BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — For California, this past offseason was about far more than changing coaches. The Golden Bears have undergone a complete overhaul in philosophy.
After four seasons of a spread offense under Sonny Dykes that was prolific at times but was too often overshadowed by a porous defense, the Bears are rebuilding with a defensive-minded coach in Justin Wilcox.
“It’s going to look a lot different,” senior linebacker Raymond Davison said. “I think a lot of people are going to be pleasantly surprised. … My expectations are high. If I’m a Cal fan, I’d look forward to watching this defense this year.”
That was not the case under Dykes. Cal ranked 125th in total defense, 127th in scoring defense and 122nd in yards per play last season out of 128 FBS teams. That led to a 5-7 record that was the third losing mark in Dykes’ four seasons.
In all, Cal never finished higher than 102nd in the nation in yards per play allowed under Dykes.
But under a head coach who spent the past 11 seasons as a defensive coordinator and helped Wisconsin finish seventh in total defense and fourth in scoring defense last season, the Bears hope that will improve.
“Sometimes change is the best thing,” senior cornerback Darius Allensworth said. “When there’s change you can’t do anything about the change other than embrace it. So we embraced the change and we’re ready to get behind Coach Wilcox and have him lead us to the promised land.”
That won’t be a quick process as Cal must replace quarterback Davis Webb and leading receiver Chad Hansen, rebuild an offensive line that returns only one starter and replenish a defensive roster that lacked depth under Dykes.
“We’ve made significant strides but we have to continue to do that,” Wilcox said. “We’re not where we need to be.”
Here are some other things to watch this season for the Golden Bears:
QB BATTLE: After having NFL draft picks at quarterback the past four seasons with Jared Goff and Webb, the Bears figure to be less talented under center this season. Chase Forest and Ross Bowers were the leaders after spring ball despite neither one throwing a single pass last season. Freshman Chase Garbers also is part of the mix and Wilcox was uncertain when he would pick a starter. Whoever it is will have to deal with a rebuilt offensive line that returns only player with more than four career starts.
BIG-PLAY THREATS: The quarterback will have some talented skill players surrounding him, led by sophomore receiver Demetris Robertson. The former five-star recruit had 50 catches for 767 yards and seven TDs last season. Tre Watson (709 yards rushing in 2016) and Vic Enwere (336 yards) give the Bears a dual threat in the backfield.
KEY GAMES: Cal has a tough five-week stretch early in the season starting with a home game against a Mississippi team that could still be reeling from the summer firing of coach Hugh Freeze. A home game against Pac-12 favorite USC comes next, followed by trips to Oregon and Washington and a Friday night home game against Washington State. The Bears finish the season with trips to Stanford for the Big Game and then UCLA.
SEASON OPENER: Wilcox doesn’t get a chance at an easy tuneup to start the season with the Bears traveling cross-country for the usually tough early morning Pacific time start against North Carolina on Sept. 2.
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