As soon as Cal lost to Oregon State 62-14 on the road on Nov. 17 to complete a 3-9 season, its worst in 11 years, the question of coach Jeff Tedford's future became the No. 1 issue.
Despite being Cal's all-time leader in coaching victories and being responsible for bringing the Golden Bears back to national prominence, there's a good chance Tedford will be dismissed, and an announcement could come soon.
The problem is that, despite having winning records in Tedford's first eight seasons at Cal, the Golden Bears have had losing records two of the past three seasons and barely made it over the .500 mark in 2011 when they went 7-6. Plus, Cal football's graduation rate was the worst in the conference in the latest statistics released by the NCAA, so that won't help Tedford's case.
This season was particularly disappointing for several reasons:
--The 3-9 record represents the second-worst Cal season since 1986. Only the 1-10 season in Tom Holmoe's final year was worse in that span.
--The Cal program was clearly ahead of archrival Stanford just five years ago, but the Bears have slipped noticeably while Stanford has become a national power. Cal is 0-3 against Stanford the past three years.
--The Bears lost their final five games this season, and lost decisively in four of them.
--The loss to Oregon State in the finale provided the final image, and it wasn't a good one, as the Beavers scored 20 points more than they had in any previous game this season and rolled up 559 yards against a Cal defense that looked listless.
--The victory over UCLA midway through the season makes people wonder what Cal could not have done more.
Indeed that dominating 43-17 victory over the Pac-12 South champion Bruins back on Oct. 6 made everyone think the Bears might claw their way to a decent season. The Bears had been competitive in earlier road losses to USC and Ohio State, too, so there seemed to be a chance to turn the season around.
The Golden Bears followed the win over UCLA with a decisive road victory over Washington State to improve to 3-4. But that was followed by the poor offensive effort in a 21-3 home loss to archrival Stanford, and it was all downhill from there.
Certainly injuries played a role, as a number of key defensive players missed playing time throughout the season. Plus, Cal's best player, wide receiver Keenan Allen, missed the final three games with a knee injury, and starting quarterback Zach Maynard missed the final two games with a knee injury.
Quarterback play in general has been the chief problem for Cal and Tedford the past few years. Maynard had his moments, but he was inconsistent, and his replacement, Allan Bridgford, did not look like someone capable of being a winning quarterback in the conference.
Tedford had established a reputation for developing top-flight quarterbacks, but quarterback play has let the Bears down badly the past several years.
And quarterback will be the biggest issue next season, no matter who the coach is, as Maynard will be gone. Redshirt freshman Zach Kline figures to get a serious look in the spring.
Except for the games against UCLA and Washington State, the Bears never developed the potent ground game that was expected either, and its top two backs, Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson, will be gone next season. The Bears will return promising tailback Brendan Bigelow, although the Cal coaches were never quite able to make the best use of his speed and big-play capabilities.
Allen, a junior, is likely to turn pro, but Chris Harper was the best of an impressive group of freshmen wide receivers who look they will be the strength of the offense next season.
Many of the team's top defenders will return, including a group of linebackers with considerable potential, but if Tedford is fired that means defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast no doubt will be gone, too, so it remains to be seen how the Bears' defense will be constructed.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Cal 43, UCLA 17 -- The Oct. 7 game in Berkeley was by far the Bears' most complete game and provided hope that Cal might get to a bowl. QB Zach Maynard matched a career high with four touchdown passes and he ran for another. C.J. Anderson rushed for 151 yards as the Bears ran the ball effectively, churning out 480 yards of total offense. However, the stars of the game were Cal's defenders. They intercepted UCLA QB Brett Hundley four times and sacked him six times, thwarting the Bruins' drives time and time again. UCLA scored first after getting the ball at the Cal 28-yard line following a Maynard interception. But the Bears scored 23 straight points to take command of the game. The win ended a three-game losing streak, and the subsequent victory over Washington State put Cal's record at 3-4. But the 21-3 home loss to Stanford on Oct. 20 seemed to end all the momentum.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: CB Steve Williams -- WR Keenan Allen was the team's best player, but he missed the final three games with a knee injury, so Williams is more deserving based on his full season of contributions. He had three interceptions, broke up 10 passes and had 7.0 tackles for losses. He effectively covered some of the best receivers in the country, particularly Washington State's Marquess Wilson.
FAST FORWARD: Nothing can move forward until Cal decides whether to retain head coach Jeff Tedford. No matter who the Bears coach is next season, quarterback will be the biggest concern. Inconsistent quarterback play has been the biggest problem for Cal the past several years, and with starter Zach Maynard graduating, the Bears again have uncertainty at the position with no apparent successor. Allan Bridgford started while Maynard was hurt, but he was unproductive and he will be challenged in the spring by Zach Kline, who redshirted his freshman season. The Bears may lose their best player, WR Keenan Allen, who is likely to turn pro, but the Bears are well stocked at the position. CB Steve Williams and a group of talented linebackers give the Bears some hope to improve on defense.
RECRUITING TRAIL: Cal has 13 known commitments as of Nov. 18, the most important being QB Jared Goff and OG Cameron Hunt. Goff, rated the nation's No. 19 quarterback prospect by Scout.com, was the first player to commit to Cal in the Class of 2013. It's unlikely he'll compete for a starting job in 2013, but the Bears' uncertainty at the position makes it possible. Hunt is rated the No. 13 guard in the class by Scout.com, and he could work his way into the rotation in 2013. DB Darius Allensworth also has committed to Cal, and he probably rates as the Bears' third highest-rated commitment, after Goff and Hunt. However, Allensworth took a visit to Wisconsin in late October after he had committed to Cal, so it's unclear how solid his commitment is.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Not very good. It's not something we're used to. It's obvious we have work to do. I will say this about these kids: They're good kids. These were tough times. They kept it together. I appreciate them a lot." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, on the 2012 season following the 62-14 loss to Oregon State in the finale.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013:
CB Steve Williams -- Williams has steadily improved since becoming a fulltime starter in 2011 as a third-year sophomore. He had an outstanding season in 2012, when he intercepted three passes, broke up 10 more and had 7.0 tackles for losses. He played well against some of the nation's top wide receivers and could be among the nation's best cornerbacks in 2013 if he continues to improve.
TB Brendan Bigelow -- Bigelow demonstrated his breakaway speed and big-play potential, but the Cal coaches had trouble figuring out how to make use of his skills. He averaged 9.8 yards a carry, and he had three touchdown runs of more than 50 yards. With the other two primary ball-carriers -- Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson -- being seniors in 2012, Bigelow should be the focal point of the running game in 2013.
OLB Chris McCain -- A starter since midway through his freshman season in 2011, McCain has a chance to be a star next season as a junior. Despite being slowed by injuries, McCain had 8.5 tackles for losses and four quarterback hurries in 2012 and is capable of making game-changing plays.
QB Kevin Kline -- After redshirting his freshman year in 2012, Kline will compete with Allan Bridgford for the starting job in the spring. Based on Bridgford's struggles in his three starts in 2012, Kline will get a serious look. Kline played pretty well last spring and could become the Bears' starting quarterback in 2013.
WR Chris Harper -- Harper did not become a regular starter until Keenan Allen got hurt, but he still finished second to Allen in receptions with 41 and showed a knack for making spectacular catches. He figures to be the Bears' No. 1 passing target next season.
WR Keenan Allen -- Allen, a junior, has not officially declared that he will enter the NFL draft in the spring, but all indications are that he will. He is the only Cal player certain to be drafted, and he is likely to be taken in the first round. However, he must prove to scouts that he hasn't lost any speed after missing the final three games with a knee injury. Despite playing just three seasons, he is Cal's all-time leader in career receptions.
CB Marc Anthony -- Anthony could be a late-round pick after being a starter for the past three seasons. He has good size at 6-0, 200 pounds, but he has missed games each season with injuries.
OT Matt Summers-Gavin -- Summers-Gavin was a four-year starter and probably would get drafted were it not for his frequent injuries, which have cost him a lot of playing time. At 6-4, 300 pounds, an NFL team still might take a chance on him in the late rounds.
DL Aaron Tipoti -- An underrated defensive lineman, Tipoti has a chance to get drafted because NFL teams would like his versatility. He has played both nose tackle and defensive end for Cal and has been productive without being spectacular at both positions.
OG Dominic Galas -- He might have been drafted if he had not missed all but one game in 2012, first because of a torn pectoral muscle, then because of appendicitis. Galas might catch on with a pro team.
--LB Cecil Whiteside, who was declared academically ineligible for the 2012 season, could return in 2013, although that has not yet been determined.
--Junior WR Keenan Allen missed the final three games of the season with a knee injury. He is eligible to return to Cal next season but may enter the NFL Draft instead.
--PK James Langford, who sat out the 21012 season after transferring from Cal Poly, will be eligible to play next season and will compete with junior Vincenzo D'Amato for the place-kicking job. Langford was impressive kicking field goals and kicking off last spring.
--OG Dominic Galas will probably petition for a sixth year of eligibility after missing all but one game this season because of physical problems, but it appears unlikely he will be granted the sixth season. He missed the first seven games after tearing a pectoral muscle in the offseason. He played against Stanford and was prepared to start the next game. However, he had to have emergency surgery for appendicitis and did not play again in 2012.
--LB Khairi Fortt, who transferred to Cal in the offseason, was eligible to play this season, but he had knee surgery last spring and ultimately sat out the 2012 season. He is expected to be ready to participate in the spring.