This season of Cal football has had plenty of highlights so far - a historic trip to Sydney, a big win over a talent rich Texas squad and a marquee win over solid Utah have all given the Cal community some great moments. At this point there have also been some ugly road losses to teams that Cal should have beaten– the losses to both SDSU and ASU were tough to swallow, but last Saturday’s loss to the rebuilding Oregon State Beavers set a new floor for the team. The Bears seem to be exemplifying the old cliché that football is a game of inches, and while the ups and downs of this season have certainly been exciting- the teams post season chances hinge on the Bears ability to execute consistently going forward. Unfortunately, consistency is not something the Bears have shown so far this year.
The Bears are in their bye week, sitting at 3-3. With a tough slate of games ahead, the ultimate question for the team going forward is if they can string together enough wins to reach the post season. This week, we’ll focus on the Bears remaining schedule and speculate on the Bears chances of going bowling at this point.
Must Win - Oregon.
I would have never guessed that at the start of the season that the Bear’s best chance for a win in the second half of the season on would be the Oregon Ducks, but this year’s Pac 12 has been unpredictable. Cal will be at home and coming off a bye week – The bears have played well at Memorial so far this season and all reports out of Eugene point to a huge amount of dysfunction in the Oregon locker room. Capitalizing on the Ducks vulnerability means the bears have to come out hot and keep the Ducks down – if the Bears come out flat, the down Ducks still have the firepower to keep up with the Bears. This is an absolute must win for the Bears to go bowling, and consistency will be key.
Close to a Must Win - Washington State.
If the Bears handle business against Oregon, they’ll still need two wins for bowl eligibility. With the heavy hitters of the Pac 12 still ahead, wins are going to be hard to come by. The Bears next best matchup will likely be when they head up to the Palouse to take on the Cougars. The Bears and the Cougs play similarly, and the Bears will likely need to win a shootout to get another much needed win. WSU is playing good football right now, but with a tough slate of teams left this game is one of the most winnable matchups left on the schedule. Again, if the Bears can execute at the high level we’ve seen flashes of this year they can pull this one out.
Need to Steal a Win or Two – USC, UCLA, Stanford, Washington.
These final games seem tougher to predict going well for the Bears. While USC looked historically bad early on, their changes at QB seem to have put new life into the Trojans – given Cal’s recent woes against the Trojans, and their abysmal performance on the road this year, I just don’t see them pulling a win out at the coliseum against their blue chip rival.
What that means is that the Bears are going to have to win another big game or two at Memorial in order to bowl. With the way Washington is playing right now, I’m not sure anyone in the conference (or country) can to stop the Huskies – so that leaves the Bears other two rivals, UCLA and Stanford. While both teams have their issues, they still are dangerous. However, I’d argue that if Cal plays clean, mistake free football and gets big stops like they got against Utah and Texas they can win both rivalry games. Its going to take a concerted defensive effort, and smarter offensive game-planning than the Bears showed against the Beavs - but the players and staff have shown they are capable of both.
Wrapping it up
The takeaways here are that the Bears still have 3-4 winnable games on the schedule to put together a winning record and go bowling, which would undoubtedly be a win in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year – last weeks unexpended loss to OSU just made the path to that goal MUCH more difficult. The keys going forward are going to be increased defensive intensity and an overall improvement in game-planning and execution by the whole team. The Bears have shown some flashes of greatness this season and they are going to have to show a lot more to end this year on a high note – let’s hope they pull it all together.