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Cal Football

A (Slightly) Too Early Opponent Preview: UC Davis Aggies

July 15, 2019

We are officially less than 50 days from the start of Cal’s 2019 football season. With the college sports news cycle at its natural ebb, we’ll spend the next few weeks taking a deeper look at the 12 opponents on Cal’s football schedule and how the Bears match-up.

First, let’s take a broad look at the upcoming season. According to ESPN’s efficiency charts, Cal had the 54th most efficient team in the FBS last season, for seventh in the Pac-12 and one spot ahead of USC. The Bears are currently ranked 55th in ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) and is projected to go about 4.8-7.2 (or 5-7) on the year. However, Cal only has a projected win percentage in three games (UC Davis, North Texas, and Oregon State). According to the ESPN data, home games against Arizona State and Washington State are the other two games the Bears have the best chance at winning.

Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings are a bit kinder to Cal and projects 5.4 wins. Akin to the FPI rankings, Cal is only favored in the UC Davis, North Texas, and Oregon State games. The difference, however, is the Arizona State game is projected as a virtual tossup and games against Mississippi, Washington State, USC, and UCLA are all projected losses, but by less than one touchdown. In other words, depending on how plays break, the Bears could be anywhere from a three- or four-win team to a seven- or eight-win team. The only games in which Cal is projected to lose by double digits are the expected away games at Washington, Oregon, and Utah. At Stanford will be another tough game and the S&P+ gives the Cardinals a nine-point advantage.

Cal begins the season against the UC Davis Aggies on August 31 in Berkeley. On both the ESPN FPI rankings and SBNation’s S&P+, this is Cal’s most likely win. The S&P+ data gives the Bears a 93% win chance and projects Cal’s margin of victory at 25.5. But, of all the FCS teams out there, Cal chose a tough one for 2019.

After a mediocre 2017, finishing 5-6, the Aggies had a breakout year behind Coach Dan Hawkins in 2018. UC Davis claimed a share of the Big Sky Conference title and qualified for the FCS playoffs for the first time in school history, finishing with a 9-2 regular season record. The Aggies beat Northern Iowa in the second round of the FCS tournament, 23 to 16, before bowing out in the quarterfinals, coming up short against Eastern Washington, 29 to 34.

It will be an early test for Cal’s hyped defense. While the Aggies lose All-American receiver, Keelan Doss, and a few others to graduation and the NFL combine, they are returning stud QB, Jake Maier, who threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 34 TDs with 10 picks and a completion rate of about 65% as a junior last season. 

Doss leaves a big hole in the Aggies wideout corps. However, last season’s second and third most productive receivers return in Jared Harrell and tight end Wes Preece. Plus, redshirt sophomore running back, Ulonzo Gilliam, returns after rushing more than 1,000 yards during his redshirt freshman year last season. Junior rusher, Tehran Thomas, who ran for almost 700 yards also returns in the backfield. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Aggies are also losing a big piece in Mason Moe, who had a breakout year last season, leading to an early departure to the NFL. Moe recorded 83 tackles last season, along with 10.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss. Along with Moe, leading tacklers, Isiah Olave and Anthony Baumgart have also exhausted their eligibility. Top returners for the Aggies include second-leading tackler, Montell Bland, who recorded 78 tackles last season and Erron Duncan, who recorded 56 tackles, 45 of which were solo.

Projection: Bears 38, Aggies 13

As stated above, this game is projected as the Bears most likely win. Our (slightly) too early projection sees the Bear defense clamping down on an overwhelmed Aggies offense. Maier will get his plays, but the stacked Cal secondary will be too much for the Aggies to overcome. Look for Chase Garbers to have a big opening day and send a message to doubters.

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