by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Once again, Cal football has arrived at a crossroads. Over the history of the program, these types of developments have not been uncommon; turbulence and uncertainty were once expected from Golden Bear football. It’s just that Cal fans haven’t had to worry about such things for most of HC Jeff Tedford’s previous nine seasons in charge.

Things, however, are a bit different this fall in Berkeley. For the first time since 2003 (Tedford’s second year at the helm), Cal enters a campaign off a bowl-less season. Moreover, Berkeley itself won’t be involved in any college football festivities this fall. With long-awaited renovations finally commencing at aging Memorial Stadium in Strawberry Canyon, the Golden Bears have been forced to temporarily relocate across the bay, with home games to be played at both Candlestick Park (home of the 49ers) and AT&T Park (home of the Giants). Tedford’s troops will also be competing in what looks like the tougher of the Pac-12's new split divisions, the North (with 2010 top five finishers Oregon and Stanford), this season.

But the fact the renovations have finally begun in Strawberry Canyon must be satisfying to Tedford, who has railed for improved facilities over the course of his tenure at Cal, which began in 2002. Although they have been talking about upgrades to Memorial Stadium for several decades, due mainly to the fact it sits right above the Hayward Fault, which has gradually been pulling the stadium apart since it was constructed in 1923. The most important changes to the rebuilt structure involve a comprehensive seismic retrofit that includes cutting the stadium into large independent structures and building new bridging sections that rest upon floating mats where they pass over and near the fault, with appropriate sliding connections between the sections for the safety of spectators. Other football facility upgrades are finally in process as well, all of which has been an important bargaining chip in the past for Tedford, promised such improvements at various times over the past decade in hopes of warding off the many suitors (including Notre Dame, Washington, and various NFL parties) who have been interested in stealing away the Golden Bears’ head coach.

Yet there is much concern in the East Bay that the Tedford regime has perhaps run its course. The trendline since reaching a high-water mark with a 10-2 record in 2004 (Tedford’s third year on the job) has been unmistakable, culminating in last year’s 5-7 mark, made all the more painful when Washington scored a TD on the final play in the last game of the regular season to secure a 16-13 win and send the Huskies, and not the Golden Bears, into the Holiday Bowl, culminating a 1-4 run to conclude the campaign that also included a brutal 48-14 home beatdown courtesy local rival Stanford. When including depressing efforts at the end of the 2009 campaign vs. the same Huskies and Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl, Tedford’s Cal enters 2011 having lost 9 of its last 14 games. Moreover, Tedford’s once guru-like status as a QB tutor, which reached its apex in his first three years at Berkeley when turning Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers into NFL first-round selections after impressive work with Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, and several other QBs at previous stops in his coaching career, has taken a hit over the past six years. For the most part, his recent Cal QBs have dramatically underachieved.

Further, Tedford’s ability to dominate rival Stanford, which granted him extra insulation in his early years on the job, is no longer a given with the Cardinal’s recent rise to national prominence, which has also been a real thorn in the side of longtime Bears backers.

Thus, would Cal and Tedford (whose contract buyout is reportedly close to eight figures) both benefit from a change? Much depends on what unfolds this fall.

Not since Tedford’s first year, in 2002, have the Golden Bears been flying this far under the radar entering the fall. Tedford, sensing the urgency attached to the approaching campaign, made some not-so-subtle staff changes in the offseason, the most important being the dismissal of o.c. Andy Ludwig. Replacement Jim Michalczik returns to Tedford’s staff after two years as the Oakland Raiders’ OL coach, and immediately set about finding a QB in spring after the graduation of 3-year starter Kevin Riley, now with the CFL’s B.C. Lions. Holdover Brock Mansion, unimpressive in limited work last season when throwing just 2 TD passes and 5 picks, seemed to be overtaken in spring by a U of Buffalo transfer, southpaw Zach Maynard, who in the past had been running a version of the spread option for the Bulls, including when passing for 18 TDs in 2009. Expect Tedford and Michalczik to incorporate more spread option into the base West Coast schemes while trying to take advantage of Maynard’s mobility, superior to that of Mansion and the best for a Cal QB since Reggie Rutherford, a contributor for some of Tedford’s earliest Berkeley versions. Another 2010 backup QB, Beau Sweeney, who was expected to contend for the starting job, instead decided to transfer at the conclusion of spring drills.

Still, the offense has an unsettled look about it, even beyond the new o.c. and QB. The attack’s main catalyst in 2010, RB Shane Vereen, will be toting the pigskin for the New England Patriots this fall after being taken in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft, and replacing his 1167 YR and big-play dimension might not be easy. Junior Isi Sofele, who gained 338 YR a year ago while caddying for Vereen, looks to be the heir apparent featured back, but at just 5'7 and 188 lbs., his durability must come into question, and no other runners hinted at potential star status in spring work. It’s hoped that a veteran OL will be in better shape in the fall than it was in spring, when LT Mitchell Schwartz and C Dominic Gallas sat out with injuries, and Michalczik, who also doubles as the line coach, began to alter blocking assignments. Top-line wideouts Marvin Jones (50 catches LY) and Keenan Allen (46 receptions in 2010) are both rangy and experienced targets, while another tall pass catcher, 6'3 sr. Michael Calvin, impressed in spring and hinted at a possible breakthrough campaign if he can avoid the injuries that have slowed him in the past.

Fewer questions seem to exist for the Cal defense, which for the most part held its own last season under 1st-year d.c. Clancy Pendergast, who came to Berkeley after an extended stint in the NFL that included coordinator posts with the Cardinals (in their Super Bowl season) and the Chiefs. Pendergast’s familiarity with Cal’s 3-4 defense had something to do with his appointment, although replacing the platoon’s most-impactful presence, DE Cameron Jordan, a first-round pick of the Saints in April’s NFL Draft, will be crucial in the fall. How quickly touted frosh NT Viliami Moala, a 340-lb. moose, contributes as anticipated makes it possible the Bears could have a dominant defensive front even minus Jordan, especially if sr. DE Trevor Guyton continues the disruptive form he flashed when moving into the starting lineup late last season. The expected strength of the platoon rests in the deep and mobile LB corps that lost ILB Mike Mohamed to the NFL Draft (Broncos’ 6th-round pick) but figures to get a boost from the addition of OLB Cecil Whiteside, a ballyhooed 2010 recruit who didn’t qualify academically a year ago. With several movable parts at the LB spots, Pendergast is likely to shift sr. Mychal Kendricks from outside to inside to team with rugged 250-lb. sr. D.J. Holt, providing plenty of experience at ILB. Pendergast has to replace another NFL draftee, S Chris Conte (Bears 3rd round), in the secondary, but returning CBs Steve Williams & Marc Anthony hinted at elite status a year ago.

Summary...About the only thing that seems to be enduring with Cal football these days is excitable play-by-play man Joe Starkey, who begins his 37th season behind the microphone this fall. Otherwise, things are certainly different than a few years ago in Berkeley, with the defense now considered as the more-featured of the two platoons, and the offense now full of question marks. Moreover, the Bears essentially go on the road for all of their games this season as Memorial Stadium undergoes extensive renovations. With a new QB (Buffalo transfer Maynard) and offensive coordinator (Michalczik), plus replacing last year’s big-play element at RB, Shane Vereen, it’s hard to expect much improvement on the attack end, so it might be up to Pendergast’s defense to get the Bears back into the bowl mix after their postseason run ended at seven a year ago. The natives, however, are getting restless, as even the string of minor bowls prior to last season’s postseason miss had Cal supporters wondering if the program had gone stale under Jeff Tedford’s watch, which also includes just one winning pointspread record (9-4 in 2008) in the past six seasons.

Return To Home Page