So I have the unique benefit of having played in the Tony Franklin offense in high school. I even went to his camp when he was the offensive coordinator at Troy University. Franklin also calls his offense the “system”, and not going to lie this is all I could think of at that camp when he handed out “The Tony Franklin System” t-shirts to us on the first day of camp. (For those that may be curious, it said “Fast, Fight, Finish” on the back). Anyway, that doesn’t have much to do with the upcoming Cal season, but it’s worth noting that Franklin has done a much better job with the Golden Bears’ offense than he did with Auburn’s in 2008.
The Pac-12 has been known for its strong quarterback play the past few seasons, and Jared Goff deserves to be included in that list. In the USC preview, I said that Cody Kessler was the most underrated quarterback in the country in 2014, but Goff might have a strong claim to that uncoveted prize too. Jared Goff was less than 30 yards away from 4,000 passing yards last season and threw five times as many touchdowns as interceptions (35 to 7 for those of you who, like me, need the full numbers).
With Kenny Lawler and Bryce Treggs, Goff has two of his top three targets from last season back. Both Lawler and Treggs were targeted over 80 times last season and they both caught over 50 of those targets. Lawler turned his receptions into 701 yards, with Treggs a little behind him at 583 yards. Big play threat Stephen Anderson returns at the “Y” receiver. Anderson caught 46 passes for 661 yards last season.
The Golden Bears also get the benefit of returning a 1,000-yard rusher. Daniel Lasco rushed for over 1,100 yards last season and twelve touchdowns. He should be the primary ball carrier again this season, but it is nice to have his top two backups back again too. Khalfani Muhammad and Vic Enwere rushed for a combined 408 yards and six touchdowns last season. Enwere, a sophomore, also showed some good burst averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
Even with three linemen with double-digit career starts, the line is the one thing that could prevent this offense from hitting its full potential. Both guards Jordan Rigsbee and Chris Borrayo return, as does left tackle Steven Moore. All three of these guys have 16 or more starts and weigh 300+ pounds. However, right tackle Brian Farley is the only other member of the line with any starting experience, and he has only one career start.
Cal’s defensive line does return its top three tacklers and 2013 standout Kyle Kragen returns after missing the 2014 season. However, the brightest player on the line may be Wake Forest transfer James Looney. Looney, a sophomore, is the brother of San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Joe Looney. He will join Mustafa Jalil as the starting interior defensive linemen.
The linebacking corps also benefits from getting all of its starters back. All three of those topped 45 tackles last season and two of the three topped five tackle for loss. This group doesn’t really get to the quarterback though, and I’m not sure if that’s part of the scheme or something that actually needs to be worked on in training camp. As a matter of fact, no player on the front seven had more than three sacks last season, and I’m fairly confident that isn’t a scheme thing.
Pass defense was a major Achilles’ heel for the Golden Bears in 2014. They ranked dead last in passing defense, and unfortunately only marginal improvement in the secondary seems likely. Dykes seems set on running with the Darii (Darius Allensworth and Darius White) at cornerback. The pair had a combined one pick and nine passes broken up last season. Sonny Dykes has admitted that the safety position is pretty unsettled though, which is a major concern only two weeks out from opening day.
Even with Goff and the other offensive weapons, my fear is that the schedule and the defense might cause this team a step back this season. After the opener against Grambling State, there are no easy wins on Cal’s schedule. San Diego State is a tough game at home and then a trip to Texas the following week is also bound to be a tough game as well. Home dates against Washington State and Oregon State are the most likely sources for the Bears to pick up a conference win, but the remaining winnable games will probably all have to come on the road.