Cal fans are pissed.
They’re pissed because they like head coach Jeff Tedford but understand the position he’s in right now (which is a very, very warm position). They’re pissed because they haven’t been excited about Cal football the way they have been in recent years.
And they’re pissed that they lost to UCLA in 2011.
If anything defined their mediocre-but-expected 7-6 season last year, it was the Golden Bears’ loss to our UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl in late October. At the time, Cal was coming off a win over the respectable Utah Utes to bounce back from horrible losses to South Cal and Oregon, teams with a combined record of 22-4 last season. UCLA, on the other hand, was reeling. Rick Neuheisel was damn near fired two weeks prior for a disgusting loss and a despicable display of control against a horrible Arizona team.
Cal fans were confident they’d get their swagger back by trouncing a really sucky UCLA team.
And then we blew ‘em out. Go figure.
Cal fans are restless now, and Jeff Tedford is on the hot seat, despite the fact that they have had their most sustained success under Tedford than any other coach that Cal has had since Pappy Waldorf (who, mind you, also flamed out in his final four years after losing just six times in his first five seasons as Cal’s head honcho). For this team and this fan-base to become a group renewed, Cal has to win more than seven games and the squad can’t put up stinkers like they did against top-tier teams in the Pac-12 and, to a degree, UCLA (as they did in the fourth quarter when our Bruins blew it wide open).
We know this is a longer plot, but for Cal — and UCLA, too — last season’s Cal-UCLA game was a defining moment for both teams, highlighting their potential, their inconsistency and their listlessness.
Cal Offense vs. UCLA Defense
The Cal offense can define the entire Cal football program if you look at just one person: QB Zach Maynard.
Maynard’s been OK, as Cal’s starting QB. Dude threw for 17 touchdowns to 12 interceptions last season, which isn’t bad, but he also completed a middling 57 percent of his passes. In there somewhere is a hell of a game against Stanford, with two touchdown tosses, no picks and a 69 percent completion percentage, which is contrasted by a shitty line of 14-for-30, 199 yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions against UCLA, a team that had let up over 40 points to an awful Arizona team the week prior.
And this is despite having solid receivers to throw to, and despite being able to defer to a good running game if things get too hot.
Speaking of the running game, this is an area where UCLA could have some trouble at the frontline. Isi Sofele is considered one of the best running backs in the Pac-12. Sofele bursted on to the scene with a 1300-yard, ten-touchdown campaign. The dude’ll get better, too, and you’ll have to wonder if the beefy linemen up front anchoring the newly-implemented 3-4 defense can handle Sofele.
It’s tough to gauge where the Cal offense will be, since there’s no guarantee that Maynard, the face of inconsistency, will get going, which is going to be a requirement to beat UCLA this season since that secondary is paper thin. Cal could win on the ground, mind you, but that’s not the kind of game you’d ideally like to play against a much-improved defensive line.
Cal Defense vs. UCLA Offense
Bezerkeley’s defense was pretty good, in 2011. The team wasn’t supposed to, mind you, but they were good.
339 total yards allowed per game-good, even, good enough for 26th in the nation.
That defensive line is pretty young, though, and pretty damn inexperienced. There’s also a fair chunk of turnover for this squad, which is why the youngsters will be asked to step up in 2012 to rival the kind of defensive season they had.
Plus, the team was a hell of a lot better at home last year defensively, allowing an average of 13 points per game up north. To contrast that, Cal allowed 34.5 points per game when on the road. (UCLA played Cal at home in 2011.) So, again, consistency is at play here.
Meanwhile, the UCLA offense is still a huge question mark, mainly at QB. It seems as if UCLA should stick to its big guns, though, and attack the Bears on the ground with Johnathan Franklin, who we feel could be the Pac-12′s top rusher in 2012, at the helm.
The Prediction: Cal 17, UCLA 14
This game is the very definition of a toss-up, because no one knows what UCLA will look like in 2012 while Cal fans expect Cal to look like they belong in the vaunted Pac-12 North despite recent disappointing seasons.
Of course, the way this game is viewed varies between the two fan-bases. For UCLA fans, this game is a toss-up that any of the two could win. For Cal fans, this is a team that Jeff Tedford must beat in order to keep his job.
I’m going with Cal here, though, in a toss-up. If UCLA has progressed, they will keep this one close, but you’d have to imagine that Cal will enjoy the homefield advantage in this game.