By Rock Mayock 1:30 p.m. | The start of a new football season in Berkeley means only one thing: When does the “Will Jeff Tedford Get Fired Watch” begin. Although extremely cynical, the Tedford Watch is not without merit. The past 8 years in Berkeley have been excruciating to watch. So much hope, so many good prospects but it never translates on the field. Will 2012 be any different? Let’s take a look at the prospects.
OVERVIEW: In 2012 Jeff Tedford will be entering his 11th season as the Cal head football coach thereby making him the most tenured coach in the Pac-12 (Mike Riley’s departure from return to OSU do not count). During his tenure Tedford has amassed a 79-48 regular season record, a 48-38 conference record and a 5-3 bowl record. His conference record and bowl record have created a love/hate relationship with Cal fans. On one hand he can win the big game, but on the other hand he rarely wins The Big Game let alone a significant contest with a conference opponent. Although Tedford has the most wins recorded of any Cal head coach and is the highest paid public employee in the State of California, his contract is only valid through 2015. Many alum are demanding a top tier coach to rejuvenate the football program like the $500 million renovation rejuvenated Cal Memorial Stadium. It would seem the cards are in Tedford’s favor to produce a winning season with a first or second tier bowl game. With the exception of two tough early season road games (09/15 @ Ohio State and 09/22 @ USC) Cal has a favorable schedule that features their toughest in Division opponents at home. Let’s see what Jeff has going for him.
OFFENSE: The good news is that year’s offense returns mostly intact. Entering his second year as the Cal starting QB, Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard looks to improve upon a solid second half of the 2011 season. The key for Maynard will be to reduce the number of interceptions and fumbles that plagued him throughout 2011. Part of the turnover problem was due to poor utilization of his atypical (at least for the Cal offensive scheme) athleticism and the other part was holding onto the ball too long to make things happen. He will need to improve his decision making because Zach Kline is waiting in the wings to take Maynard’s job. It’s like the Zach Attack sans Slater, Kelly and Screech.
More good news for Cal, last year’s leading rusher Isi Sofele is back as well. Even though Sofele gained 1,322 yards on the ground in 2011 he remains the most underrated running back in the Pac-12. Joining Sofele in the backfield will be a group of very talented backs that include CJ Anderson, Brandon Bigelow and Daniel Lasco. As Tedford has demonstrated with his recent string of running backs (Marshawn Lynch, Javid Best, JJ Arrington) he has a uncanny knack for identifying and developing NFL caliber talent.
Even more good news for Cal, they will be returning 60% of one of the better offensive lines in Conference. The line will be anchored by returning starters Brian Schwenke, Dominic Galas, and Matt Summers-Gavin. Tyler Rigsbee and Bill Tyndall will be vying for the all important left tackle position throughout Fall Ball while Geoff Gibson and Jordan Rigsbee will be competing at right tackle. The primary focus for OL Coach Jim Michalczik will be to improve upon the 28 sacks given up in 2011. The pressure on the QB is a primary contributor for the Bears’ terrible turnover margin (-9) and conference pass efficiency rating (10th).
The one area where the Cal offense took a hit was at the wide receiver position. Last year’s incredible receiving tandem of Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones was broken up when Jones moved on to the NFL (Bengals, 5th Round, Pick 31). The Bears will need to find a way to replace Jones’ 2011 production of 62 receptions, 846 yards and 3 TDs. More importantly they will need to find a way to counter the double team that Allen is sure to draw with Jones absent. Luckily the Bears are deep with young athletes at the wide out position. Incoming freshman Maurice Harris, Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler could all make an immediate impact in the same capacity that Marqise Lee did his freshman year at USC.
Ultimately the success or demise of the Cal offense falls squarely upon Tedford. Tedford has shown a penchant for getting too cute and too smart with his offensive game planning instead doing what his offense does best: Move the ball quickly and get the ball into the hands of his skill players. The run game is above average and will alleviate the pass rush that ate Maynard alive in 2011. Therefore Tedford should use Maynard’s athleticism to move him around in the pocket and get the ball down field to a group of fast receivers. If Tedford uses this formula the Cal offense will flourish in 2012.
DEFENSE: Unlike the offense, the Cal defense lost tons of talent to the NFL at the end of last season. Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks (Eagles, 2nd Round, Pick 46), DJ Holt (Redskins, undrafted fee agent), Trevor Guyton (Vikings, 7 Round, Pick 219), Sean Cattouse (Chargers, undrafted free agent), DJ Campbell (Panthers, Round 7, Pick 9), and Ernest Owusu (Vikings, undrafted free agent) have all left for the NFL. This mass exodus of talent has become the norm over the last couple of seasons yet Cal has managed to maintain its position as the Pac-12’s #1 ranked defense three years straight. How have the done it? Clancy Pendergast is an upper echelon defensive coordinator, Cal recruits blue chip prospects and they routinely get underclassmen game time playing experience.
2012’s Defense will be particularly deep at both defensive line and the secondary. The D-Line is highlighted by the 6’5” 311lbs defensive end Deandre Coleman who is turning into a game planning nightmare for offensive coordinators. Aaron Tipoti (DE/T) is another emerging star and Kendrick Payne, Mustafa Jalil (DE) as well as Vilami Moala will provide added depth to Pendergast’s 3-4 defense.
The secondary is young, fast and aggressive. Josh Hill has moved from corner to free safety to make room for top flight corners Marc Anthony, Stefan McClure, and Steve Williams. The strong safety position is still up from grabs between Alex Logan and Avery Sebastian (formerly Walls). Overall the secondary will be two deep with exceptional talent at every position which is crucial in the pass happy Pac-12.
Rounding out the defense is a line backing corps that lost Kendricks and Holt. Seniors JP Hurrell and Robert Mullins have experience at the inside positions but youngsters Nick Forbes, Jason Gibson, Jalen Jefferson and David Wilkerson will all compete for playing time. The outside positions will be competed for by returning starters Chris McCain and Dan Camporeale in addition Brennan Scarlett (returning from knee surgery) and Cecil Whiteside. Scarlett can also play from the DE position due to his exceptional outside pass rushing capabilities.
This will be the Bears’ third season running Pendergast’s 3-4 defensive scheme and the defense is only getting better. The healthy mix of veterans and youth has made the year over year personnel turnover minimally impactful to the performance of the defense. It will be necessary for the Bears’ defense to continue to play at an elevated level in 2012 to allow the offense an opportunity to establish itself. However if the offense adheres to its propensity for turning the ball over it may be too much of a burden for the defense to shoulder.
Due to the convergence of several key elements 2012 can be a breakthrough year for Jeff Tedford and the Golden Bears. The newly renovated Cal Memorial Stadium will be unveiled on September 1. Cal’s 2011 roster returns largely intact. The Bears enjoy 7 home games which include division opponents Stanford, Oregon and Washington. Basically all of the pieces are in place for Tedford to lead his Bears to the Pac-12 Championship Game. If Tedford is unable to deliver the people of Berkeley will rightfully demand change. Unfortunately for Jeff Tedford he will not be able to get out of his own way. The demonstrated pattern of overthinking plays and outguessing himself will lead the Bears to a winning season, just not good enough of a winning season.
7-5, 3rd in the Pac-12 North
Photo: AP Photo/Denis Poroy