Pac-12: Andy Buh

BERKELEY, Calif. -- New California defensive coordinator Art Kaufman has heard a lot about the defense he was hired to reconstruct following a disastrous start to the Sonny Dykes era. He's read about it too, but that about sums up the extent of what Kaufman knows about last season.

Since being hired on Jan. 22, Kaufman has not -- and will not -- watch any of game film of the 1-11 season to evaluate players or try to figure out where things stand for Cal defensively. And it's not just to save himself from potential headaches.

"If I'm grading guys on what they did last year -- which may have been right or wrong -- I don't know what they were asked to do," Kaufman said. "I don't know how young they were. Were they injured? I don't know the whole circumstances.

[+] EnlargeArt Kaufman
Jerod Foster/Icon SMINew Cal defensive coordinator Art Kaufman isn't worried about last year's performances, only what he sees in players this spring.
"I'm judging guys on what they could do, and that's all I'm worried about. I'll judge them based on what I see at our practices."

Six practices in, Kaufman still isn't sure what he has, and admits it'll be awhile until he does.

"It's going to be fall," he said. "All I'm trying to figure out right now is what guys can and can't do. Evaluate and coach fundamentals ... not trying to install a system."

For Kaufman, it's a process he's become all too familiar with over the past few years. Cal stands as his fourth school in four years, following stops as the defensive coordinator at North Carolina (2011), Texas Tech (2012) and Cincinnati (2013).

"[Having gone through it] it's easier to install and not be as impatient or wonder about the uncertainties because I've done it enough," he said. "I know what we're going to do and how we're going to do it."

His year at Texas Tech most closely resembles the current situation in Berkeley. The year before Kaufman arrived, the Red Raiders finished the year ranked No. 114 in total defense, No. 117 in scoring defense and allowed 47.5 points per game during a 1-7 stretch to end the season.

In his lone season in Lubbock, the Red Raiders were markedly improved across the board and finished No. 38 in total defense.

After making the jump to Cincinnati with coach Tommy Tuberville a year ago, he coordinated a unit that ranked No. 9 in the country in total defense (315.6 ypg), No. 10 in yards per play (4.77) and No. 14 in scoring defense (21.1 ppg).

It was good enough for Kaufman to be unceremoniously let go following the season, his 32nd coaching at the collegiate level.

In speaking with Wednesday, Kaufman seemed unfazed by his dismissal.

"In this business, nothing catches you off guard," he said.

It was about a week later when Dykes came calling. Not long after that, Kaufman was picked up for his first coaching job on the West Coast.

"Any time you look at football schools are where to go, you want a chance to be successful," Kaufman said. "And when you're the university of any state, to me you're going to have a chance ... and when you have [a population of] 38 million that really gives you a better opportunity."

Whether or not Dykes made the right call in bringing Kaufman aboard will ultimately be determined down the road, but he's encouraged by the working relationship they've developed in a short amount of time.

“We think the same. We both have the same approach to teaching and coaching and what the game is about from a simplicity standpoint and the focus on fundamentals, and I think we share that," Dykes said. "When you hire somebody you always think you have a lot in common.

"Typically you find out there’s less than you anticipated, but I think with Art it’s been more than we anticipated. We’re on the same page, and I feel good about it.”

Like his predecessor, Andy Buh, Kaufman employs a 4-3 scheme, but said there will be times they get into some 3-4 and 4-2-5 looks.

Linebacker Michael Barton said the defensive players have a new sense of optimism thanks to a winter of taking out their frustrations in the weight room and Kaufman's measured approach.

"What I like about him is he's very clear about what he wants us to do and he doesn't have to yell or anything," Barton said. "He'll tell us one time and we'll do it one time ... it sticks. He shows us a lot of respect, and in return we show him a lot of respect too."
While watching Cal’s defense suffer last year, all defensive end Brennan Scarlett wanted to do was pitch in and give his guys a hand.

Yet in a cruel act of irony, it was his hand that was keeping him off the field.

After Scarlett broke the middle metacarpal bone in his left hand in 2012, he developed a staph infection that spread into the bone, forcing him to miss the entire 2013 season. All he could do was offer emotional support as his teammates stumbled through one of the worst seasons in program history. And on top of that, sweat out the future of his left hand.

[+] EnlargeBrennan Scarlett
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezBrennan Scarlett has played in only 12 games in three seasons -- none in 2013 -- but has shown plenty of pop when healthy.
“It was pretty scary,” Scarlett said. “The infection spread so quickly and got into the bone. If they hadn’t caught it as quickly as they did, it could have spread to the whole hand. I’m not sure exactly what could have happened. But there were plenty of worst-case scenarios.”

Fortunately for Scarlett and the Bears, the best-case scenario seems to have prevailed. And after 18 months, he’s back on the field for the first time, practicing with his teammates during spring ball.

Coming out of Central Catholic High School in Portland, Ore., Scarlett was a U.S. Army All-American and was a four-star player by multiple services. Some had him as one of the top 10 defensive ends in the country. But so far he has appeared in only 12 games over two seasons, starting nine. From those 12, there have been glimpses of his potential. He has 44 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He also has forced a pair of fumbles. When he’s healthy, he’s a playmaker.

“It’s been real disappointing and frustrating,” he said. “I think this is the year to finally show what I can do and maximize my abilities and finally live up to the hype that I had coming out of high school.”

The Bears need it. They ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense last year, yielding a scoreboard-scorching 45.9 points per game. They also ranked last in total defense, pass defense, pass defense efficiency, opponent third-down conversion, red zone defense, fourth-down defense … you get the picture. It was bad.

Scarlett’s injury wasn’t the only one the Bears suffered. They also missed the play of Stefan McClure, Mustafa Jalil and Avery Sebastian, among many, many others, in one of the worst injury rashes in the country last year.

“I’ve never seen that many injuries happen in such a small window of time,” said Scarlett, who spent most of his 2013 in the film room. “It’s one thing to lose a guy and then five or six weeks later you lose another guy. But this happened week after week after week. And then you’re throwing in freshmen and guys who have never had the chance to play and weren’t expecting to play. It was really difficult for us as a team to get them all caught up. And as you can see what happened, it took its toll on us. I’ve never seen anything like that. I don’t think anyone has.”

Naturally, when you’re giving up almost seven touchdowns per game, things tend to get a little down in the locker room. There was only so much Scarlett could do during that stretch.

“The media is all over you and you start seeing your fans fall off and people don’t show up,” he said. “You just have to take a step back and embrace your teammates and stick together and know that sooner or later things are going to turn around and the hard work is going to pay off. Being negative and keeping our heads down isn’t going to help anything. I think last season actually brought us that much closer together as a family and it will pay off.”

Sonny Dykes made the move in the offseason to reassign defensive coordinator Andy Buh and bring in Art Kaufman. Scarlett never got to be coached by Buh, but he learned the system anyway. He described Kaufman’s 4-3 scheme as similar but simpler than the one the Bears were running last season. And Dykes said he’s excited to finally see Scarlett's capabilities.

“To his credit, he did a good job of hanging in there,” Dykes said. “His attitude has been positive. He’s had some unfortunate things happen to him, but I thought his attitude has been good. He’s a guy I think we’re probably going to count on for some leadership as well. I think he’s become more comfortable in that role. I’m anxious to see him emerge and continue to get better.”
If there is one iron-clad guarantee in the Pac-12 next season it is this: California's defense will be better this fall than it was in 2013.

That can be typed with confidence, but it has nothing to do with Sonny Dykes remaking his defensive staff this offseason, a process that was completed with the hiring of Fred Tate as defensive line coach Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeMichael Lowe
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuSafety Michael Lowe led the Cal defense in 2013 with 67 tackles.
Yes, most Cal fans should view Art Kaufman as an upgrade over Andy Buh at defensive coordinator because Kaufman's résumé includes more success running defenses, including the nationally ranked unit he oversaw at Cincinnati last season. But our certainty is arrived at for more mundane and probably less inspiring reasons.

The 2014 Bears defense can't be any worse than it was in 2013.

Well, it can, but what are the odds the Bears produce their statistically worst unit in program history two seasons in a row? At some point in 2014, we suspect that Cal will allow fewer than 30 points, thereby ending their present streak of 14 consecutive games surrendering at least 30 points, which already is the longest streak ever -- EVER -- by a power conference team.

But there are more than flippant reasons to believe Kaufman and company will produce dramatic improvement in 2014, and it's the best one: Talent. Cal actually has some on defense.

Here's a bet that no FBS team's 2013 post-spring depth chart was more different than what Cal sent onto the field on defense in November, a motley crew of players who were too young, too small and too slow. Couple that with questionable schemes, poor adjustments and often uninspired play, and you get a defense befitting a 1-11 finish.

Buh has been the scapegoat, and not without reason. But he would have seemed a lot smarter with MLB Nick Forbes, DE Brennan Scarlett, DT Mustafa Jalil, CB Stefan McClure, SS Avery Sebastian and LB Nathan Broussard, among others, on the field. Kaufman will benefit from having all or even most of them -- knock on wood, Cal fans -- back, other than Forbes, who was forced to retire from football due to a recurring back injury.

Scarlett and Sebastian should be full go when spring practices start March 31, and they could be the Bears' two best defenders. McClure, who is moving to safety, is a bit more iffy coming back from a second ACL injury. Jalil and Broussard also figure to be limited this spring.

While depth is questionable, and the Bears lost several players with remaining eligibility who left the program for various reasons, including odd entries into the NFL draft, such as underachieving defensive tackle Viliami Moala, Cal will trot out a pretty salty starting 11 next fall.

If healthy.

I mean, there's no way that the injury situation will be as bad in 2014 as it was in 2013, right?

(Cal fans, pull out your lucky rabbit's foot).

Pac-12's lunch links

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
Happy Friday!

Coordinator changes: Pac-12 North

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
So far, only three Pac-12 teams retained their 2013 offensive and defensive coordinators: Arizona, Colorado and Washington State.

Here's a look at who's in, who's out and what it means, starting in the North Division:


Out: Defensive coordinator Andy Buh, who will be reassigned as a position coach, probably linebackers, if he remains in Berkeley. Coach Sonny Dykes also fired defensive tackles coach Barry Sacks and defensive backs coach Randy Stewart.

In: Art Kaufman, whose defense at Cincinnati ranked ninth in the nation last season.

Thoughts: Kaufman, 55, takes over perhaps the worst defense in Cal history, a unit that was injury-ravaged but also was often unsound and seemingly uninspired, allowing an eye-popping 46 points per game in 2013. The good news: If the injury issues resolve themselves with the healthy return of talented players such as defensive end Brennan Scarlett, safety Avery Sebastian, defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil and cornerback Stefan McClure, the improvement could be dramatic. Dykes also hired Greg Burns to coach the secondary. He was at USC from 2002-05 and Arizona State from 2008 -11. He spent last season at UMass.


Out: Longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti retired.

In: Don Pellum was promoted from linebackers coach.

Thoughts: The promotion of the 51-year-0ld Pellum stuck with the "Oregon Way" of promoting from within, though there was mutual interest between coach Mark Helfrich and former USC coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Pellum won't have to rework much with the Ducks' hybrid 3-4 scheme. As noted here, since 2009, "the Ducks have finished no lower than third in the Pac-12 in yards-per-play allowed. That includes leading the conference in 2009, 2010 and, yes, 2013, when the Ducks finished seventh nationally by that metric." The Ducks did falter a few times last season, most notably against Stanford, Arizona and Oregon State, and often had trouble against physical running games as well as on third down. Helfrich did make a quasi-outside hire when he brought in Erik Chinander to take over the Ducks' outside linebackers, which Aliotti coached. Chinander, 34, is a former Oregon graduate assistant who worked under Chip Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles last season.

Oregon State

Out: Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf left to become the quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants.

In: John Garrett, who was the wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. He was on the staff of the Dallas Cowboys from 2007-12, where his brother Jason Garrett is the head coach.

Thoughts: Garrett, who last coached in college at Virginia from 2004-06, shows that coach Mike Riley remains married to a pro-style scheme. Garrett will also coach quarterbacks and tight ends, but it has not yet been determined who will call plays -- Riley has done so for the past two seasons. Garrett and Riley have known each other since 1991, when Garrett played receiver for Riley's San Antonio Riders of the World Football League. The good news for Garrett is the Beavers are strong at QB (Sean Mannion) and deep at tight end. The bigger questions are making the running game more consistent and replacing WR Brandin Cooks' production.


Out: Defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who became the head coach at Vanderbilt.

In: Lance Anderson was promoted from outside linebackers coach, a position he will continue to coach.

Thoughts: Another promotion from within that will ensure the Pac-12's best defense has schematic continuity. Anderson has been at Stanford for seven seasons. He coached DTs from 2007-09. He was also the recruiting coordinator from 2007-11. The Cardinal also hired Peter Hansen as inside linebackers coach. He replaces David Kotulski, who was named Vanderbilt’s defensive coordinator under Mason. That was another move that maintains continuity, as Hansen spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons at Stanford as a defensive assistant before following Vic Fangio and Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers.


Out: Steve Sarkisian brought most of his staff from Washington to USC, including defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, but not offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, who was not retained by new Huskies coach Chris Petersen

In: Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski

Thoughts: Smith, the overachieving former Oregon State QB, is a real up-and-comer. Petersen trusts him enough to give him play-calling duties, even though he was not the offensive coordinator last year at Boise State. He'll also coach quarterbacks, so he'll play a central role in determining who wins the starting job this fall. Before joining Petersen at Boise State, Smith spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Montana. Kwiatkowski spent the previous four seasons coordinating the Boise State defense. He was the defensive line coach before being elevated to defensive coordinator in 2010, when he replaced Wilcox. The Broncos led the Western Athletic and Mountain West Conferences in total defense and scoring defense in each of his first three seasons and were third and second, respectively, in 2013.

Washington State

No change: Head coach Mike Leach is his own offensive coordinator and Mike Breske is back to coordinate the Cougars defense, which was disappointing in 2013, slightly lagging behind its 2012 numbers.

Season review: California

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
We continue our team-by-team review of the Pac-12 with California.

Offense: The first thing that jumps out, by the very nature of Sonny Dykes’ offense, is the passing yards. The Bears, behind true freshman quarterback Jared Goff, were third in the conference with 331.4 passing yards per game and 3,977 total yards in the air. So they were able to move the ball. What stands out next, however, is the scoring offense, which was last in the Pac-12 at 23 points per game. So despite moving the ball, the Bears weren’t able to generate points. And that’s the name of the game. When you look at the pass efficiency numbers, Cal was last in the league. On the year, the Bears scored just 32 touchdowns. They were last in third-down conversions (33.6 percent), last in turnover margin (-15) and last in red zone offense (72.1 percent). Khalfani Muhammad was actually pretty steady on the ground, averaging six yards per carry and 445 net yards to go with four touchdowns, but the running game wasn’t able to do enough to open up the passing game. Brendan Bigelow, who seemed poised for a breakout season, rushed for just 421 yards and four yards per carry. Goff completed 60.3 percent of his throws with 18 touchdowns to 10 interceptions while totaling 3,508 yards. And he did break the school’s single-season passing record. Bryce Treggs had 77 catches for 751 yards and Chris Harper hauled in 70 catches for 852 yards. The foundation for an explosive pass offense is in place, but the Bears simply weren't able to put it all together in Year 1. Grade: D-

Defense: The Bears were last in the league in scoring defense, total defense, passing defense and 10th in rushing defense. Oh yeah, last in pass efficiency defense also. It was not a good year. Injuries played a major role with several projected starters -- including Mustafa Jalil, Stefan McClure, Nick Forbes, Brennan Scarlett and Avery Sebastian being lost for the year or missing significant time. This led to a lack of veteran leadership when things started to spiral and youngsters who should have been redshirting were forced into action. They gave up at least 40 points in nine games, yielded 30 points to FCS Portland State (Cal’s only win of the year) and were last nationally in points allowed at 45.9 (there were a few pick-sixes and special teams points sprinkled in there as well). No way around it, this was a bad, bad year for Cal’s defense. And as a result, defensive coordinator Andy Buh was demoted and the staff was shaken up. There were just five interceptions (from five different players) and the defense produced just 18 sacks on the year. Grade: F

Special teams: Kicker Vincenzo D’Amato was one of the more accurate kickers in league, converting on 17 of 20 kicks -- including a long of 51 yards against UCLA. His only misses were from 45, 46 and 50 yards -- though he did convert five kicks of 40 yards or longer. But Cal failed to return either a kick or a punt for a touchdown and gave up five punt returns for scores (including a blocked punt for a score) and one kick return for a touchdown. Their punt return average was last in the league and the kick coverage team was mediocre. Outside of D’Amato, the special teams were unimpressive. Grade: C-

Overall: Tough, tough first year for Dykes and Co. In some ways, it was the perfect storm of a new coach, a true freshman quarterback, a tough schedule and a rash of injuries the likes we haven’t seen in a long, long time that all contributed to Cal’s worst season since going winless in 1999. The Bears have now lost 16 straight games to FBS opponents and questions are already swirling about the future of the head coach and the decision-makers in the athletic department. The bright side is that, hopefully, the Bears will be healthier next year and a lot of the young players who were forced into action this season will gain from that experience. But if you’re a Cal fan, there’s not much to feel good about when you look at 2013. Grade: F
After turning in some of the worst defensive numbers in program history in 2013, California will have a new defensive coordinator in 2014, as coach Sonny Dykes announced that Andy Buh will be demoted to a position coach.

Dykes also announced that defensive tackles coach Barry Sacks and defensive backs coach Randy Stewart will not return in 2014.

The Bears ranked last in the Pac-12 in most major defensive categories and among the worst in the nation. They ranked 122nd out of 123 FBS teams in scoring defense (45.9 points per game) and total defense (529.6 yards per game). The Bears yielded 7.1 yards per play and ranked 118th in pass efficiency defense.

“Defense is a critical part of the equation in winning championships,” Dykes said in a statement. “I owe it to our student-athletes to provide them with the best conditions for success, both on and off the field, and I am committed to hiring coaches who will develop our players to their fullest potential while being excellent teachers in all aspects of the game. I will look to hire a defensive coordinator with significant experience in that role who can lead our defensive unit to success in one of the most prolific offensive conferences in the country.”

This is a move Dykes probably had to make after little went right during a 1-11 season, his first in Berkeley. The Bears, while hit by a ridiculous injury epidemic, had better talent than their numbers suggested.

The big question with the next coordinator: Will he run a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense? Cal had success with previous coordinator Clancy Pendergast with a 3-4 defense, but Buh switched to a 4-3 this fall, and it didn't seem he had the right talent to make the switch. For one, it seemed odd that talented 6-foot-5 defensive lineman Deandre Coleman, an NFL prospect as a 3-4 end, was lined up as at nose tackle.

Whoever gets the job, Cal fans should expect significant improvement, simply because there's no way the injuries can be as bad in 2014.

Cal: Pain now, gain in 2014?

November, 21, 2013
Let's get this out of the way: California is awful. There is not even a misleading statistic we can massage to suggest Cal is not.

The Bears rank last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense and scoring defense, with an average margin of defeat of 23.2. They have no wins over FBS teams, much less a Pac-12 team. Colorado was winless in conference play before it dispatched the Bears by 17 points last weekend.

On Saturday, Stanford is going to crush the Bears like a bug in the Big Game. The Bears are a Big Game-record 31˝-point underdogs.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesFreshman QB Jared Goff has been a bright spot for Cal this season.
It's fair to say this team is every bit as abysmal as Tom Holmoe's final team in 2001, which went 1-10, beating Rutgers on the final week. That squad had an average margin of defeat of 24 points.

And therein, almost perversely, lies where we're going to offer up a ray of hope.

As Cal fans know, the once-celebrated Jeff Tedford took over for Holmoe and immediately transformed the Bears, who went 7-5 in 2002. Tedford deserves credit for leading a woeful program out of the abyss -- in 2004 Cal was a national title contender -- but it's worth noting he inherited a heck of a team.

As in: QB Kyle Boller, CB Nnamdi Ashomugha, RB Joe Igber, DE Tully Banta-Cain, DT Lorenzo Alexander, OG Scott Tercero and WR Geoff McArthur, among others.

While it's well premature to suggest we're going all pollyanna on the Bears prospects being similar in 2014 in year two under Sonny Dykes, a case can be made for a strong turnaround, at least based on a lot of players coming back from the team's two depth charts.

Two depth charts? Yes, Cal has two depth charts: The one from the spring that Dykes expected to send out onto the field, and the one that will play against Stanford. They look almost nothing alike, particularly on defense.

"Cal has 13 players who have started or were projected starters prior to the season who are out for the season or have missed multiple games due to injury," notes the the school's official football release, and five others have missed at least one game with injury. Three other players from the spring depth chart, DE Gabe King, OLB/DE Chris McCain and LB David Wilkerson, left the program.

Every single starting offensive player on the depth chart for the Stanford game is projected to return in 2014. Nine will be back on defense. If you then revert to the spring depth chart, you add in six other players. And not just any players. Guys such as DE Brennan Scarlett, DT Mustafa Jalil, LB Nick Forbes, CB Stefan McClure and SS Avery Sebastian.

You'll notice that nearly all of those injured are defensive players, which makes for one of Dykes' postseason quandaries: Does he bring back defensive coordinator Andy Buh? That will be Dykes' first tough call as the Bears' coach.

California has allowed 79 plays of 20 yards or longer, most in the FBS. Youth is a major cause of that, but poor tackling and missed assignments tend to get traced back to coaches, too.

The offense hasn't been great shakes either. For one, the offense has been incredibly inefficient. It averages 460 yards per game but scores only 23.9 points per game. Stanford averages 383 yards per game and scores 30.4 points per game. Cal is last in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency, and the 33 sacks it has yielded are five more than anyone else (Cal has played 11 games compared to 10 for every other Pac-12 team).

The to-do list for the offseason is lengthy. It starts with conditioning.

"We've got to get bigger and stronger," Dykes said. "We're playing with so many young players now. Guys physically probably aren't ready to play. We've got to get mentally tougher. Obviously, we've got work on our fundamentals a lot."

But, believe it or not, there are reasons for optimism. True freshman QB Jared Goff is a promising player, and there's impressive young talent at the offensive skill positions. If all the aforementioned guys return on defense, the improvement next fall could be exponential.

"We think we have the makings of a good team," Dykes said. "It's going to be a process to get to that point, as young as we are. The good thing is we're going to get a lot of guys back off of injury, guys who will be substantial contributors, starters, as we move into spring football."

Of course, there has been a lot of "Just wait until next year!" around Cal football for a few years. More than a few fans have questioned Dykes. They see Mike MacIntyre, who was just down the freeway at San Jose State last year, taking a Colorado program that was far lower than Cal in 2012 and moving it past the Bears in the Pac-12 pecking order in his first year, in large part because his team is playing with hunger.

Dykes understands the sentiments.

"There's not much you can say really," he said. "If you've watched us play on Saturday, you're not going to be real encouraged up to this point. But there are a lot of good things going on in the locker room."

He then added, "Building a program is building a program. It doesn't happen overnight."

But if you want to be optimistic, then expect the Bears to take a big step forward in 2014.
Since new California coach Sonny Dykes named true freshman Jared Goff his starting quarterback, Goff has taken on the role of, well, Jared Goff. He's pretty much acted a lot like he did before.

That's a good thing.

"He seems really relaxed," Dykes said. "He hasn't changed. That's been the great thing about Jared. He hasn't changed since he got here in the spring."

Other, Dykes said, than get better.

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
Norbert von der Groeben/GoldenBearSports.comWith such a young team, Sonny Dykes knows Cal will experience some growing pains.
Unfortunately for Dykes, Goff doesn't get an FCS team with which to get his college football feet wet. He doesn't get a preseason sort of game to see how fast things move and what it's like to play in front of 63,000 fans. He gets No. 22 Northwestern, a team with legitimate aspirations to win the Big Ten.

The way Dykes continues to talk about Goff, however, makes it seem as if he believes his young QB has the proverbial "It Factor." It's hard to describe exactly what "It" is but you know it when you see it in a QB because he seems to be smiling with his teammates after the game more often than not.

"It all begins with, how does this guy handle the team? Do they believe in him?" Dykes said. "The good thing about Jared is he has inspired confidence in our players and our football team. He does a lot of the little things well."

The Wildcats aren't really known for their defense, though they certainly were respectable on that side of the ball last year during a 10-3 season. They offer up an offense that looks more like something you'd see in the Pac-12 than the Big Ten. They ranked third in the Big Ten in scoring with 31.7 points per game in 2012 and 19th in the nation with 225.5 yards rushing per game. Quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark combined for over 2,200 yards rushing last year.

The good news is new Cal defensive coordinator Andy Buh has seen plenty of Northwestern on film because he coached at Wisconsin last year. The bad news is the Badgers didn't play the Wildcats.

Still, said Dykes, "He's familiar with their style of play to an extent."

Buh's defense is going to be hamstrung by a couple of injuries. Middle linebacker and vocal leader Nick Forbes is doubtful, and defensive end Brennan Scarlett is questionable. It appears that strong safety Avery Sebastian, who had a scary moment during preseason camp when he was hauled off the field and then hospitalized, is going to play.

The worst thing that could happen to Cal is Northwestern jumping to an early lead. That would take the crowd out of the game and put pressure on Goff. While Goff is reputed to be a cool dude, this isn't like his opener last fall for Marin Catholic at Miramonte. The stage is just a bit bigger.

Yet an ability to focus on what matters is part of what appeals to Dykes about Goff. He's a details guy.

Cal is not only breaking in two new schemes on offense and defense, both of which are significantly different than what the Bears ran a year ago, it will also start 10 sophomores or freshmen. While the talent is promising, this is a young team that could experience some growing pains on Saturday.

"I think there will be some, some growing pains, some kinks we have to work out," Dykes said. "A part of that is not only a new scheme, but we're just so young."

Dykes named Goff his starter early in preseason camp because he wanted his offense to have "clarity." He says Goff has embraced his role, mostly by continuing to do the things that won him the job in the first place.

Said Dykes, "He's done nothing but get better and better every week."

Video: On the spot for Week 1

August, 28, 2013

This week, Washington State coach Mike Leach and his quarterback, Connor Halliday, are on the spot on offense, while California defensive coordinator Andy Buh is on the spot on defense.

California Bears season preview

August, 19, 2013
We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the California Golden Bears.


Coach: Sonny Dykes 22-15 (First season at Cal)

2012 record: 3-9 (2-5 Pac-12 North)

Key losses: WR Keenan Allen, C Brian Schwenke, CB Steve Williams, DE Kendrick Payne, RB C.J. Anderson, RB Isi Sofele

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
Norbert von der Groeben/GoldenBearSports.comSonny Dykes will look to true freshman Jared Goff to lead a revamped Bears offense.
Key returnees: DE Deandre Coleman, RB Brendan Bigelow, LB Nick Forbes, K Vince D’Amato, WR Chris Harper

Newcomer to watch: We’ve been hearing some buzz around this true freshman quarterback named Jared Goff.

Biggest games in 2013: Take your pick. The Big Game (Nov. 23) is always the biggest, but there are plenty more with Northwestern coming for the opener (Aug. 31), No. 2 Ohio State a couple of weeks later (Sept. 14) and then Oregon two weeks after that (Sept. 28).

Biggest question mark: Regardless of who was going to take over at quarterback, he was going to be a rookie. But Dykes went with the youngest of the young in tapping Goff to be his guy. Considered the jewel of the 2012 recruiting class, Goff now becomes the face of the new-look Bears and their “Bear Raid” offense. And with youth and inexperience come questions. How will he handle Cal’s brutal schedule? How does he handle the highs and lows of the position? Can a true freshman be a leader? Perhaps the biggest question of them all: Did Dykes make the right call? Wins and/or competitive performances against some top-notch teams will go a long way to answering that. This decision will likely define Dykes’ first season as Cal’s head coach.

Forecast: A look at the schedule shows a potentially gloomy forecast. Northwestern and Ohio State paired with a Pac-12 North docket and USC and UCLA from the South seems daunting even if they had a veteran-heavy team, which they don’t.

But bear in mind it took Dykes some time to get things moving at Louisiana Tech. In his first season, the Bulldogs were 5-7 and ranked 59th nationally with 29.1 points per game. In 2011, they improved to 8-5 and jumped to 42nd in scoring offense (30 points per game). Last season, they were 9-3 and led the country with 51.5 points per game, and they were two points shy of knocking off Texas A&M.

And this is a team loaded with potential -- especially at the wide receiver spot, at which Goff will have a host of talented young playmakers at his disposal. From Harper and Kenny Lawler to Darius Powe and big-bodied Richard Rodgers (and about four or five others), there is no shortage of talented pass-catchers for Goff to target. And many are excited to see what Bigelow can do at running back with more opportunities and touches.

Defensively, the Bears are going against the trend in the conference and switching to an even-front defense under Andy Buh. Coleman is an A-list defensive linemen, though his contributions often get lost in the shuffle in a league with other A-list defensive linemen. The return of Stefan McClure -- a highly touted cornerback who missed last season with an injury -- quietly boosts what could be a sneaky good defense.

A new coaching staff brings hope and excitement, and that’s a good thing for a program that could use a little of both. But expectations are best tempered as the Bears undergo a complete overhaul on both sides of the ball and grow with their true freshman quarterback.

Take 2: B1G vs. Pac-12

July, 12, 2013
Your B1G and Pac-12 bloggers have been grinding away on their respective leagues' nonconference primer series. Here's the Big Ten series, and here's the Pac-12 series. Part of the fun is learning about other teams in other conferences and what they bring to the table. The Pac-12 and Big Ten face each other five times during the regular season. The Pac-12 got the better of the matchups last year. Will this year be different? Brian Bennett and Kevin Gemmell decided to talk it over.

Brian Bennett: The first thing I look at for Big Ten-Pac-12 matchups in any given season is where the games are staged. Big Ten teams don’t seem to think the West Coast is the Best Coast; they are just 5-20 in true road games against the Pac-12 since 2000, and that includes an 0-3 mark on the road versus the Pac-12 last year. (The league also has just one win in its past 10 Rose Bowls, but not all of those games came against the Pac-12.)

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
AP Photo/David StlukaNew coach Gary Andersen and the Badgers will have their hands full at ASU this season.
So it’s not good news for the league that I cover that three of these five matchups are located far left of the Midwest. If there’s any reason for optimism, it’s that the Big Ten teams should be substantial favorites in two of the road games -- Northwestern at Cal in the opener and Ohio State against those same Bears in Week 3. Cal is intriguing because of new coach Sonny Dykes, but Northwestern and Ohio State are both legitimate Top 20 teams with conference-title aspirations; if they can shake off the jet lag and contain the Bears’ passing attack, they should take care of business.

The two most interesting games -- and what look like virtual toss-ups -- are Wisconsin at Arizona State, and UCLA at Nebraska. The Badgers have a lot of returning talent, but a new head coach and different schemes on both sides of the ball. It’s also going to be a clash of styles, with the Badgers’ power running game going up against Arizona State’s spread offense. Will Gary Andersen’s team have its new systems figured out by then, and is Wisconsin’s defense -- particularly its inexperienced secondary -- fast enough to handle the Sun Devils?

UCLA-Nebraska is probably not getting enough attention as a must-watch game this year. Last year’s shootout in Pasadena, Calif., featured nonstop pingpong action, and both teams figure to have topflight offenses again. The Cornhuskers have a perilously young defense, but Bo Pelini’s teams usually defend much better at home than on the road. Quarterback Taylor Martinez -- who grew up a Bruins fan but was recruited by them as a defensive back -- will be highly motivated to beat UCLA his senior year. This is Nebraska’s only major test in the first seven games, and it’s one I think the Huskers have to find a way to win.

Finally, there’s Washington at Illinois. The Illini get the benefit of home turf, sort of, as the game will be played at Soldier Field in Chicago. We’ll see if Tim Beckman’s crew will inspire enough fans to show up by Week 3. While Washington has been mediocre for what seems like forever, I can’t confidently pick Illinois to beat any half-decent power conference opponent at this point.

In the end, I say the Big Ten manages a winning record this time around against the Pac-12, taking the two games in Berkeley, Calif., and the one in Lincoln, Neb. A 3-2 mark sounds about right, though if Wisconsin can pull off the win in the desert, that could be a good sign for both the Badgers and the league as a whole.

Kevin Gemmell: I'm going 3-2 also, but in favor of the Pac-12. After all, if we were in total agreement, it would make for a pretty boring Take 2. So I'll play the contrarian when it comes to UCLA-Nebraska.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
William Mancebo/Getty ImagesCoach Jim Mora and UCLA allowed just six points in the second half of last year's win against Nebraska.
We agree on the Cal games versus Northwestern and Ohio State -- though I think Cal is going to give both of those teams a better run than they are banking on. I like what Andy Buh is doing with a defense that could be sneaky good. And the Bears have some explosive depth at wide receiver. But ultimately it's a rookie quarterback -- whomever Dykes chooses among Zach Kline, Jared Goff and Austin Hinder -- and a team that will still have some growing pains as new systems are installed on both sides of the ball. Like you with Illinois, I'm not ready to give the Bears the green light yet. However, last year's game in Columbus, a 35-28 win for Ohio State, should serve as a reminder not to take Cal lightly. No doubt, the Buckeyes will remember Brendan Bigelow and his four carries, 160 yards and two touchdowns.

Both halves of the Pac-12 blog have been saying we believe Washington is going to get over that seven-win hump this year after three straight seasons of mediocrity. The Huskies have a lot of pieces in place with a returning quarterback, a 1,400-yard rusher, good receivers, a good line and the top tight end in the country. Their defense made huge strides last season in the first year under Justin Wilcox, and we're expecting another leap forward in 2013. What scares me is Washington's inconsistent play on the road the past few seasons. During the Huskies' trio of 7-6 seasons, they are 14-5 in Seattle (last year they played at CenturyLink Field) and 6-11 on the road. The past two years they are 11-2 at home and 3-8 on the road (0-2 in their bowl games at neutral sites). If the Huskies want to have a breakout year, they are going to have to win away from home. Steve Sarkisian actually talked about this in a Q&A we did back in April. But they certainly have the talent to win this game.

The ASU-Wisconsin game is really a critical one for the Sun Devils. It kicks off a four-game stretch (with no bye weeks) that also includes Stanford, USC and Notre Dame. ASU is another team looking for some national credibility, and this is its first opportunity to get some. You're right to talk about the ASU offense, but that defense -- which ranked first nationally in tackles for a loss and second in sacks last season -- is going to be crazy good with Will Sutton and Carl Bradford leading the attack. I'm banking on a good game, but ultimately one ASU wins at home.

That brings us to UCLA-Nebraska, a game I'm also surprised more people aren't geeked up about outside of the respective fan bases. This should be a fantastic showcase for both leagues. Brett Hundley impressed in his freshman campaign, and I think this game is going to be a spotlight for two of the country's most athletic quarterbacks. I was in Pasadena for the game last season, and what actually stood out to me was UCLA's defense -- particularly in the second half. The Bruins allowed only six points, and kept Martinez to 11 yards rushing and the Huskers to 106 total yards in the final 30 minutes. They should be improved in Year 2 under Jim Mora and Lou Spanos. If the Bruins pull this one off, it's going to be because of what they can do defensively.

Proving grounds: Pac-12 North

July, 10, 2013
Some players come in with plenty of hype, but never quite seem to match it. Others have a great season, then slip the following one, leaving many to wonder if they were one-year wonders. Still others have to bounce back from injury and show they aren't shells of what they used to be.

Either way, there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 with something to prove in 2013. Here are six players with something to prove from the Pac-12 North. This is last year's Proving Grounds post. Tomorrow we'll take a look at the South.

Khairi Fortt, OLB, California: He's yet to play a down for the Bears since transferring from Penn State -- a move that had less to do with the NCAA sanctions facing the Nittany Lions and more to do with his desire for a larger role in the defense. He appeared in every game for Penn State his sophomore year and is well-versed in the 4-3 -- the new base defensive alignment for the Bears this year under Andy Buh. New head coach Sonny Dykes called Fortt a potentially impactful player who needs to be more consistent. The Bears have some defensive stability with guys like Nick Forbes and Deandre Coleman. If Fortt can elevate his play and prove to be an upper-level linebacker, the Bears could have a sneaky-good defense.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR/KR/PR/AP, Oregon: When it comes to delivering "SportsCenter" highlights, Thomas has nothing to prove. No question, he's one of the most explosive players in the country and certainly one of the most exciting to watch. But his burden of proof comes from a different place. During his tenure in Eugene, the Ducks relied on LaMichael James in 2011 and Kenjon Barner in 2012 to carry the bulk of the running game, with Thomas providing a change-of-OMG-did-you-see-that? But with two of the most prolific runners in school history departed, it's finally Thomas' turn to shoulder more of the workload. True, Byron Marshall will get his carries, and we're all excited to see what Thomas Tyner brings to the table. But Thomas was the workhorse this spring, and if Marshall and Tyner are slow to develop, the burden of carrying the running game falls on Thomas' frame. Like many, I'm eager to see what he does while consistently getting 15-plus carries per game. He's only had five double-digit-carry games in his career and three 100-yard rushing games -- two of which came on a combined nine carries (Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl after the 2011 season and Fresno State in 2012).

[+] EnlargeJames Vaughters
AP Photo/Rob HoltJunior linebacker James Vaughters gets his chance to live up to the recruiting hype at Stanford.
Obum Gwacham or Richard Mullaney, WRs, Oregon State: Someone at Oregon State earlier in the week told me this: One of these guys has to step up for the Beavers' offense to function properly. So, by definition, if one of them doesn't step up, the offense will function improperly. Not what you want when you have a quarterback competition going on. At 6-foot-5, 227 pounds, Gwacham has tantalizing measurables. But he's had also had a case of the dropsies. Mullaney has the hands, but not the same speed as the last guy to occupy this position, Markus Wheaton. Brandin Cooks was the benefactor of Wheaton's success last year. And while a case can be made that it's Cooks who has something to prove -- to show he can be a legitimate No. 1 without Wheaton -- there is only so much he can do on his own. He needs someone else to step up opposite him. Kevin Cummings will continue to work in the slot and underneath, but the Beavers must have a second outside threat if Cooks is going to improve upon his already-impressive numbers from last season.

James Vaughters, OLB, Stanford: Vaughters was used judiciously in his freshman year in 2011. Even when Shayne Skov went down for the season -- and many thought it would be Vaughter's chance to step up -- he was still used on a limited basis while Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley filled that void. Last year Vaughters moved to the inside, but Tarpley proved to be more productive alongside Skov. With Chase Thomas gone, Vaughters figures to be the primary guy filling that spot. Outside is a more natural position for him, and with Trent Murphy on the other side, it should provide Vaughters plenty of opportunity to showcase his skills. He has all the tools to be an elite player and was considered the jewel of the 2011 recruiting class. He's in a position to excel. And if he can, he makes one of the nation's best defenses that much better.

Keith Price, QB, Washington: Obvious? Yeah. But so much of Washington's success rides on the play of its once-budding slinger. If you read the intro, Price certainly qualifies as a guy with something to prove. His 2011 season was spectacular. In a year when Andrew Luck shined and Matt Barkley appeared to be a sure-fire first-round pick, Price looked like he was on pace to have that sort of collegiate career. But he regressed in 2012. It wasn't all his fault. There were injuries across the offensive line that certainly were major contributing factors. But at the same time, Price is the quarterback, and part of his job is taking the praise and the heat. As a result, he forced way too many plays and didn't trust the offense. He needs to rely more on his playmakers instead of "trying to play hero." His words, not mine. The pieces appear to be in place for him to succeed in 2013. He's got a 1,000-yard rusher, an elite tight end, good receivers and a healthy line. Time to step up and put the seven-win jokes to bed.

Logan Mayes, LB, Washington State: Maybe it's too much to ask of Mayes ... to step in and fill the void of the departed Travis Long, who was quietly one of the Pac-12's elite defensive players the past couple of seasons. Maybe it's not. Maybe Mayes is good enough to be the team's premier defensive player in the "buck" linebacker spot. To be fair, it probably won't be all Mayes. Expect a healthy rotation of Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio as well. But no doubt, that position is of great importance to what coordinator Mike Breske wants to do on defense -- and filling the hole vacated by Long is a top priority. Mayes played pretty well in the Apple Cup in Long's absence, posting five tackles and a pair of hits on the aforementioned Price. People forget that Washington State was one of the best teams in the nation last season at generating sacks and tackles for loss (11th nationally in sacks, seventh in TFLs), so maintaining that high level will be a priority.
When Khairi Fortt departed Penn State and came to Cal before the start of the 2012 season, he knew he was entering two different worlds. One off the field. One on it.

Berkeley, Calif., is unlike anywhere else in the country. Pac-12 football is unlike any other brand of football in the country.

"Culture shock," Fortt said. "Definitely some culture shock. I'm used to it now."

He has acclimated himself to Berkeley. That took a while.

"Everyone is such a free spirit," he said.

And he has adjusted his game to better fit the Pac-12.

"Fast," he said. "There is so much speed. The Big Ten is not slow or anything. But this is a different type of fast. The pace of the game is faster -- almost more of a finesse game. It's a lot more running than hitting. In the Big Ten, if you're a linebacker, you are smashing into fullbacks. In this league you have to be able to play man-to-man coverage on some of these quick receivers. I like it a lot. I've got some speed too and I get to show it off.

"Even on defense. It's a faster pace. There's not as much time for hitting because everyone is flying around."

[+] EnlargeKhairi Fortt
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesKhairi Fortt is adjusting to life -- and the faster pace of play -- in the Pac-12 after transferring from Penn State to Cal.
Good thing for Fortt -- and the Bears -- he knows what they are looking to do on defense under new coach Sonny Dykes and defensive coordinator Andy Buh. The Bears are transitioning to a 4-3 front, something Fortt is very familiar with having played linebacker at Penn State. After missing all of last season following knee surgery, he's ready to finally make an impact on this football team.

"My teammates were great and they welcomed me with open arms," he said. "Now it's time to get on the field and start helping them win some games. This summer is going to be a grind. But it's going to be essential for us to work hard. We can't wait to get the season started."

Fortt appeared in nine games for Penn State in 2010 -- one of only seven true freshmen to see action. The next year he appeared in every game, but still wasn't contributing as much as he would have liked. So even before the NCAA handed down its harsh punishments on the program, Fortt was looking to make a move.

Now with a surgically repaired knee and a thirst to get back on the field, he's in line for a starting job as one of Cal's outside linebackers.

"He showed some flashes this spring," said Dykes. "He made some impactful plays. He needs to be more consistent. There were times he was either real good or just OK. He needs to be more solid. That's what I took from him coming out of spring. He's got a good football sense and he's very physical at the point of attack. He gets off blocks well."

Fortt, who hails from Stamford, Conn., has been rooming with fellow linebacker Nick Forbes (Frederick, Md.). The two knew each other from high school all-star games, which made it easier for Fortt to settle on Cal -- one of many schools that contacted him.

"That really made it easier already knowing Nick," Fortt said. "He and I have a dry-erase board and we're always drawing up plays and formations.

"... I think [Buh] understands the athleticism he has with this defense. It's almost like a hybrid defense. There's a little bit of zone, but a lot of times I'm playing man-to-man because of the trust he has in us being an athletic group. We can keep teams guessing because we're good enough to play man or zone."

Because of his injury, Fortt never had the chance to play in the odd-front scheme of former Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who is now directing the defense at USC. And while Dykes acknowledges there is some transition that goes with changing defensive philosophies, it's still football.

"I don't think it's that big of a transition as people make it out to be," Dykes said. "Sometimes the style is a little different. Sometimes an odd front is more attacking and always adjusting. A 4-3 is a little simpler to make adjustments off of. It's a different school of thought, but from a technical standpoint there's really not that big of a difference. You still have to cover the A-gap."

Q&A: Cal's Nick Forbes

April, 18, 2013
During a time of transition, new Cal head coach Sonny Dykes is going to be looking for leaders to step up. Linebacker Nick Forbes is one of those guys. Forbes took a few minutes this week to chat with the Pac-12 blog about spring football, Cal's transition to an even-front defense and why he goes out of his way to get involved in the community.

What's your assessment of spring ball? How did everything go

[+] EnlargeNick Forbes
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireNick Forbes and the Cal defense are transitioning to a 4-3 defense this spring.
Nick Forbes: I think we had a good spring ball overall. There was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm with the new coaches. There was a lot more energy and it was really fun. Learning a whole new system, you'll have your bumps and you'll get caught up on little things here and there and with communication as far as understanding the new scheme. But I think we did a very good job of understanding the fundamentals. We learned a lot about base football and learned more about what an offense wants to do. We became a smarter unit this spring.

How difficult -- schematically speaking -- is it going from an odd-front 3-4 to a 4-3 base?

NF: Football is football regardless of what you call it. We were able to translate a lot of things over. The thing that coach [defensive coordinator Andy] Buh taught us was that there will be aspects of the 3-4 incorporated into the 4-3. Some of the personnel might be different here and there. But it's proved to be really effective for us. The personnel grouping we have are really coming together to put guys in great positions and to allow us to be successful as a unit overall. We're really anxious to see how it's going to work against different offenses and power teams. But it's worked really well against our new spread offense.

How different is it going to be specifically for you?

NF: It depends on what call it is. In a lot of the situations, the Will and Mike [linebackers] are in the box, just like the Will and Mike in the 3-4. There are certain situations where you'll be in space or you'll be in the box by yourself. But those same situations came up in the 3-4 as well.

What about adjusting to new coaches, new philosophies and new coaching styles?

NF: This is a compliment to our administrative staff who hired the coaches because it's been really easy. Outside of football, the coaching hasn't changed. They care about us. They hold a high value on academics. It's been a very easy transition. You can feel a sense of caring beyond just the Xs and Os with the whole staff. The support staff are great and they relate to us. It's a fortunate situation. We've been having a lot of fun this spring with some of the activities we've had to liven up the mundane training phases. It's been a good transition.

Last year was really your first extended playing time, and now you're one of the leaders on the team. How comfortable are you in that role?

NF: I feel really comfortable because of the guys around me. There are lots of ways you can be a leader. I try to lead by example and have the character you want the other guys to have. It's been simple. I make sure I get to class. Make sure I'm on time for meetings and hope the young guys follow my example. We were a young team last year and I think we have a very mature team this year.

Speaking of leading by example, I know you do a lot of community service work. How'd you get involved in that?

NF: I've been very fortunate to be in situations with people looking out for me and I've always wanted to give back when I could. This last weekend I participated in the Pac-12 Student Athlete Advisory Conference with all of the Pac-12 schools. It's community service, it's career development. Locally, I've put together a few events having kids at the school and encouraging them to pursue higher education. We have a Cal Sports Day where all the teams set up stations and run the kids through drills to expose them to different sports they may not have had a chance to see and experience. It's really rewarding. We did Read Across America with an elementary school. It's fun to see how much the kids are interested in Cal and they are delighted to see us. They are screaming and jumping around when we walk in. One of the schools had a "Go Bears" chant when we walked in and that was really cool. The most rewarding is the reaction from the kids because you know you are having an impact on them.

Fill in the blank for me. In 2013, Cal football will be _______________?

NF: In 2013, Cal football will be aggressive, in the sense of how we're going to approach the game and how we're going to play.