The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 87: California
Coach: Sonny Dykes (0-0, first season; 22-15 overall)
2012 record: 3-9 (2-7 in Pac-12 Conference, fifth in the North Division)
Look back: With 11 returning starters from a team that finished 7-6 in 2011, there was a lot to expect out of the Golden Bears in 2012. However, the team never seemed to get out of the gate, losing four of its first five games. The only real highlight of the season was a 43-17 victory over UCLA on Oct. 6. After that, Cal lost five of its last six games including back-to-back blowout losses to Oregon and Oregon State. Despite being the school’s all-time coaching leader, Jeff Tedford was fired. His record over the final three seasons at Cal was 15-22 including a 9-18 record against Pac-12 opponents. His record against top 25 teams – 1-10 over that same stretch – was probably one of the reasons why he was let go. Former Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes was hired in the offseason.
Offensive starters returning: 3
Offensive starters lost: 8
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Top returnees: WR Bryce Treggs, LB Nick Forbes, LB Jalen Jefferson, NT Deandre Coleman, DE Chris McCain, DE Brennan Scarlett
Strengths: The defense – which was ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense – returns six starters including linebackers Nick Forbes (85 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss) and Jalen Jefferson (47 tackles). The front line returns three starters led by nose tackle Deandre Coleman. … Both Vincenzo D’Amato (kicker) and Cole Leininger (punter) return to shore up the special teams unit.
Weaknesses: Dykes is known for his up-tempo, high-scoring offenses, but he will have his work cut out for him this season in Berkley. Cal finished the season ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in scoring (23 points per game) and seventh in total offense (391.2 yards per game). The offense returns only three starters – two offensive linemen and a wide receiver – which means the 43-year-old Dykes will pretty much have a clean slate to work with in 2013. The team has three quarterbacks with zero collegiate experience and running back Brendan Bigelow rushed for 431 yards last season as a third-string back. … The secondary features no returning starters, which is bad news for a unit that was last in the league last year in passing defense (271.0 ypg).
Outlook: Dykes has only been a head coach for three years, but his reputation is good enough that Cal took a chance on hiring him to rebuild its football program. However, Dykes will need time to mold the Golden Bears into his image if they ever plan on competing against the likes of Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State. This season will be the first step in that process.
Aug. 31 Northwestern
Sept. 7 Portland State
Sept. 14 Ohio State
Sept. 28 at Oregon
Oct. 5 Washington State