It certainly hasn’t been a traditional offseason for the Golden Bear program. As renovations on the stadium kicked into full gear last summer, the team spent the better half of the season across the bay at AT&T Park, which was a delight for city-based alumni, but a frustrating inconvenience for student fans. On the whole, the Bears seemed to lack the usual enthusiasm from their normally diehard football fan base. The student section was consistently barren due to the unfamiliar cross-town game day trek. The fans that did make it were beleaguered by poor views from the baseball-oriented seating. And, worst of all, Cal put on an overall paltry on-field performance that was capped by an embarrassing 21-10 loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl. The Bears finished the year 7-6 (4-5, Pac-12) and things only got worse from there.
Rumors of dissipating stadium funds surfaced in headlines, threatening the completion of the new facility renovations. And, as a result, the high profile recruitment class began to turn its back on Berkeley. CaliforniaGoldenBlogs.com wrote, “Cal lost five recruits to decommitment, fell out of favor with probably five to ten top targets, and all signs point toward one man committing downright sabotage to cause all that chaos.” It was bad enough when defensive-line coach Tosh Lupoi fled to Cal’s rival Washington, but things reached an all-time low when the Bears’ former lead recruiter began to take the incoming recruiting class with him. Safety Shaq Thompson (younger brother of Cal starter, Syd’Quan), defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy, and receiver Jordan Payton were all amongst the star prospects that reneged on their pledges to California. Thompson followed Lupoi to UW, while McCarthy and Payton headed south on the PCH to in-state rival UCLA.
But in the end, when February 1st rolled around, the dust settled and Cal made out all right. After reigning in 17 new recruits, the Bears still managed to finish in the Top 25 rankings for the third straight year (as ranked by MaxPreps, ESPN, Rivals, and 247Sports). Although they missed out on a few big names, the 2012 class looks to be a promising one, headed up by San Ramon Valley QB Zach Kline. The 6’-2” 295 lb. signal-caller offers a strong arm, tight spiral, and commanding accuracy. Although he took limited snaps in the Spring Game, he impressed onlookers with his decision-making, often throwing the ball away when necessary (a rare skill for an incoming freshman). He also captivated the Golden Bear faithful with his ability to thread the needle, hitting his receivers in tight spaces every chance he got. Kline will likely redshirt for his first season in Berkeley, but look for him to be the face of Cal football in the years to come. Other notable names in the incoming class include five-star, All-American wideout Bryce Treggs, four-star LB Michael Barton, and four-star tackles Freddie Tagaloa and Christian Okafor.
Despite a tumultuous winter, things have seemed to settle back to normalcy for the Golden Bears. Retreating further back into the hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay, the team has been practicing at interim training facilities (the former rugby fields) tucked nicely in a grove of towering pines away from the bustle of campus and South Berkeley. With a solid class of newbies waiting in the wings, and a renovated Memorial Stadium ready to make amends for last season’s debacle, head coach Tedford continues to get the boys sharp for the fall in hopes of saving his own hide.
At the start of spring ball, there were early whispers of a QB controversy between senior Zach Maynard, red-shirt sophomore Allan Bridgford, and possibly Zach Kline. However, Maynard appears to have the starting role in the bag, after a strong performance in the Blue and Gold game. He is an athletic lefty with good mobility, but often struggles with poor decision-making. He will lead an aerial attack with a receiving core of Cal star Keenan Allen, Maurice Harris (both of whom are related to Maynard and have an uncanny on-field connection with the RS senior signal-caller) and TE Richard Rodgers Jr.
Cal also added a fleet of receiver recruits in Bryce Treggs, Cedric Dozier, Kenny Lawler and Darius Powe that will look to make a splash in Berkeley as true freshmen. In the running game, Cal will bring the one-two punch with the lightning quick senior Isi Sofele and power back C.J. Anderson. Expect Anderson to have a breakout season; in 2011, serving as back up to Sofele, he averaged 5.4 yards a carry and scored 8 TDs.
Defensively, there are some big expectations for coordinator Clancy Pendergast. In 2011, he put together a conference leading and nationally ranked defense thanks to a ball-hawking secondary and stonewall frontline. Cal was ranked 7th in tackles for loss with a staggering 100 TFL, totaling 387 yards lost. The Bears were also among the best in opponent’s time of possession and 3rd down stops.
The challenge in 2012 will be maintaining the success of their 34th overall run defense after losing Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Mychal Kendricks and inside linebacker D.J. Holt. The pair combined for a whopping 477 tackles last year and will be sorely missed in the 2012 campaign. The Bears will be looking to Dan Camporeale (who is returning from a knee injury), Chris McCain, and prospect Michael Barton out of perennial powerhouse De La Salle. At nose tackle, Kendrick Payne and Aaron Tipoti will look to plug up the middle.
Cal has definitely done a good job at harnessing some young talent, but 2012 will not be an easy season. They will play on the road at No. 16 Ohio State and at the Coliseum against No. 1 USC and Heisman hopeful Matt Barkley. At home, they will host No. 6 Oregon and their electrifying offense, No. 13 Stanford, and the resurgent Washington Huskies with their revamped defense and Heisman candidate Keith Price. If coach Tedford and his new recruits can bring the glory back to the Big C, the fans in Berkeley will forget all about the AT&T Park catastrophe. If not, the newly renovated California Memorial Stadium might have a disastrous debut and Tedford’s seat might start to feel the heat.
Memorial Stadium Update:
The 89-year-old stadium was in desperate need of a face-lift, from the ACL-threatening AstroTurf field to the uncomfortable aluminum bench bleacher seating. The renovations, despite some financial hiccups, have been progressing as planned. When completed, the new digs will offer a gorgeous 34,000 sq. ft. skybox that overlooks the bay (including an impeccable view of the Golden Gate Bridge), a new state of the art training facility, and pristine fan amenities like remodeled concessions and bathrooms. The new stadium seating will decrease the overall capacity to 63,000, but don’t expect that to hamper the energy of the Golden Bear faithful as they file in to their beloved historical landmark once again.
Over the next month and a half, construction crews will finish the field irrigation and resurfacing, which is already underway. Next, they will lay the concrete for the field walls and make final touches to the treadways and stairs inside the bowl. They will paint the press boxes, and glass panels will be inserted into the archways. On the exterior of the stadium, the approach to the grand stairway is being dug out and will be completed by the end of June, along with a newly refurbished facade. From then on the rest of the work will entail minor touch ups, landscaping, and scaffolding removal, as well as the installation of brand new Jumbo Trons.
All reports indicate the project will finish in time for the 2012 season, to the tune of $321-million.