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Hope and concern: California

7/10/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Third in a series on grounds for optimism and worry.

Biggest reason for hope -- A good defense and Jahvid Best.

California welcomes back eight starters from a defense that ranked second in the Pac-10 in scoring (19.9 ppg), and that doesn't include Mike Mohamed, the Bears most versatile linebacker. Particularly of note: The secondary, led by All-American cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, returns intact, and it led a pass defense that intercepted 24 passes a year ago. As for Best, he rushed for 1,580 yards last year -- averaging an eye-popping 8.1 yards per carry -- and is the West Coast's top Heisman Trophy candidate.

Biggest reason for concern -- Will the passing game improve?

California's quarterback play wasn't terrible in 2008: See 25 touchdown passes vs. 10 interceptions. But it was mediocre: See just 190 yards per game and a pass efficiency rating that ranked sixth in the Pac-10. Junior Kevin Riley won't have to share the quarterback job with Nate Longshore again this year because Longshore graduated, but coach Jeff Tedford hasn't yet anointed Riley as his starter over Brock Mansion. That's curious, and obviously a sore spot for Riley. The Bears really don't have any obvious holes, and if they are even just solid passing the ball, this could be a special season.