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Why the Bears Could Go Bowling in 2023

August 25, 2023
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The last three seasons have been a parade of disappointment for Cal fans but despite recent history and a brutal schedule, the 2023 Bears may just have what it takes to get back to a bowl game this season.

Since the Bears went 8-5 (4-5) in a solid but unspectacular 2019 season that ended with a 3-game win streak that included their first Big Game win in a decade, a road win at UCLA and a Red Box Bowl win over Illinois, there has been a steady diet of disappointment for the Bears. From the covid disaster 1-3 shortened season of 2020, to bitterly disappointing 5-7 and 4-8 seasons in 2021 and 2022, Cal fans are hungry to return to a bowl game in 2023 and this just might be the team to get them there. 

Cal QB Sam Jackson

With lackluster high school recruiting the last several years and a 10-18 cumulative record since 2019 combined with stiff road tests at Washington, Utah, Oregon and UCLA and home games vs. Auburn, USC and a resurgent Oregon State program, skeptics can’t be faulted for seeing another losing record on the horizon for the Bears this season. While that may well happen, here are some reasons to give Bear fans hope that a bowl game may still be in store for them this season as the Pac-12 sings its swan song before the big breakup after this season.

Portal Power

While the staff has had to largely try and mine for underrecruited athletes they see a future in on the prep level until they start winning again on the field, the landscape of the transfer portal and grad transfers allows a program who has struggled of late to still pull in a high caliber of transfer student athlete with hard work, a strong NIL program, opportunity for immediate playing time and a chance to have a major impact on the fortunes of their new program.

Cal OLB David Reese

All of those factors played into Cal’s hands with a transfer class that could help dramatically change the fortunes of the team this season. Players like QB Sam Jackson‍, RB Isaiah Ifanse‍, WRs Brian Hightower‍, Marquis Montgomery‍ and Taj Davis‍, offensive linemen Barrett Miller‍ and Matthew Wykoff‍, LBs David Reese‍ and Sergio Allen‍, DBs Nohl Williams‍, Matt Littlejohn‍, Patrick McMorris‍ and Kaylin Moore‍ and big leg punter Lachlan Wilson‍, not to mention RB Justin Williams-Thomas‍ should he see the field this season as expected after recuperating from his injury‍ could all play major roles in a resurgent Cal program this season.

Depth

Lack of depth has always been an Achilles Heel for the Bears over the years, even on some of their best teams. The D-word is the answer to how Cal could have put so many high-impact players in the NFL over the years yet rarely have seen double-digit win totals in their history. 

Depth was a big issue in 2022. When key defensive lineman Brett Johnson went down, starting nose tackle Stanley McKenzie was lost for the year with a family tragedy and young backup DL Akili Calhoun and Derek Wilkins went down as well, the Bears were paper thin on the DL and

CB Nohl Williams

struggled to mount a pass rush. Coupled with injuries in the defensive backfield that left the Bears relying on young and untested cornerbacks, they were forced to play a style of bend but-not-break defense that struggled to produce strong results. And when offensive line leader Matthew Cindric was lost for the season early on, an OL that was already mightily struggling, keeping QB Jack Plummer upright was a challenge and scoring points even more a struggle.

Though there are still some unanswered questions about certain position groups this season, throughout all 17 sessions of fall camp, quality depth showed up at all positions. A QB position that seemed particularly thin after spring saw redshirt frosh QB Fernando Mendoza significantly step up his game and both he and presumed starter Sam Jackson were pushed by NC State transfer Ben Finley, who brought some late-season starting experience with him. All three QBs seem capable of generating big plays downfield. The question is if all three can limit turnovers if their numbers are called come gameday. 

The WR room is positively loaded. Returning starters Jeremiah Hunter, Monroe Young and Mavin Anderson were joined by long, athletic receivers Hightower, Montgomery and Davis and a healthy return from slot receiver Mason Mangum, who’s had a particularly strong spring, not to mention

WR Brian Hightower

the impressive growth of redshirt frosh PWO receiver Trond Grizzell, who’s torn it up all spring and played himself to the top of the depth chart.

On the offensive line, the vets seem to have adapted well to new OL coach Mike Bloesch’s system. Returning starters Brian Driscoll, Matthew Cindric, Sioape Vatikani and TJ Session have all performed solidly and fairly consistently and appear to be joined by Stanford portal transfer Barrett Miller as the fifth starter at left tackle. Former starter Brayden Rohme, Texas A&M transfer Matthew Wykoff and center Dashaun Harris all appear to be capable backups to form an 8-man rotation. A caveat however was the line looked at least serviceable last fall and was anything but as things played out so how the line performs will be one of the stories to watch this season.

The running back room is potentially thin if Williams-Thomas doesn’t return anytime soon and will rely heavily on talented starter Jaydn Ott who is backed up by Montana State career yardage record holder Ifanse and speedy backups Ashton Stredick and Jaivien Thomas.

At tight end, the Bears were woefully lacking in the power game and unreliable in the passing

TE Jack Endries

game last season. They addressed the power element by adding OSU transfer JT Byrne and North Texas transfer Asher Alberding. The receiving threat option will come from RS frosh TE Jack Endries, who tore up spring ball and fall camp heading into the season and is poised to start.

On defense, with Johnson, McKenzie, Calhoun and Wilkins back and soph Nate Burrell taking a big jump this fall and Ethan Saunders also looking impressive, the line should be in far better position to pressure passing games and be stouter in the run. The linebacking corps added some pass rushing juice with the addition of Reese and Allen and go 2-3 deep at every position and the defensive backs corps features no less than 10 players in Williams, Moore, McMorris, Littlejohn, safeties Craig Woodson and Ray Woodie and corners Jeremiah Earby, Lu-Magia Hearns and Isaiah Young and nickel back Cam Sidney who are capable of being quality starters.

All-in-all, there is no comparison to this team’s quality depth compared to any Cal teams in the recent past.

Coaching Changes

Another Achilles Heel last season was coaching-related, with former OC Bill Musgrave’s outdated offense never finding a rhythm before he was relieved of his duties midseason as well as less-

OC Jake Spavital

than-steller OL coaching and development by departed OL coach Angus McClure, who met a similar fate to Musgrave during the season. Veteran TE coach Jeep Chryst was also replaced by former UC Davis and Boise State OC Tim Plough, who also played a role in Cal’s late-season play calling as an offensive consultant.

The replacement of Musgrave with veteran OC Jake Spavital, who is back at Cal after leading the Bears to the #10 rated offense, averaging 513 yards per game in total offense in 2016, has paid immediate dividends in breaking away from the stodgy west coast offense Musgrave ran at Cal. Spavital’s more wide-open, fast-paced offense should serve the Bears well with their plethora of big and athletic receivers, a lightning-quick dual threat QB in Jackson and a future NFL back like Jaydn Ott executing his scheme.

On the OL, new OL coach and run game coordinator Mike Bloesch has his charges playing much more as a unit and with a tougher mentality than we’ve seen in the trenches for years and with

OL coach Mike Bloesch

better depth than they’ve had on the line in years, as well. However as a caveat, spring ball and fall camp aren’t always the best proving grounds for how an OL will perform when the bullets are flying, particularly against strong pass rush teams so despite what looks like solid improvement on the line, they still have much to prove once the season kicks off.

Add it all up and what does it mean? It could mean another 4 or 5 win disappointment with more close losses to better opponents or it could be the year that the program turns the corner, despite the oddsmakers' predictions.

Don’t bet against the latter in 2023.

Discussion from...

Why the Bears Could Go Bowling in 2023

9,845 Views | 50 Replies | Last: 6 mo ago by Cal Strong!
oskidunker
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I have heard this story for 50 years the ending is always the same.
Go Bears!
panoramicknob
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Also, "could go bowling." I mean, couldn't that be said about any football team.

My gawd
HKBear97!
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oskidunker said:

I have heard this story for 50 years the ending is always the same.


Exactly! This is the year! Or is it next year? No, wait, the year after will be the one! Oh, maybe the one after that…..

Let's see how we look versus North Texas first!
DoubtfulBear
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oskidunker said:

I have heard this story for 50 years the ending is always the same.
It's not the same story though, our bar used to be the Rose Bowl and now we are struggling to get to any mediocre bowl
calumnus
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DoubtfulBear said:

oskidunker said:

I have heard this story for 50 years the ending is always the same.
It's not the same story though, our bar used to be the Rose Bowl and now we are struggling to get to any mediocre bowl


Thanks Carol! Thanks Jim!
bluehenbear
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Is the Albany Bowl still open? How about the bowling alley in San Lorenzo or Alameda? I mean the team can go bowling anytime, really.

Oh! You mean a bowl *game*. Sorry, carry on.
Golden One
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HKBear97! said:



Exactly! This is the year! Or is it next year? No, wait, the year after will be the one! Oh, maybe the one after that…..


The year after Wilcox gets fired will be the one!
azulviejo
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Just the title of this article is a disappointment.
"Could Go Bowling"

A Bowl game should be a given.

Oh wait...we don't even have a conference to play in.
Thanks fearless leaders!!!
cbbass1
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OH, YE of little faith!!

GO Bears!

As in, GO ----in' B E A R S !!!!!
CamHand
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I'm on both sides of the fence...
I like the explanation that depth is critical and present but of course key questions remain. I would have liked to see some discussion of how the Bears look compared to the tough schedule.
Previously, I said 6 wins required sweeping Auburn/ASU/OSU. Since then I like our chances vs. WSU more so I now say The Bear needs 2 out of 3 against those.
Given the realities of a tough schedule, I'd want to see a path outlined to 6 wins particularly given the title of the article.
On the whole, I like the article. Thanks!
heartofthebear
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You can always count on staff writers to spin it better than our QBs
calumnus
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CamHand said:

I'm on both sides of the fence...
I like the explanation that depth is critical and present but of course key questions remain. I would have liked to see some discussion of how the Bears look compared to the tough schedule.
Previously, I said 6 wins required sweeping Auburn/ASU/OSU. Since then I like our chances vs. WSU more so I now say The Bear needs 2 out of 3 against those.
Given the realities of a tough schedule, I'd want to see a path outlined to 6 wins particularly given the title of the article.
On the whole, I like the article. Thanks!


Looking at the schedule most see 5-7. Getting to 6-6 probably means Cal needs to be a top 30 team, or at least beat one or two Top 30 teams without any bad losses. Cal definitely has a lot of upside, and if we get to the level where we beat Auburn, OSU etc then beating UCLA is reasonable too. Getting to 8-4 from 6-6 is probably not as big a jump as getting to 6-6 from 5-7.

North Texas is a must win.
chazzed
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I'm glad the posters up to this point in this thread do not have the team's collective ear.

Let's do this! Go Bears!
oskiswifeshusband
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BearInside Article: Why Cal Football will go 0-11.

Is that what you want? or else why waste your time.
calumnus
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chazzed said:

I'm glad the posters up to this point in this thread do not have the team's collective ear.

Let's do this! Go Bears!


As I said above, I think that we need most of the items listed in the article to pan out to break the 5-7 barrier given the schedule. However, if those things come to pass I think it is not much more of a reach to win a few more. Which would be huge.

Really rooting for Jackson to fullfill his potential because that is our biggest wildcard. If he pans out the sky is the limit.

Bobodeluxe
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oskidunker said:

I have heard this story for 50 years the ending is always the same.
Not always. Mostly? Yes.
StillNoStanfurdium
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CamHand said:

I'm on both sides of the fence...
I like the explanation that depth is critical and present but of course key questions remain. I would have liked to see some discussion of how the Bears look compared to the tough schedule.
Previously, I said 6 wins required sweeping Auburn/ASU/OSU. Since then I like our chances vs. WSU more so I now say The Bear needs 2 out of 3 against those.
Given the realities of a tough schedule, I'd want to see a path outlined to 6 wins particularly given the title of the article.
On the whole, I like the article. Thanks!
IMO the ones we must/should win are UNT, Idaho, ASU, Furd. Losing any of those makes the job much harder. Beyond that we need to pick up two out of Auburn, Washington, Oregon State, and Washington State which are winnable games that we won't be favored in. It helps that 3 of 4 of them are home games.

Washington is the away game of the bunch but Wilcox has historically managed to play them tough even when we've been underdogs. Though it is true that UW is looking better than they have in a long time this year in particular with Penix being a proven asset so maybe you could swap them for something like UCLA for another underdog road game since they have a bit of a question mark at QB. Though I've never have felt that Wilcox plays UCLA as well.
Big C
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chazzed said:

I'm glad the posters up to this point in this thread do not have the team's collective ear.

Let's do this! Go Bears!

Seriously. On one hand, people are saying we suck, on the other hand they are criticizing BI for a giving a realistic assessment of where we're at.

As a long-time Cal rooter, I have learned that this is the time for hope and positivity, while we are still undefeated! Who knows how long we have, until reality sets in? (hopefully many, many weeks)

Prediction for the season: 6-6
Second prediction: 7-5
Third prediction: not gonna do one

GO BEARS!!!
BearHunter
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I'm most encouraged by the return of RB Jaydn Ott and OC Jake Spavital and the addition of some new players on defense.
BearoutEast67
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Go Bears! Let's do this!
Donate to Cal's NIL at https://calegends.com/donation/
Econ141
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Where is marquez dortch?
TheBearWontDie
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StillNoStanfurdium said:

CamHand said:

I'm on both sides of the fence...
I like the explanation that depth is critical and present but of course key questions remain. I would have liked to see some discussion of how the Bears look compared to the tough schedule.
Previously, I said 6 wins required sweeping Auburn/ASU/OSU. Since then I like our chances vs. WSU more so I now say The Bear needs 2 out of 3 against those.
Given the realities of a tough schedule, I'd want to see a path outlined to 6 wins particularly given the title of the article.
On the whole, I like the article. Thanks!
IMO the ones we must/should win are UNT, Idaho, ASU, Furd. Losing any of those makes the job much harder. Beyond that we need to pick up two out of Auburn, Washington, Oregon State, and Washington State which are winnable games that we won't be favored in. It helps that 3 of 4 of them are home games.

Washington is the away game of the bunch but Wilcox has historically managed to play them tough even when we've been underdogs. Though it is true that UW is looking better than they have in a long time this year in particular with Penix being a proven asset so maybe you could swap them for something like UCLA for another underdog road game since they have a bit of a question mark at QB. Though I've never have felt that Wilcox plays UCLA as well.

Mostly in agreement. I feel like the schedule could be broken down like:

Pencil It In
vs Idaho

Should Win, But Not a Sure Thing
vs ASU, @ NT, @LSJU

Anyone's Guess
vs WSU, vs OSU, vs AU

Uphill Battle
@UW, @fUCLA

LOL!
vs U$C, @ OR, @UT

The concerning thing is that there really aren't any gimmies (aside from an admittedly pretty decent FCS team) so the season could get ugly. The good news is that we should know by the end of week 2 what sort of season it is going to be - if Cal goes 2-0 then their odds of making a bowl would be pretty strong, if they lose one the Bear will be scratching and clawing all season, and if they lose both... time to look for a new coach
panoramicknob
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You think the team would be motivated by someone saying they "could go bowing."

I would hope and expect them to believe they will win every single game.
BearHunter
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oskidunker said:

I have heard this story for 50 years the ending is always the same.
So what's the same ending you heard for the last 50 years?
bearsandgiants
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BearHunter said:

oskidunker said:

I have heard this story for 50 years the ending is always the same.
So what's the same ending you heard for the last 50 years?

No Rose Bowl
Bearspot
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TheBearWontDie said:


Mostly in agreement. I feel like the schedule could be broken down like:

Pencil It In
vs Idaho

Should Win, But Not a Sure Thing
vs ASU, @ NT, @LSJU

Anyone's Guess
vs WSU, vs OSU, vs AU

Uphill Battle
@UW, @fUCLA

LOL!
vs U$C, @ OR, @UT
I like this as the ceiling:

Pencil It In
vs Idaho
1 WIN out of 1

Should Win, But Not a Sure Thing
vs ASU, @ NT, @LSJU
3 WINS out of 3

Anyone's Guess
vs WSU, vs OSU, vs AU
2 WINS out of 3

Uphill Battle
@UW, @fUCLA
1 WIN out of 2

LOL!
vs U$C, @ OR, @UT
1 WIN out of 3

That's a ceiling of 8-4



Floor is probably 5-7

Pencil It In
vs Idaho
1 WIN out of 1

Should Win, But Not a Sure Thing
vs ASU, @ NT, @LSJU
2 WINS out of 3

Anyone's Guess
vs WSU, vs OSU, vs AU
1 WIN out of 3

Uphill Battle
@UW, @fUCLA
LOL!
vs U$C, @ OR, @UT
1 WIN out of 5
MrGPAC
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7, 22, 7 (OT), 7, 18, 6, 28, 7
5, 2, 7 (OT), 15, 7, 7, 28

That's our margins for losses in 2022 and 2021. 5 games in 2022 decided by 7 points or less. 5 games in 2021 decided by 7 points or less. One of those 7 point losses in 2021 was on the road at number 9 Oregon, another was a road loss to Washington in OT.

This was with an amazingly inept offensive coordinator. This was with an O-line that didn't know where to be or what to do. This was with every first down being a run up the middle into a defense that didn't expect anything else. If we could have managed just 1 more TD per game in 2021 and 2022 we would have been 10-2 and 9-3.

Combine that with the best depth we've had on Defense since Wilcox arrived and there is plenty of reason for optimism. If we do something special this year everyone is going to point to this as why they were not surprised. They are going to say they saw it coming. We were losing close with a bad OC and just needed to get the right one to unlock everything Wilcox was doing here. They will say Wilcox was too loyal, but Covid and one bad hire completely derailed the success he was building on in his first three seasons, and that everyone could see this coming.

That isn't to say this couldn't go the other way. Spavital has had great success working with offensive minded head coaches. Not so much when it was just him. Wilcox swung and missed twice at OC already. Maybe its not the OC's that are the problem....maybe its Wilcox. Knowing Cal he'll have whatever epiphany Dykes did *after* he leaves us, and everyone will be pointing about how he was clearly a great coach but was stuck dealing with Cal and had to figure out the O side of the ball.

Further, we have an unproven quarterback room and an OL that hasn't proven anything good. We currently sit in a position to start next season without a conference, and could be looking at a mass exodus of talent before the calendar year flips.

Whatever happens we have a lot to play for this year...and I sure as heck hope that we make it a memorable final year of the Pac conference. I know I'll be there to cheer on the team either way.
Oakbear
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Always hoping for us to outperform, maybe finally under JW we will see that,

It still bothers me that we get excited over 6-6 and would wet our pants at 8-4
calumnus
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Oakbear said:

Always hoping for us to outperform, maybe finally under JW we will see that,

It still bothers me that we get excited over 6-6 and would wet our pants at 8-4


Context is decisive.

We are pretty much stuck with Wilcox due to the 6 year extension Knowlton gave him a year ago, so yet another losing season in the face of conference uncertainty would be a disaster. Thus our praying for 6-6 or better. That would show we are on the upswing and heading to the ACC, with NIL hopefully we keep the team together, improve on it and have a great inaugural season in our new conference,
Cal Strong!
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Every other CFB program optimism with a $4.75m coach in his 7th year -- "Playoffs, BCS bowl, conference championship, or bust."

Bearinsider optimism with a $4.75m coach in his 7th year -- "maybe we can make the Independence Bowl if we get all the right breaks."
BearHunter
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Cal Strong! said:

Every other CFB program optimism with a $4.75m coach in his 7th year -- "Playoffs, BCS bowl, conference championship, or bust."

Bearinsider optimism with a $4.75m coach in his 7th year -- "maybe we can make the Independence Bowl if we get all the right breaks."

Cal just got a new offensive coordinator, someone who had previous success at Cal.

Let the NegaBears nega.
Cal Strong!
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BearHunter said:

Cal Strong! said:

Every other CFB program optimism with a $4.75m coach in his 7th year -- "Playoffs, BCS bowl, conference championship, or bust."

Bearinsider optimism with a $4.75m coach in his 7th year -- "maybe we can make the Independence Bowl if we get all the right breaks."

Cal just got a new offensive coordinator, someone who had previous success at Cal.

Let the NegaBears nega.
Every other CFB program defines "previous success" in a single season -- somewhere in the neighborhood of 9-11 wins

Bearinsider defines "previous success" in a single season -- 5-7, with losses to furd and SDSU.
BearHunter
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Bobodeluxe
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Viscous lies
Cal Strong!
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Bobodeluxe said:

Viscous lies
Bobodeluxe smart and strong. Cal went 5-7 in 2016.

The offense lost us the games to SDSU (stopped in the red zone) and Oregon State (held to a FG in OT).

-----------------

Oregon went 4-8 that season. Texas went 5-7. Utah went 4-8. Very impressive, Bearhunter!
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