Jeff Tedford just can't catch a break. After a tumultuous season away from Memorial that saw the Bears win seven games (with only one coming against a winning opponent), Cal will now return home to Strawberry Canyon with plenty of questions and lots of positional issues to figure out.
Chief among them is finding six new starters on defense, which will look vastly different from the incarnation that rivaled among the tops in the conference. Cal is losing their starting inside linebackers in Mychal Kendricks (conference defensive player of the year) and D.J. Holt, their defensive ends in Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu, and the safeties in Sean Cattouse and D.J. Campbell. A lot of experience is coming off the board for Cal, which could mean rebuilding, which could mean a lot of question marks for Clancy Pendergast to have to fix up regularly.
Cal has a lot of young and promising defensive talent that could form one of the most talented defensive nuclei in the Pac-12, but right now there are questions as to how ready they are for game action--many of the players will still only be redshirt freshmen or true sophomores next season. Chief amongst them is Mustafa Jalil, a true soph who played a a lot of snaps in his first season. DeAndre Coleman is likely to step up and impose himself as one of the most physically talented players on the roster. And Cal should have considerably impressive depth at nose tackle, with the imposing Viliami Moala likely to challenge Aaron Tipoti and Kendrick Payne early and often.
At linebacker, Dave Wilkerson is likely to move to the inside, while Dan Camporeale, Cecil Whiteside and Chris McCain are likely to have their own turns. Although there is great linebacking depth, Kendricks and Holt shared so much of the load that there just won't be enough experience to go around. Cal is going to have to find a solid inside linebacking tandem to solidify the trenches.
The offense should be better if Zach Maynard continues his upward trend. After Maynard struggled through the first two months of the season where he was quite literally the worst quarterback in the Pac-12, he had a solid November and nearly lodged a huge upset of arch-rival Stanford in the Big Game. With his brother Keenan Allen returning, Maynard should have an immediate connection with his top man on the field. That'll be enough to keep the offense afloat.
Luckily, Maynard and Allen will have Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson to take the load off of him. Aside from a total drubbing against Texas, the Cal running game generally improved from the first week to the last week, and Sofele's hard running along with Anderson's power moves were big factors. Finding a third back that can be ready to take over the reins in 2013 will be critical, as Brendan Bigelow, Darren Ervin and Daniel Lasco all figure to compete hard for the spot.
One place Cal will be hurting this spring is receiving depth. Marvin Jones and Michael Calvin (along with tight end Anthony Miller) are gone, and with Allen out for spring practice, that means a lot of reps for players you haven't heard about. Maurice Harris (cousin of Allen and Maynard), Bryce McGovern (preferred walk-on) and Jackson Bouza will be fighting for a spot alongside Allen, and these will be critical moments for them before the talented Cal receiving class arrives this summer. Tight end is a spot that Spencer Hagan might have the advantage in landing, but expect Richard Rodgers and Jacob Wark to make a go at it.
And the offensive line remains a total mystery. Three starters return, but none are really holding onto that job for real life. Someone needs to step up and play tackle with Mitchell Schwartz gone, which means unknowns Bill Tyndall and Tyler Rigsbee will be battling there. There will be an opening at guard which Geoffrey Gibson will try and lay his claim to. The center position will also be wide open with Dominic Galas missing time due to injury, and with his snap issues you figure Mark Brazinski or Chris Adcock will get their chances.
No one has any idea who the kicker (Vince D'Amato?) or the punter (no punter on the roster) will be. So that'll be fun.
More questions for Cal than answers yet again. It's a familiar story for the Bears.