California added an exclamation point on what should be viewed as a successful 2015 season on Tuesday by airing it out in an Armed Forces Bowl victory over Air Force in Fort Worth. Junior quarterback Jared Goff passed for six touchdowns in a 55-36 win. A season that had the goal of getting to the postseason ended with a bowl victory, the first for Cal since the 2008 season, and that should serve the program well moving forward despite the unknowns to come.
After just missing out on the postseason fun last season, this year’s Cal squad made it a mission to reach the postseason and send the seniors out on top. Cal jumped out to a 5-0 start out of the gates of the 2015 season, including a nail-biter of a win with a 45-44 thriller at Texas and back-to-back one-score victories over Pac-12 North foes Washington and Washington State. The Huskies and Cougars each went on to win bowl games this season as well, which adds some validity to Cal’s success this season. After a 34-28 victory against Washington State, Cal hit a snag in the carpets of the 2015 season.
A battle of unbeaten teams between Cal and Utah was given big-game treatment, and deservingly so with both Cal and Utah off to the best starts among Pac-12 members at the time. Cal’s offense imploded in the road game though with turnover after turnover and the Utes handed Cal its first loss of the year, 30-24. A losing streak unfolded pretty quickly in the aftermath as UCLA and USC each handed Cal a loss in the two games following the road trip to Salt Lake City, and a road game at Oregon came at a bad time as the Ducks were rediscovering their offense and getting on their own little hot streak. All of a sudden, 5-0 Cal turned into a 5-4 team in desperate need of a win to accomplish the mission of getting to a bowl. Fortunately, Oregon State came to town at just the right time. Cal’s 54-24 victory over Oregon State clinched bowl eligibility before games with eventual Pac-12 champion Stanford and a home game against Arizona State wrapped up the season.
Cal may not have defeated rival Stanford this year, meaning the senior class never once touched the ax, but Cal established some offensive momentum heading into the bowl season with a regular season finale victory over Arizona State, winning a fun 48-46 game at home.
Cal has come a long way in a short period of time. Not too long ago, Cal was 1-11. Now they are a bowl winner. The momentum has swung in a positive direction and the bar has been raised. What happens in 2016 will be key to keeping the progress moving. In addition to Cal’s senior class, Cal may have to find a new starting quarterback. Goff, after a record-setting bowl game and season (most TD passes in a bowl game in Cal history and in Armed Forces Bowl history, Pac-12’s single-season TD passing record), many believe Goff has played his final game in a Cal uniform and he will likely enter the 2016 NFL Draft as one of the top quarterback prospects to be drafted. Sonny Dykes has already been given a contract extension though, so he will be given an opportunity to craft the roster to his liking as Cal looks to take the next step forward.
What is the next step forward for Cal? Beating Stanford and/or Oregon to claim a Pac-12 North title should be the next goal.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.