NCF Nation: Bob Gregory
Oregon State will take on Boise State on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN) in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
Here's a quick preview:
Who to watch: Both teams have quarterback questions, though of a very different nature. Oregon State QB Sean Mannion put up big numbers this year for the one-dimensional Beavers, but he threw 11 of his 14 interceptions over the final four games. Will the time off get him back up to speed? Or will he again struggle with accuracy and decision making? Boise State has junior Grant Hedrick behind center, the backup to suspended starter Joe Southwick. The good news for the Broncos is Hedrick has been the starter since Southwick hurt his foot on Oct. 19 against Nevada. He went 4-2 and mostly played well.
What to watch: Oregon State is terrible against the run. It ranked 11th in the Pac-12 and 91st in the nation in run defense, yielding 193.2 yards per game. But that's not the worst of it. Opposing runners averaged 5.2 yards per carry, which ranked 107th in the nation and last in the conference. Boise State running back Jay Ajayi is outstanding. He rushed for 1,328 yards and 17 TDs, averaging 5.9 per carry this year. Meanwhile, the Broncos struggle against the pass, with opposing quarterbacks completing 64 percent of their throws for 248.4 yards per game. The Beavers with Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks should be able to take advantage.
Why to watch: It will be interesting to see how both teams react, because the more motivated and focused team likely wins. Oregon State is riding a dispiriting five-game losing streak, due in large part to a back-loaded schedule. Is it enough motivation knowing a victory gives the Beavers a winning record and a loss means a losing one for the third time in four seasons? For the Broncos, they are playing their first game since coach Chris Petersen, who built Boise State into a national power, shocked some when he bolted for Washington. They will be led by interim coach Bob Gregory before Bryan Harsin takes over. The Broncos should be motivated to show the nation the program will continue to thrive against AQ foes, even without Peterson.
Predictions: Kevin: Oregon State 38, Boise State 35. Ted: Boise State 38, Oregon State 35.
Also unsurprisingly, 51 of those assistants are in the SEC. Only three of the 132 are among non-AQs teams.
A quick gander of the assistant coaches pay chart reveals the programs that pay the most are in the six automatic-qualifying conferences. That stands to reason, considering the money is concentrated among those schools. Here are the top earners from the non-AQs. Keep in mind USA Today was able to get numbers from 110 of 120 FBS schools. Not included are private schools TCU, BYU, Rice, SMU, Tulane and Temple. Hawaii also is not included:
Ivin Jasper, Navy offensive coordinator, $344,836*
Bryan Harsin, Boise State offensive coordinator, $259,520**
Pete Kwiatkowski, Boise State defensive coordinator, $259,520**
Paul Randolph, Tulsa executive senior associate coach/co-defensive coordinator, $242,680**
Bob Gregory, Boise State linebackers coach, $220,000**
Phil Snow, Eastern Michigan defensive coordinator, $212,000
Rocky Long, San Diego State defensive coordinator, $205,008
Al Borges, San Diego State offensive coordinator, $205,000
Larry Kerr, Colorado State assistant head coach/defensive coordinator, $200,000**
The highest-paid assistants in the Sun Belt are FIU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins and offensive coordinator Scott Satterfield, who both earn $146,969.
*Jasper's salary is from 2008 and taken from the Naval Academy Athletic Association's IRS 990 form. This is his total salary, including bonuses.
**Salary does included statement of outside income
As for head coaches, SMU coach June Jones is the highest paid of the non-AQs, earning $2.142 million. TCU coach Gary Patterson is next ($1.642 million), followed by Boise State coach Chris Petersen ($1.5 million).
Cameron Jordan was among those cheering. He said he wasn't surprised the player who manned the opposite end of the line from him over the past two seasons was selected 10th overall. Nor, he said, did he consider that he was only a year away from finding where he might fall on draft day.
"I didn't even think about that part," the 6-foot-4, 282-pound senior defensive end said. "I was just happy and excited for him."
Jordan has the talent to become a first-round pick. Presently, he likely will be projected, much like Alualu was last May, as a second- or third-round selection.
He's flashed plenty of tantalizing ability, earning honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors the past two seasons. He had 48 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks last fall. He also had five quarterback hurries, which suggests a lot of "what might have been." Not unlike Cal's 2009 season.
Last fall, Jordan looked like a potential All-Pac-10 selection, just as the Bears looked like a top-10 team and a threat to unseat USC atop the conference. More than a few Cal fans reacted angrily when Jordan was left off the Pac-10 blog's ranking of the conference's top 30 players.
Why did the Bears -- and Jordan -- fall short?
"There were multitude of reasons," Jordan said. "It seemed like after that first loss some guys were rattled and didn't really come back."
That would be the visit to Oregon, where the Bears swaggered into Autzen Stadium ranked sixth in the nation and staggered out 42-3 losers.
As for the mediocre defense in 2009 -- which was mostly mediocre in 2009, despite eight returning starters from a unit that ranked among the nation's top-30 teams in nearly every statistical category -- Jordan said "some of it had to do with a lack of adjustments."
That's fairly general, but there was unhappiness with Cal's scheme last year. This led coach Jeff Tedford to say repeatedly during the offseason that the Bears would be more aggressive when attacking the quarterback.
New coordinator Clancy Pendergast will run more stunts and blitzes out of the Bears 3-4 front, which could benefit Jordan, who faced a lot of double teams last fall.
"Hopefully, it will free me up to get in the backfield more often," Jordan said. "I got a lot more one-on-ones this spring, and that only makes my day."
Jordan reportedly had a good spring. Here's what Pendergast said about him in a Q&A with the Pac-10 blog: "He's been very receptive. He pays attention to detail. He's very interested. When you have a guy like that, with his potential skill set, he can have an opportunity to make plays. So he's bought into the system and he's doing the different things that we are asking him to do within the scheme. So far so good."
Jordan has good bloodlines. His father, Steve, played at Brown and then 13 years in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, earning six invitations to the Pro Bowl. A gifted athlete, the young Jordan has always been a strong pass rusher, with good speed for his size. He's fallen short a bit with his strength in run support.
That might be changing. Jordan said he focused on that area.
"I'm more confident in my run game," he said. "It's been getting better every year. My freshman and sophomore year, I knew I wasn't a great run stopper. Pass rush yes. My junior year, I was a little bit more confident. Now, I'd like to say I'm one of the better guys on the unit against the run. I'm already confident in my pass rush abilities."
The next step, he said, is being so confident in his ability to defeat blocks that he focuses his attention on reading the action in the backfield: "Sometimes I get too focused on the man in front of me instead of what play can actually happen in the backfield."
Cal doesn't figure to get much preseason attention. Most projections will dump the Bears into the conference's muddled middle. That probably means Jordan, too, won't get too much preseason hype.
He seems fine with that.
"Coming in under the radar, there's no pressure on us. No one is looking at us," he said. "If we are under the radar, all we have to worry about is what we can do as a team, not what everybody else thinks we can do."
It's possible that by doing just that, the Bears might end up cheering in December -- and again in the spring when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calls Jordan's name.
Spring practice starts: March 5
Spring game: April 10
What to watch:
The new coordinators: The Wildcats lost two outstanding coordinators -- Sonny Dykes on offense and Mark Stoops on defense -- and decided to replace them with four guys. Tim Kish, promoted from linebackers coach, and Greg Brown, hired away from Colorado, will run the defense, while Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell, both promoted from within, will run the offense, with an assist from new quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo. These guys will need to develop a coaching rhythm this spring that will ensure things go smoothly in the fall.
The JC linebackers: The Wildcats must replace three starting linebackers, and JC transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo weren't brought in to watch. If they step into starting spots, then guys like sophomore Jake Fischer, redshirt freshman Trevor Erno and redshirt freshman Cordarius Golston can fight over the third spot and add depth.
Foles 2.0: Quarterback Nick Foles was dynamic when he was on last year, but the shutout loss in the Holiday Bowl served as a reminder that he's not there yet. He's going to be surrounded by a lot of weapons at the skill positions, so he should be able to take another step forward this spring, even with the loss of Dykes.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
The QB battle: It's a wide-open battle between Michigan transfer Steven Threet and Brock Osweiler, though the new guy -- Threet -- is perhaps the most intriguing. Samson Szakacsy was supposed to join the battle, but his elbow problem is acting up again, coach Dennis Erickson said Thursday. The competition will be overseen by new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who's been handed an offense that has sputtered the past two seasons.
O-line issues (take 3): The Sun Devils' offensive line has struggled three years running, and it won't matter who starts at QB if the unit continues to get pushed around. First off is health. Will Matt Hustad, Zach Schlink, Garth Gerhart, Mike Marcisz and Adam Tello be ready to battle the entire spring? If so, there should be good competition here, particularly with a couple of JC transfers looking to break through.
The secondary: The Sun Devils were very good against the pass last year, but three starters in the secondary need to be replaced. Both starting corners are gone -- though if Omar Bolden successfully returns from a knee injury he should step in on one side -- as well as strong safety Ryan McFoy. The good news is a number of guys saw action here last fall, so the rebuilt unit won't be completely green.
Spring practice starts: March 6
Spring game: N/A
What to watch:
Embattled Riley: When things go well, the quarterback often gets too much credit. When things go badly... well, you know. Senior Kevin Riley has started 22 games and has played well at times. But there's a reason he's in a quarterback competition for a third consecutive season. Will he be able to hold off a rising Beau Sweeney this spring?
Rebuilding the D: The Bears had questions on defense even before coordinator Bob Gregory unexpectedly bolted for Boise State. Five starters need to be replaced, including mainstays like end Tyson Alualu and cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, both first-team All-Pac-10 performers. And with Gregory gone, a new, likely more aggressive scheme now must be incorporated.
RB depth: Shane Vereen is the obvious starter after the departure of Jahvid Best, but Cal has, during the Tedford years, always used two backs. So who's the No. 2? Sophomore Covaughn DeBoskie was third on the team with 211 yards rushing last year, while promising freshman Dasarte Yarnway redshirted. One or the other will look to create separation.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: May 1
What to watch:
The D-line: The Ducks lost perennially underrated end Will Tukuafu, tackle Blake Ferras and backup Simi Toeaina up front. Considering the plan is to run an eight-deep rotation, there will be plenty of opportunities for players like ends Terrell Turner and Taylor Hart and tackles Anthony Anderson, Zac Clark, Wade Keliikipi as well as 6-foot-7 JC transfer Isaac Remington to work their way into the rotation.
The passing game: The Ducks' passing game was inconsistent last year, though by season's end receiver Jeff Maehl was playing at a high level. Refining that part of the offense with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli would make the spread-option even more dangerous. The receiving corps is looking for playmakers, which means youngsters, such as redshirt freshman Diante Jackson, might break through.
Who steps in for Ed Dickson? Oregon only loses one starter on offense, but tight end Ed Dickson is a big one. David Paulson was a capable backup last year, and mercurial Malachi Lewis may be ready to step up. Expect JC transfer Brandon Williams to work his way into the mix.
Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: May 1
What to watch:
Katz steps in: Sean Canfield is off to the NFL, so the Beavers' biggest question this spring is crowning a new starting quarterback. Most observers feel the job is Ryan Katz's to lose, and the sophomore looks good throwing the rock around. Still, being a quarterback is about more than a good arm. If he falters, Virginia transfer Peter Lalich might offer an alternative.
Better defensive pressure: The Beavers run a high-pressure defensive scheme, so when the stat sheet says they only recorded 17 sacks in 2009, which ranked ninth in the conference and was 22 fewer than in 2008, you know something is wrong. The entire defensive line is back, so the hope is a year of seasoning, particularly for ends Gabe Miller, Matt LaGrone and Kevin Frahm will mean better production this fall.
The O-line grows up: The Beavers' offensive line returns four starters from a unit that got better as the year went on. Still, it yielded 29 sacks and the run game struggled at times -- Jacquizz Rodgers often had to make yards on his own. Talented left tackle Michael Philipp, who did a solid job as a true freshman starter, should be much improved. A second year playing together with underrated senior center Alex Linnenkohl also should help.
Spring practice starts: March 1
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
Replacing Toby: How do you replace Toby Gerhart and his 1,871 yards and 28 touchdowns? You do not. But the hope is sophomores Tyler Gaffney and Stepfan Taylor and senior Jeremy Stewart will provide a solid answer that keeps the Cardinal's power-running game churning. It helps to have four starters back from a good offensive line.
Rebuilding the D: If you toss in linebacker Clinton Snyder and end Erik Lorig, Stanford must replace six defensive starters from a unit that ranked near the bottom of the conference in 2009. The secondary is a particular concern after giving up 23 touchdown passes and a 63 percent completion rate. The hope is good recruiting from coach Jim Harbaugh will provide better athleticism in the back-half. Another issue: There was huge coaching turnover, particularly on defense during the offseason, so new coordinator Vic Fangio & Co. will be implementing new schemes and learning about what sort of talent they have to work with.
Luck steps up: This was Gerhart's team in 2009. Now it's Luck's. He might be the most talented QB in the conference. Heck, he might become a Heisman Trophy candidate before he's done. But life won't be as easy without defenses crowding the line of scrimmage because they are fretting about Gerhart. Luck will need to step up his game -- and leadership -- to meet the challenge.
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
Prince becomes king? The fact that offensive coordinator Norm Chow has been such an advocate for sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince should tell you something: He's got the ability. Prince flashed some skills during an injury-plagued 2009 season, and it's important to remember he was a redshirt freshman playing with a questionable supporting cast, particularly the O-line. Prince needs to improve his decision-making, and the passing game needs to develop a big-play capability that stretches defenses.
Front seven rebuilding: UCLA not only must replace six starters on defense, it must replace six guys everyone in the Pac-10 has heard of. And five of the lost starters come from the front seven, and the guys who were listed as backups on the 2009 depth chart won't necessarily inspire confidence. In other words, the Bruins will try to take a step forward in the conference with what figures to be an extremely green defense, particularly up front.
The running game? Know what would help Prince and a young defense? A better running game. The Bruins were significantly better in 2009 than in 2008, but that merely means one of the worst rushing attacks in the nation moved up to ninth in the conference. There's a logjam of options at running back -- with a couple of dynamic runners in the incoming recruiting class -- and the offensive line welcomes back a wealth of experience. It would mean a lot if the Bruins could boost their rushing total to around 150 yards per game (from 114.6 in 2009).
Spring practice starts: TBA
Spring game: TBA
What to watch:
Welcome, Lane Kiffin: The Pete Carroll era is over. Enter Lane Kiffin & Co. In terms of scheme, things will be fairly consistent, seeing that Kiffin was formerly Carroll's offensive coordinator and Monte Kiffin was Carroll's defensive mentor. But there will be a period of adjustment. The guess is the hyper-intense Ed Orgeron might provide a bit of a shock to the D-linemen.
Matt Barkley Year 2: Barkley won't have the president of his fan club -- Carroll -- around anymore. He's a true talent. Everyone knows that, even without Carroll's daily sonnets about his ability. But the numbers show he threw 14 interceptions in 12 games vs. 15 TD passes last year, so he's obviously not arrived. Kiffin runs the offense, so you can expect these two to work closely together. Barkley will have plenty of help on offense, but the talent won't be as good as it was in 2009, with six starters needing to be replaced, including his top two targets (receiver Damian Williams and tight end Anthony McCoy).
Secondary questions: All four starters from the defensive backfield are gone, including center fielder Taylor Mays. It helps that cornerback Shareece Wright, an academic casualty in 2009, will be back. He was a projected starter last fall. There's plenty of talent on hand, but last year's team proved that the Trojans don't always just plug-and-play.
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 30
What to watch:
Unleashing Locker: The return of quarterback Jake Locker was the best news any Pac-10 team received this offseason. Locker's passing improved dramatically in just one year under coach Steve Sarkisian, so it's not unreasonable to expect him to be even better in 2010, particularly with nine starters back on offense and just about every skill player on the depth chart.
Replacing Te'o-Nesheim: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was a four-year starter who blossomed into an All-Pac-10 performer despite almost no supporting cast. He led the Huskies with 11 sacks in 2009, which was 8.5 more than any other player. Also, opposite end Darrion Jones is gone, and the cast at the position is extremely young. Who's the next pass-rushing threat?
The Butler did it: Linebacker Donald Butler blossomed last year, earning second-team All-Pac-10 honors and leading the Huskies in tackles and tackles for loss (15.5). Toss in E.J. Savannah's failure to earn a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, and the Huskies have some questions at linebacker. Mason Foster is a sure thing at one outside position, and Cort Dennison likely will fill a second gap, but there's an opportunity for a young player to fill void No. 3.
Spring practice starts: March 25
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
Tuel time: Coach Paul Wulff decided that freshman Jeff Tuel was the Cougars' quarterback of the future last year, so he opted to start him instead of going with a redshirt season. Tuel showed promise in six games, completing 59 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five picks. Most of his supporting cast is back on offense, so the expectation is the Cougars' offense could take a significant step forward this fall.
O-line intrigue: Some of the Cougars starting on the offensive line last fall didn't look like Pac-10 players. Injuries and youth made the line a glaring area of weakness, even with veteran Kenny Alfred at center. Alfred is gone, but the expectations are that last year's youth will be saltier after taking their knocks. Plus, a couple of juco additions should be in the mix for starting jobs.
Growing up: There is hope in that 19 starters are back from a team that played a lot of underclassmen in 2009. That youth should mature in 2010. And solid recruiting classes the past two seasons should offer an infusion of young promise.
Gregory was the defensive coordinator at Boise State in 2001 and has spent the past eight seasons as the defensive coordinator at Cal.
He will be a defensive assistant for the Broncos. Pete Kwiatkowski, who had been Boise State’s defensive line coach the past four seasons, was promoted to defensive coordinator after former coordinator Justin Wilcox went to Tennessee.
“We couldn’t be happier that Bob [Gregory] is returning to the Bronco family,” coach Chris Petersen said in a statement. “Bob is one of the finest defensive coaches in college football. Equally important, he is one of the best people I know.”
Petersen and Gregory had already worked together on two separate occasions: once at Oregon from 1998 to 2000 and at Boise State in 2001. Petersen was the offensive coordinator for the Broncos when Gregory led the defense.
Petersen has said all along that familiarity would be key in finding replacements on his staff. It’s likely that Gregory will be involved in devising defensive game plans because of his coordinator experience, but it will still be Kwiatkowski’s show. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.
“My family and I are very excited to be back with the Broncos,” Gregory said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity of working with Coach Petersen and his staff as the Boise State program continues to grow.”
Such a move would have felt more seamless.
While few would call it a promotion to jump from the Pac-10 to the WAC -- even for a national power such as Boise State -- it would have seemed perfectly reasonable for Gregory to move on after being at Cal for eight seasons.
Sometimes change for the sake of change makes sense.
But the timing of Gregory's departure -- just over two weeks before spring practices begin on March 6 -- is hardly ideal, and it suggests this was a separation, even if it was an amicable one.
Moreover, Boise State hired Gregory as a "defensive assistant," not as the coordinator, a job that presently belongs to Pete Kwiatkowski, who was promoted from defensive line coach after Wilcox's departure.
Perhaps Gregory will get a "co-coordinator" slot. He was the Broncos defensive coordinator for a single season (2001) before being hired by Tedford, by the way. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. As for money, it's possible Boise State can match the $241,000 Gregory was making at Cal (before bonuses), at least when the salary is adjusted for cost of living.
Still, the vagueness suggests a hastily made deal.
Gregory did a good job at Cal. He rebuilt the Bears defense and his units were among the Pac-10 leaders in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008.
You could argue, in fact, that Cal has had the conference's second-best defense during his tenure, though obviously rating well behind USC.
Still, there's a building sense of urgency that the Bears need to take another step forward after a disappointing season, and coach Jeff Tedford has been fairly frank this offseason about needing to be more aggressive on defense.
It's hard to believe that Tedford outright pushed Gregory out the door, and it's clear that both men don't want that to be the perception. Gregory didn't return a message left on what now may be an outdated cell phone, and Tedford didn't immediately reply to a text message.
Said Tedford in the official statement: “This was coach Gregory’s decision all the way to make what he feels is the best move for his family."
Said Gregory: “This decision is a great move for my family.”
Not to be insensitive on this, but let's consider the recent case of Dave Ungerer, who was hired this week to be Washington State's new special teams/running backs coach.
Last February, Ungerer "left" Oregon State, reportedly to be closer to his family on the East coast. He coached at Elon College in North Carolina in 2009.
Beavers coach Mike Riley replaced Ungerer with Bruce Read, a longtime Riley assistant -- and friend -- who had been fired by the Dallas Cowboys at the end of the 2008 season.
Sometimes coaches make tough decisions and they'd prefer not to go into the details why.
The latest victim was California in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Utah spotted the Bears a 14-point lead, but nonetheless rolled to a 37-27 victory.
The night before BYU buried Oregon State 44-20.
The Pac-10, thought by many to be the nation's best conference -- top-to-bottom -- this season, certainly hasn't looked the part while starting the bowl season 0-2.
How the game was won: Utah was vastly superior at the quarterback position, with freshman Jordan Wynn outplaying Cal junior Kevin Riley. Wynn completed 26 of 36 passes for 338 yards with three touchdowns. He shook off an early pick-six interception to play a nearly flawless game. Riley completed 20 of 36 for 214 yards with two interceptions and a late touchdown pass when the result was no longer in question. He basically had one good drive -- he went 3 for 3 for 60 yards on a TD drive that closed the gap to 27-21 with 39 seconds left in the third -- and that was it. To be fair, the Bears receivers dropped a number of critical passes that might have helped Riley get in rhythm.
Turning point: Much like Oregon State the night before, Cal jumped ahead early and looked superior on both sides of the ball. And, much like the night before, the fast start couldn't have been more deceiving. After linebacker Eddie Young returned a Wynn interceptions for a TD, the Bears led 14-0. But Utah got a 61-yard return on the ensuing kickoff and then drove for a TD to answer. The Bears wouldn't show a pulse again until the scoring drive described above.
Stat of the game: Six consecutive Cal drives netted just 18 yards stretching from the second quarter to late in the third. The technical term for that is "bad."
Second guessing: More than a few Utah fans griped about Andy Ludwig's play-calling when he was the Utes offensive coordinator, so that faction probably is nodding their heads after the Bears anemic showing. Utah was better prepared and better coached during the game on both sides of the ball. Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory's pass defense -- so impressive in 2008 -- imploded this year, and he might want to consider trashing his rush-three, drop-eight scheme. Simply, it's not working.
What it means: Cal, once ranked sixth in the nation, finishes a supremely disappointing season at 8-5. The Bears -- coaches and players -- will need to look in the mirror during the offseason. The first question is Riley. Will he break through as a senior? Or might coach Jeff Tedford want to go in a different direction in 2010? Another thing for Tedford to think about: Does he have enough fire on his coaching staff? Tedford, Ludwig and Gregory are all low-key, cerebral coaches. The Bears seeming lack of fire this season -- other than the Stanford and Arizona games -- might be an issue that could be helped by a coach who doesn't mind an occasional sideline or locker room tirade.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
A reporter who covers California and I were chatting during the late moments of USC's 30-3 whipping of the Bears, and I was blathering about various reasons why the home team was laying an egg for the second consecutive game.
"You know," he said patiently. "They just might not be any good."
At this point -- consecutive defeats by a combined 72-6 count -- that's probably the best explanation. And shortest.
|Ezra Shaw/Getty Images|
|Are coach Jeff Tedford's Cal Bears just plain bad?|
Here's what I wrote in August when ranking the Bears No. 2 in the preseason Pac-10 power rankings.
2. California: The Bears have 17 starters back from a team that went 9-4 in 2009, including a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Jahvid Best. The secondary will be one of the nation's best and the defensive line is as good as any in the Pac-10. Replacing three of four linebackers doesn't seem to be causing much stress in Berkeley. The only issue is how much the passing game improves. If it improves significantly, this is a potential BCS bowl team.
"Potential BCS bowl team."
Still, it doesn't make sense.
That 9-4 team, if you recall, beat Miami in the Emerald Bowl.
The Hurricanes welcomed back 16 starters from the 2008 team that went 7-6. After beating Oklahoma on Saturday, they are presently 3-1 and ranked 11th.
That suggests Cal's foundation for 2009 was strong. But somewhere, sometime, that foundation cracked.
So what's wrong? Here' are some possibilities.
The big preseason question -- the passing game -- hasn't been answered: It was not unreasonable to believe that quarterback Kevin Riley would be a better player this year. He's flashed ability the previous two seasons. He looked good this past spring. He looked good in the first three games, ranking as high as sixth in the nation in passing efficiency. Meanwhile, the receivers -- banged up and inconsistent in 2008 -- also looked poised to break through, led by talented sophomore Marvin Jones and a supporting cast that had plenty of experience. But the past two weekends, the passing game has been horrendous, with Riley completing just 27 of 71 passes (38 percent). The receivers haven't been helping the cause much, either. They are not getting open. They are dropping balls. They look sorta slow.
The rotating door at offensive coordinator hasn't helped: Andy Ludwig is the Bears fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons. Hmm. That can't help continuity. At this point, it would be fair to say fans at Oregon and Utah, where Ludwig suffered heavy criticism during previous stops, are giggling and pointing a mocking finger at Berkeley.
Replacing three starting linebackers in the 3-4 scheme was more difficult than originally thought: The big personnel loss from the 2008 team was almost entirely at linebacker, where Zach Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder needed to be replaced. Still, that was not a huge concern entering fall camp. Those guys were good college players but not exactly future NFL starters. The youngsters who were next in line were generally more athletic, while Mike Mohamed was expected to grow into an All-Conference player. This article does a good job of breaking down how things haven't gone well. Mostly, there's been a lack of continuity as coordinator Bob Gregory has tried to find who belongs where.
The offensive line misses Alex Mack and line coach Jim Michalczik: Mack is starting at center for the Cleveland Browns (so he's not much better off than his former teammates). Michalczik, widely regarded as one of the nation's best offensive line coaches, is now with the Oakland Raiders (so he's miserable, too). Entering the season, the general feeling was the line was talented and deep, considering injuries last fall forced many young players into starting roles. The line hasn't been terrible. It hasn't been as good as expected, either. And it certainly hasn't been good enough to beat defenses that are stacking the box to stop Jahvid Best.
The secondary has underachieved: The Bears secondary was the one area no one doubted. All four starters were back from a unit that ranked sixth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and grabbed 24 interceptions, which ranked third in the nation. The Bears presently rank 87th in the nation and have just four interceptions. Not to call one player out or anything, but did you see All-American cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson whiff on Joe McKnight's 38-yard TD run to open the scoring Saturday? That sort of play -- and pursuit angle -- won't help him get drafted.
Into the leadership void steps... who? What you keep hearing from players and coaches is that the Bears are close to making plays but it seems like at least one guy doesn't do his job on every play and therefore things go sour. A missed block. An inaccurate pass. An olé tackle. A dropped pass. A stupid penalty. A poor kick. Etc. The first blame for that goes to coaching because that's where the buck always stops in college football. But the players also are responsible for their lack of focus. Seems to me the Bears need a player -- or players -- who can rally the locker room, a guy who can stand in the middle of an 85-man huddle and deliver a passionate speech that will connect the important wires within his teammates. That is a cliché scene, of course. But it's a cliche because it often works. I remember one time see a video of Ed Reed doing that when he played for Miami. Made me want to suit up.
Or maybe it's something else. Or maybe the Bears are just stink.
Or maybe they don't.
The season isn't over. In fact, the Bears schedule is much easier going forward.
If a couple of things click into place, and the Bears approach their potential -- even if it isn't what many thought it could be in the preseason -- it is not ridiculous to see this team finishing with eight or nine wins.
Of course, things also could completely split apart -- see 2007.
Nothing can erase the two pitiful performances. The season is at its crisis point.
What comes next will be interesting to watch.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Oregon's spread-option offense averaged 42 points and 485 yards per game in 2008. Only two defenses stopped the Ducks last fall: USC and California.
Everybody knows about USC's defense.
Cal, which had switched from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 during the 2008 offseason, held the Ducks to just 290 yards in a 26-16 victory.
One of the reasons to be high on Cal this year is eight starters are back from that defense.
But, considering the Bears also held Dennis Dixon & Co. to just 24 points in Autzen Stadium in 2007, it seemed appropriate to check in with defensive coordinator Bob Gregory and see if he'd share some insights into slowing the spread-option.
Does it help that you guys have incorporated some spread elements into your offense so you get to practice against it?
Bob Gregory: No question. Anytime you see it a little bit more it helps you. We're a little bit fortunate in the Pac-10 in that, unless it's out of league, we only have one team that is true spread -- Oregon. But anytime you see it in practice, it helps for sure.
I remember in high school preparing for wishbone teams: It was pure assignment football. Is it like that preparing for a spread-option vs. a typical pro-style, multiple offense?
BG: Yeah, it definitely is. In the old days, you had three backs in the backfield and everybody was doing option defensive assignments and concerns. It's the same kind of deal. The quarterback can carry the ball. He can hand off. He can motion a guy around to be the pitch guy. It really is the same idea. You've really got to make sure you stop all those elements. And then they throw in the no-huddle with it, which most of them have, and that can slow you down a little bit more. So we talk about that with our guys -- it's assignment football. You can't be quite as reckless, unless it's third-and-long and then you can get into your normal blitz stuff.