I'm not sure if you guys have been checking out California Golden Blogs throughout the week, but, DAMMIT, YOU SHOULD. They've had an incredible amount of fun/introspective/in-depth stuff about the upcoming game between Northwestern and Cal -- you knew that there was a game between Northwestern and Cal, right?
(Unrelated, but I can't stop seeing their site name and thinking of things U-God, who, depending on your opinion, is either the seventh or eighth best member of the Wu-Tang Clan, has said in his alter ego as "Golden Arms." I need a new brain.)
Anyway, I asked some of the guys from Golden Blogs some really stupid questions, and they answered them!
1. After a 3-9 year, are there expectations for Cal to be relevant at all in 2013, or is this just a year in the process of building something beautiful?
Scott Chong: I don't think most Cal fans have any ambitious expectations with regards to wins and losses. We do expect to be relevant, however. By which I mean that we expect to play smart, tough, competitive football and force other teams to prepare to have a serious game on their hands.
Norcalnick: I suppose it depends on what you mean by relevant. I doubt that Cal would be relevant to, say, a fan of Wisconsin or Illinois. This almost certainly isn't a team that's ready to make noise nationally. But Cal absolutely has the potential to be a bowl team, which should make them a relevant opponent in the Pac-12, a team that can pull an upset on the right day. That said, it will probably be a year of building up to something. Right now this is one of the youngest teams in the country. Only six seniors are listed on the two deep, and only three are currently starters. If Cal has a good year this year, they could be poised for a great year next year.
atomsareenough: Well, it depends on what you mean by "relevant". Are we going to challenge Oregon or Stanford for the Pac-12 North crown? Probably not. Are we going to win 10 games? Probably not. In contrast to, say, Northwestern last year, who didn't play a single ranked opponent, we have SEVEN opponents that are ranked, at least in the pre-season, and 3 teams out of the top 5. On the other hand, I do expect that Cal will be competitive in all its games this year. I think we will see progress and growth over the course of the season, as the team learns how to execute the new offense. I'm expecting a bowl game and 6-8 wins, even with the frighteningly difficult schedule. I'm also hoping to be nationally relevant in a year or two.
2. Are you hippies? I don't like hippies. What's the hippie-nerd breakdown at Cal? Are there more hippies than nerds? I really don't like hippies.
Scott Chong: I think I have a greater understanding know of what type of drank "Sippin' on Purple" refers to. To accurately calculate hippie-nerd statistics, you'll have to specify whether you prefer the African or European algorithm.
With regards to our hippie-ness or lack thereof, please keep in mind that we write for a sports blog and cheered wildly when tree-sitting protesters were displaced so that construction could begin on our football stadium.
Norcalnick: The hippy percentage in the current student body is very, very low, seeing as it's a movement that ceased to be culturally relevant something like three decades ago. The hippy-to-everybody-else ratio amongst the rest of the city isn't as high as you'd think from reading the news, but there are enough of them (and they make themselves visible) that it's all a part of the tapestry that makes Berkeley unique. If only you had visited Memorial a few years ago, back when hippies were hanging out in the trees outside the stadium. It was a different time, those halcyon days of 2007 and 2008.
atomsareenough: Well, we do have more than our share of hippies around Berkeley, but the stereotype is getting a bit dated. In fact, a recent article pegged us as just the 3rd most hippie-infested town in the Pac-12. So they're there, but they are much less potent and relevant than they used to be. I'm certainly not a hippie, and I have pretty limited patience for them to be honest. There are definitely wayyyy more nerds (such as myself) than hippies at Cal nowadays.
3. Sonny Dykes. Thoughts?
Scott Chong: Very likable and personable. With one small exception, he's said and done all the right things as a new head football coach. It sounds like he's creating an atmosphere of accountability while also emphasizing team bonding. He's proven as an offensive coach. We're holding our breath that his staff selections on the defensive side of the ball are sound. The schedule and relative youth of the team do him no favors this year. But as long as the team competes, I think Cal fans are willing to be patient.
Norcalnick: He was brought in to fix an offense that had become progressively more stale and unproductive over the last 4-5 years, and there is zero reason to doubt that he can do so. The only question is how long it will take. Expecting instant success for the first game is a little unrealistic, but he's done incredible things before. Beyond that, he's been good from a P.R., availability perspective, and seems happy to be here despite lengthy southern roots. He'll have every chance to succeed at a university that doesn't live and die based on the vagaries of the football season.
atomsareenough: I was initially skeptical of the hire, but other than a couple of extremely minor faux pas, he and his staff have pretty much said and done EXACTLY the right things since the moment they were hired. The more I learn about this offense, the more excited I get. I think Dykes, even though he's a Texas guy, really understands and has embraced what Cal is about, as well as its history and institutions. From the start, he has stressed academics and accountability, and recruiting players that really fit Cal. Based on what I've seen, I think he and his coaching staff have just the right kinds of personalities to turn the program around. I've been very impressed, and am very optimistic right now, thanks to Dykes. Now, of course, we'll see how the season goes and if that feeling is justified by the product on the field.
4. How bitter are you about the 1949 Rose Bowl, in which Northwestern mercilessly dominated Cal?
Scott Chong: Plans are already underway to buy the land and structures which comprise Northwestern University and turn it into the biggest, ugliest strip mall that the universe has ever seen. Even when seen via satellite or from space, we want people to say, "what is that UGLY thing? Northwestern?" and then nod their heads somberly.
Do you want to ask the hippie question again?
Norcalnick: If a 6 point win is considered dominating, then Northwestern's football history truly is as depressing as Cal's. I thought we were the only Milhouse! Is this what it's like when doves cry?
atomsareenough: If by mercilessly dominated, you mean "shamefully stolen", then perhaps we're talking about the same game. In fact I saw an article in the paper just the other day about it, which may educate you Northwestern folks about what type of shenanigans and skullduggery took place in that game. To sum up, yes, we're quite bitter. In fact we're extremely bitter about almost everything Rose Bowl-related at this point. Our fanbase needs one SO badly. So very, very badly.
(Wow, they sound really bitter.)
5. You guys have a new coach, a new true freshman QB, new uniforms, and a recently renovated stadium. Why are you guys reinventing yourselves? What was wrong with the way you were before? Do you have self-esteem issues?
Scott Chong: At Cal, we are proud of our historic academic and athletic accomplishments, but embrace the challenge of striving for continued improvement. We know this may come as a foreign concept to a flyover state in the Midwest, but evolution is a part of life. As far as self-esteem goes, have you noticed that our bell tower, the Campanile, is the 3rd-largest of its kind in the world? That's just a coincidence, of course.
Norcalnick: Well, there was a pretty big need to refresh the program from a coaching perspective. The quarterback was going to be new (and likely a freshman, true or not) anyway. The stadium issue had more to do with seismic safety, and you should be thankful that no Northwestern fans will die if the Big One finally hits on Saturday. In any case, it would've been finished years ago if legal delays hadn't cropped up. The uniforms? Eh. They're still blue, they're still gold. I have, and will continue to, be very confused with how excited/angry/passionate everybody else gets about the damned things.
atomsareenough: Why are we reinventing ourselves? We want Rose Bowls. What was wrong with the way we were before? Not enough Rose Bowls. Do we have self-esteem issues? No. Cal is completely awesome, just slightly Rose Bowl-deficient.
Really, we're not reinventing ourselves though. Lots of respect to Jeff Tedford, as he really modernized the program and laid a great foundation for lasting success, but what he was doing wasn't working anymore, he had lost control of his program, and the time had come for a change. I think Sonny Dykes has really been thoughtful about honoring Cal's traditions and engaging with the Cal community, so that's been a nice change. There was no incumbent at QB, so it was going to be a new guy in a new system regardless. It's refreshing to see the guy who plays best win the job, rather than the guy with the most seniority. The stadium renovation was long, long overdue. It's a 1923 stadium, and in recent years you could really feel the age. It sits on a seismically active fault line, so it needed safety retrofits. The way they did the renovation though, it honors the original classical vision of the stadium, while making it feel modern and new at the same time. It really is the best of old and new. It's not a reinvention as much as it's a restoration.
6. Not only did you guys go 3-9 last year, you also lose, like, all your offensive playmakers and most of your line. Can talented youngsters and Dykes make up for that?
Scott Chong: We're hoping that talent will trump experience in this case. At tailback, we're replacing two solid veterans with a trio of speedsters that all have game-breaking speed. We just hope they've worked on their ball security. The Oline may very well show some growing pains although we hope that the talent is there once the guys gel. At WR, we don't have anyone that can replace Keenan Allen individually. Collectively, this group may be more productive and harder to stop because of their versatility. For the quarterback position, let's just politely say that I think this is a case of addition by subtraction. Since the Dykes/Franklin offense is a simpler and more execution-based than the previous Tedford encyclopedic playbook, we're hopeful that this will also help get the younger players up to speed.
Norcalnick: I mean, there were some talented guys that are gone, but is it really a big problem losing the core of a team that went 3-9? The real question is this: How talented are the Bears, really? For all of his flaws at the end of his tenure, Jeff Tedford consistently had top 25 recruiting classes. From a recruiting ranking point of view, Cal woefully underachieved, and so there's some creedence to the idea that competent coaching will result in a vast improvement in the level of play, similar to the turnaround Jim Mora engineered at UCLA last year.
atomsareenough: In a word, yes. Apart from the loss of Keenan Allen, most of the younger guys inheriting major roles on offense should be as good or better than the guys we lost. We have a really deep receiver corps and a system that will make good use of them. Our running backs are also really quick and exciting, with a lot of big-play potential. The simplicity and relentlessness of the new system should be a huge boon as well. I imagine our playmakers running wild on opposing defenses by 4th quarter. The o-line wasn't very good last year, so I'm not really too worried about replacing those guys. The youngsters are big, strong, and talented, especially Freddie Tagaloa at left tackle. I'm excited to see how he plays.
7. What of the new defensive front? Do you guys have the personnel for it? Are there worries with two cornerbacks drafted last year? Is it likely in better or worse shape than the offense?
Scott Chong: The new defensive front really isn't that new. We moved some OLBs to DE, so we're really using the same personnel. We're just using them in an even front instead of an odd. We didn't ask our guys to one-gap much last year anyway, so that's not a big change either. Depth on the Dline is a concern. Besides Coleman, Moala, and Jalil, we don't have any other experienced tackles. There are significant concerns losing two veteran CBs. Our depth at defensive back is extremely tenuous. Our best safety had a serious concussion in camp, so his availability is unknown. We're going to rely on some very young corners to play in nickel and dime situations. The one area that we expected to be the strength of the team, the linebacking corps, took a serious hit with the news that starting MLB Nick Forbes is out indefinitely with a disc issue in his back. This side of the ball is likely to be in worse shape than the offense.
Norcalnick: The defensive front really should be fine, if it stays healthy. Last year, the front 7 was completely and totally destroyed by injuries - Out of the 14 players on the pre-season two-deep, I think only 1 or 2 stayed healthy the entire year. Oddly, defensive line and linebacker recruiting had been excellent, but injuries prevented them from showing it. All Cal fans are hoping that improved health will make the difference, but the jury is still out. The secondary is (other than perhaps the offensive line) the biggest concern on the team. The starters should be solid, but they can't afford any injuries and a few of the starters have had injury issues in the past. There's some serious concern about Cal's ability to put together a strong nickle package and deal with multiple wide receiver sets. We'll see.
atomsareenough: I think we do have the personnel for it. Shifting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 isn't that big a deal, as our OLBs in the old system have translated pretty well to DE's in the new system. I like that there are two DTs to wreak havoc in the middle as well, which takes the pressure off one guy (usually Deandre Coleman) who was getting double teamed all day at NT in the 3-4 system last year. As you allude to, our main concern is in the secondary. I have plenty of confidence in the starting corners Stefan McClure and Kameron Jackson. They'll step nicely into the shoes of the guys who got drafted. I like our starting safeties as well. The glaring issue is the lack of depth behind them. We've moved a couple of guys to DB to help the unit, including a linebacker to safety and a receiver to corner, but they're still getting up to speed. This is the weakest area of the team, in my opinion.
8. Northwestern fans are riding high. Knock us down with a reasonable argument why Cal can win this game.
Scott Chong: I don't buy the "Northwestern is overrated" pipe dream. Your coach seems to know what he's doing, so your team is unlikely to beat itself. Your offense seems equipped to put up points on anyone. But I'm not so sure how much your defense has improved over last season. On the other hand, all homerism aside, I feel that Cal is underrated because of last year's debacle. This is a team that has significantly better players than a 3-9 squad. There are enough playmakers at tailback and receiver to keep pace with your offense. I also think that we have enough athletes on defense to make you work for your points. This is a hungry, highly-motivated Cal team that has a lot of team speed. If they can limit their mistakes and growing pains due to inexperience, I see this as a pick 'em with the home-field as a possible deciding factor.
Norcalnick: You'll see a longer form of the argument when our preview of Northwestern's defense is published on CGB on Friday, but I think a strong case can be made that Northwestern's secondary isn't ready to deal with multiple wide-recievers and the snap-to-snap speed of a Sonny Dykes offense. The question is if the Bear Raid truly is ready to go on day 1 to exploit a lack of depth in the Wildcat secondary. Beyond that - the history of teams from east of the Mississippi coming to the west coast (or vice-versa, to be honest) is so poor that I don't think it takes a huge stretch to see Cal winning. It only takes a few mistakes here or there to swing a game, and if the Dykes offense is ready to take off on day 1, it's not hard to see Cal emerging with a shoot-out win.
atomsareenough: Cal simply isn't as bad as its 3-9 record would indicate. So much went wrong last year; I'll give you some of the lowlights. Start with the home opener, our first game back to celebrate a newly renovated, glorious, stunning Memorial Stadium. Well, unbeknownst to anybody (including the players on the team until the day before), Coach Tedford decided to bench our starting QB for the first quarter for some academic infraction incurred months prior. Everyone was thrown for a loop, the poor backup was thrown into the fire unprepared, the team came out flat, and next thing we knew we were down by multiple touchdowns to a solid Nevada team. We weren't able to come back, with poor playcalling sealing our fate at the end of the game. We outplayed Ohio State in the Horseshoe, but still came up short, again with poor playcalling in crucial situations. We had a couple of good games in the middle of the year, but after the Big Game beatdown by Stanford, Tedford seemed to have lost the locker room, we started amassing injuries, and the team essentially gave up down the stretch, leading to some really lopsided losses. We put up a fight against Washington, as there have been some hard feelings between the two teams lately, but other than that it was pretty ugly. Still, we're sitting on three or four top-25/30ish recruiting classes, so there's plenty of talent. In contrast to Tedford's complex schematic approach, which was thoughtful but hard to absorb and execute in a college setting, the new systems on both sides of the ball under Dykes are all about fundamentals, execution, and speed. That should allow our talent to shine through a little better. Everyone seems to have bought in to the new approach immediately, and I think we will be a lot more disciplined, resilient, and dangerous this year.
9. Okay, but now that you did that: do you expect Cal to win this game, even in Week 1 of a new era with a frosh under the gun? What's your prediction?
Scott Chong: I expect a shoot-out. It's going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes...whether it's turnovers, special teams, blown assignments, or even an (cough) awful official's call. Pick the over and saddle up for a great game. I can't predict a home-opening loss, so I'll go with Cal, 41-34.
Norcalnick: No, I don't expect a win. Northwestern is something like a touchdown favorite (I haven't checked recently) and that seems about right to me. I think, unless one team decides to turn it over a bunch, that it should be a one score game that isn't decided until the 4th quarter. And I think the story will end up being which thin secondary is better able to slow down the other team in obvious passing situations. Cal has just enough injury concerns on defense that I'd pick Northwestern 38, Cal 34. But not much would surprise me, because Cal football is a complete wild-card at the moment.
atomsareenough: Yes, I expect Cal to win this game, even in Week 1 of a new era with a frosh under the gun. I'm not 100% confident of course, as Northwestern is a very good team that plays smart and was competitive in every single game last year. Cal is a very young team, and we're very early on our learning curve this year with completely new systems on both sides of the ball and not a lot of experience, so I can easily imagine us losing. But what kind of alum/fan wants to imagine that? The way to get a new era kicked off right is with a victory! Besides, it's at home at beautiful Memorial Stadium, we have the mystery of a new scheme to work to our advantage, and we absolutely, without a doubt, have the talent to win. Even though Jared Goff is a freshman, he's been here since spring, the offense isn't that complicated, and some of the reads and calls have been outsourced to the center, making his job a little easier. He has demonstrated the quick decision-making skills, accuracy, and consistency to be very successful in this system. Plus he seems to have that unflappable demeanor that a QB needs to have to forget the last play and move onto the next. My prediction is that it will take a few series for the Bears to settle down, and we may be in a bit of a hole after a quarter or two, but we will come roaring back and score 30+ points. You'd better hope your guys can score more than we do.