UCLA Game Was Cal's Happy Ending (Probably)

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By David Bush, Staff Writer
Posted Nov 28, 2016
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2017 BearInsider.com


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The victory over UCLA on Saturday put a nice finish on what was otherwise a disappointing season for head coach Sonny Dykes and the Cal football team.

Some losses in games that were winnable until the final gun (San Diego State, Arizona State, Oregon State) left Cal with little margin for error to obtain the six victories necessary to obtain bowl eligibility. They fell short.

At 5-7, the Bears still have a slim chance for a postseason invitation. Athletic director Mike Williams told some supporters last week that if Cal beat UCLA the chances were better than even that a bowl bid was possible. The team certainly did its part, dismantling the Bruins. But developments elsewhere over the weekend may have lowered those odds considerably.

A slew of teams, including Northwestern, Indiana, Maryland,.Vanderbilt, Boston College, UTSA and Southern Miss., all won Saturday to move to 6-6 and take up some of the 80 bowl slots.

A week ago it looked as if many as six bowl bids might be available to 5-7 teams like Cal. That number is now down to probably three depending on games this weekend. One criteria for choosing among those team is APR (Academic Progress Report). Cal has done considerably better in that measurement since Dykes arrived, but still might not be good enough. Mississippi State, North Texas and Texas (which lost to Cal and fired its coach) all have better four-year APR's than the Bears.

The first two schools are quite likely to accept invitations if offered. Texas, maybe not, given the school's pride -- lesser bowls don't have an appeal in Austin witness Mack Brown lobbying Cal out of the Rose Bowl a dozen years ago. Also the coaching change might give the Longhorns a reason to pass. That could be Cal's only shot.

Some members of the media and influential alums are all right with the Bears staying home. They have an attitude (similar to Texas') that taking a sub .500 team to a lesser bowl is beneath the Bears' dignity. But the players are certainly all in favor of getting another chance to suit up, run on a field and perform in front of family, friends and whatever TV audience there might be. Isn't this all supposed to be done to benefit the student-athlete?

And you know Dykes would be on board with that. The game itself would be great for him, but what he wants more than another afternoon on the sidelines is the two weeks of extra practice time. Coaching staff view those as invaluable, as much a chance to prepare for next year as the bowl game itself.

Speaking of next year, the Bears have some intriguing questions to deal with in the off season.

Dykes' status has been the object of some discussion, but if he leaves it will be for greener (for him) pastures and probably not now. After signing him to an extension just a year ago, Williams is not about to fire him even if he felt like doing that.

A total of 16 seniors played (probably) their final game for Cal. Many of them will be hard to replace, none more than the one who was around the least: quarterback Davis Webb, who made his one season in Berkeley literally one for the books.

He passed for 4,295 yards and 38 touchdowns, both second best single season marks in school history. He also threw for more than 300 yards nine times.

“He has meant a lot, he has bridged the gap between Jared (Goff) and some of the younger guys we've got on campus,” Dykes said in his post-game remarks Saturday. “He did so about as well as you could, in terms of his work ethic, attitude and approach. He's a pro, he really is. He's one of those guys that gets it.

“I can't say enough good things about him. His impact will be felt in our program for a long time, just in terms of his work ethic and dedication. I think he's a great example for the rest of our players, especially our quarterbacks, about the time it takes to be a quarterback at this level. … He meant the world to us. He had a great year and has a really bright future in front of him.”

Which brings up the question about who replaces him in 2017. Dykes has plenty of options. The front-runners are Chase Forrest and Ross Browers, who will be a junior and sophomore respectively next year. They were even on the depth chart (at least the one handed to the media) all year. Forrest played some as Goff's backup in 2015, Bowers was the one who went in for mop-up duty Saturday.

Coming out of last spring, Bowers might have had a slight edge, but no one was paying much attention because Webb was in the wings.

Also freshmen Victor Viramontes and Max Gilliam were around all year and should get a long look as sophomores. With all these bodies ahead of him, incoming freshman Chase Garbers probably will redshirt, but who knows. As we have seen, Dykes is not afraid of playing a true freshman quarterback.

Whoever plays quarterback will be helped immeasurably if wide receiver Chad Hansen returns for his senior year rather than opting for the NFL draft. Hansen has been coy about his plans, saying he will postpone a decision until after the season is officially done.

Some feel Hansen, who had not been given a chance to showcase his considerable skills until this year, would be better off with another college season. As impressive as it is, his resume is a short one. Another banner year at Cal could boost his draft status.

On the other hand, who knows if he can duplicate his year without Webb? The two had developed a remarkable rapport and the QB always looked first in his direction. A big part of Hansen's success was Webb's accuracy, particularly with the long ball.

Other factors could be at play, including academic goals, just plain affection for the school and campus life.

If he leaves, there will be a hole to fill, but certainly not a void. Demetris Robertson had a remarkable freshman season and will give whoever is throwing a legitimate deep threat. Vic Wharton III, Brandon Singleton, Raymond Hudson, Jack Austin and Melquise Stovall give Dykes a quality bunch of returning receivers.

Running back Khalfani Muhammad went out by having probably his best game as a Bear (29 carries, 121 yards), but Tre Watson and Vic Enwere (who missed the last half of the season with an injury) are back. So is 310-pound fullback Malik McMorris, who began the season as a novelty and finished it as a productive offensive player.

The offensive line loses five-year veteran Steven Moore and talented Chris Borrayo, but has plenty of returning talent.

The defense, of course, had its problems, and its woeful performance has many Cal followers calling for coordinator Art Kaufman's head. Two years ago he took over a unit that was bad and it has just gotten worse.

When asked about Kaufman's status Saturday, Dykes gave the stock coaches' answer of “Everyone will be evaluated at the end of the year.”

The Bears did sustain a considerable number of injuries, something Dykes pointed out repeatedly the last few weeks. Whether that was the only reason for the defensive shortcomings is subject to debate.

Assuming everyone gets healthy for next year, Cal returns a large number of experienced players, including some who received on-the-job training this year. Defensive end DeVante Wilson, nickel back Cameron Walker and safety Khari Vanerbilt are the only significant losses on defense.

The top-notch defensive performance against UCLA and the promise of a brighter future will probably work in Kaufman's favor.

Place kicker Matt Anderson and punter Dylan Klumph had outstanding years and put themselves up for national recognition. Both will be back in 2017.

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