Ladies, gentlemen and anyone else who loves the blue and gold: Our long-awaited fall football season is here. The Cal football team will once again take center stage in Memorial Stadium when Nevada visits Berkeley on Sept. 4.
Cal will look to match its win total from 2020 and improve on what was perhaps the strangest season in recent memory. To any and all who watched the Bears last year, it was clear that little could have gone worse for such a popular dark horse Pac-12 title game contender. Injuries, fluctuations in scheme and just plain old bad luck got the best of Cal in the 2020 season.
But here’s the bright side: If there is ever a season to “write off,” an abbreviated COVID-19 year is probably it. Losses to UCLA (on short notice), Oregon State and Stanford (by a hair) tend not to sting as badly when a win over a nationally ranked Oregon team is also considered.
Moving forward, the Bears must build off last year’s temperamental success and create some momentum. This season does not look to be any less challenging of a slate either. Cal will have to make trips to Fort Worth, Texas; Seattle, Washington; and Eugene, Oregon in its opening weeks.
While the full schedule may look intimidating, especially after a four-game season last year, there is little reason to fret over the blue and gold’s ability to succeed. Over the last nine or so months, the Bears have boasted massive amounts of improvement.
The defense, bolstered by increased depth in the front seven, will likely be the strength of the team once again. The adage “defense wins championships” is one that Cal hopes will ring true for the team in the coming season. Stars such as Kuony Deng, Cameron Goode and Elijah Hicks will lead the unit — all three were recently placed on the Senior Bowl watchlist.
The defense will also be reinforced by the return of Luc Bequette — a seventh-year senior returning from a one-year stint at Boston College for possibly his final season of college football. With a rejuvenated defensive line, which was Cal’s weak point in 2020, and senior leadership and talent at all three levels, the Bears will return to the field as one of the nation’s top defenses.
However, there’s often a forgotten line of that adage as well: “Offense sells tickets.” In part, that is what second-year coordinator Bill Musgrave will look to do as well.
Continuing his process of defining California football with a classic pro-style offense, Musgrave will likely lean on the dynamic backfield the Bears have put together, with a three-back rotation of Damien Moore, Marcel Dancy and Christopher Brooks. Senior quarterback Chase Garbers will also add his rushing and passing ability to the fray, hoping to improve upon his 15-9 record as a starter.
Newer faces such as wideout Justin Richard Baker, accompanied by returning receiving threats such as Kekoa Crawford and Nikko Remigio, should provide a breath of fresh air into Cal’s passing game, which averaged less than 200 yards a game in 2020.
Overall, the Bears look poised to finally return to form in 2021. There is significantly less national buzz surrounding the team this year, but perhaps that may be for the best. A true dark horse candidate appears out of nowhere, and this Cal team will have a load more experience than most teams in the Pac-12.
Barring injury or coronavirus-related catastrophes, this team is perfectly poised to make a deep run. A veteran team, led by a veteran coaching staff and injected with new talent, could make the squad one to be on the lookout for. As such, a Pac-12 championship appearance, and perhaps even a Rose Bowl appearance, looms large over the Bears.