked to ease into the 2013 season. But that won't happen. Even if the Bears perform better than expected, they are likely to be 1-3 entering October. The Bears' first three games are home, but the Aug. 31 opener is against Northwestern, which won 10 games last year and is ranked No. 22 in the coaches' preseason poll. After a game against Southern Utah, the Bears host Ohio State, which is No. 2 in the coaches' poll but struggled to beat Cal 35-28 last season in Columbus. That Sept. 14 game is followed by a bye and then the Pac-12 opener, on the road, against No. 4 Oregon on Sept. 28.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: A lot depends on the success of a freshman quarterback. Goff has the skills, but will be learning on the job and against strong opponents early and often. His success will be determined in part by the progress of the offensive line, which has only two returning starters. The Bears have talent at wide receiver in Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper and a potential star running back in Brendan Bigelow.
AREAS OF CONCERN: OK, must mention the freshman quarterback again. Thenk,depth at running back and wide receiver is limited, and both key running backs (Bigelow and Daniel Lasco) missed spring ball with injuries. The offensive line lost a lot of talent and needs to be rebuilt. Defensively, the Bears lost both starting cornerbacks, including Steve Williams, who was probably the team's best defender a year ago. They have talent returning at those positions, but experience is lacking. With all the position changes on defense, there is plenty of room for mistakes during the adjustment period.

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.

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