It was time for a change at Cal and that’s exactly what 2017 will bring with defensive-focused Justin Wilcox taking over as head coach. Joining him is former Fresno State head coach Tim Deruyter at defensive coordinator and former Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin on the offensive side.
There’s hope on the horizon, but it’s going to take a couple years for the Golden Bears to truly make a dent in the standings after annually being one of the worst defenses in the nation. Offensively, they’ve always been good, but even with quarterback Davis Webb (now with New York Giants) last year, the team only managed five wins and that was in a down year for the Pac-12 after getting wins over Utah, Oregon and UCLA. Quarterback was undecided in the spring and probably won’t be decided until the fall with Ross Bowers and Chase Forrest competing for the spot. Neither has much experience, so it’s likely the offense will focus on the ground Game as much as possible between Tre Watson (709 yards, 4 TDs) and Vic Enwere (336 yards, 2 TDs). They return three linemen and that should be enough to get some kind of consistency offensively. Receiver is a bit unknown, but speedster Demetris Robertson will likely be the top guy along with Melquise Stovall.
This team is going to look a lot different than a year ago, so expecting it to be another season with shootout after shootout would be a mistake. The defense isn’t going to become elite overnight, but switching to a 3-4 scheme, things will look different for a group that gave up 272.9 rushing yards per Game. To help, the Bears return most of their top tacklers and have experience at every unit. Linebacker Cameron Saffle and tackle James Looney hope to be the difference makers while safety LUke Rubenzer locks down the back of the defense. There’s a lot of questions for this group, especially switching to a new scheme, so it’s really unknown what they’ll look like by season’s end.
What doesn’t help is a difficult Schedule with two non-Conference losses likely having to face UNC and Ole Miss. Pac-12 play doesn’t get easier with USC in the opener and then having to travel up north to Oregon and Washington in back-to-back weeks. Before another rough two-Game stretch to close the season, the Golden Bears get a few winnable contests with Wazzu, Arizona and Oregon State all coming to town. While that’s nice, it still won’t be enough for Cal to reach six wins and a bowl Game.
The Golden Bears have +8500 odds (at 5Dimes Sportsbook) to win the Conference for a reason. This team is in rebuild and six wins seem like a big task. Projected to finish just ahead of the Beavers in the North division, the Golden Bears will look much different this season, but that doesn’t mean that’ll lead to more wins. With a new quarterback in place, Four or five wins looks most likely again.
2017 California Golden Bears Football Schedule
Sept. 2 at North Carolina
Sept. 9 vs. Weber State
Sept. 16 vs. Ole Miss
Sept. 23 vs. USC
Sept. 30 at Oregon
Oct. 7 at Washington
Oct. 13 vs. Washington State
Oct. 21 vs. Arizona
Oct. 28 at Colorado
Nov. 4 vs. Oregon State
Nov. 18 at Stanford
Nov. 24 at UCLA