BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — California will have a completely new look in Year 7 under coach Justin Wilcox.
With a new offensive coordinator who brought in a more wide-open, fast-paced scheme and about 50 new players from recruiting and the transfer portal, the Golden Bears will try to rebound following three straight losing seasons.
The progress that Cal made under Wilcox in back-to-back bowl seasons in 2018 and ’19 has regressed since the pandemic with the Bears going just 10-18 the past three years.
That led to the dramatic overhaul.
“One of the keys in this era of football is how quickly you can get them integrated and how quickly you can create chemistry on and off the field,” Wilcox said.
The early signs in that regard have been positive as the new players have worked their way into the team through spring and summer practices.
“If you told me in the winter that we were going to have half the roster be new guys, I would have been worried,” linebacker Jackson Sirmon said. “How it’s played out, I think the guys we have new, they’ve done a fantastic job of buying into the culture.”.
The biggest change comes on offense where Jake Spavital returns for a second stint as coordinator. Spavital spent a year at Cal under Sonny Dykes in 2016 before going to West Virginia as an assistant and then spending four years as head coach at Texas State.
Spavital utilizes a much more modern offense than Bill Musgrave, who was fired late last season.
The biggest unresolved question for Cal comes at quarterback, where the Bears are seeking a new starter after Jack Plummer transferred to Louisville.
Sam Jackson V, who threw six passes in two seasons at TCU, provides a running option after transferring to Cal in time for spring practice.
North Carolina State transfer Ben Finley didn’t join the team until the summer but has more experience after starting the final two games last season. Fernando Mendoza redshirted last season for Cal and hasn’t played in college.
The offense once again will run through Jaydn Ott, who had a stellar freshman year with 897 yards rushing and 11 total TDs. Ott ran for 274 yards and three TDs in a win over Arizona early in the season but didn’t top 100 yards in a game in the final eight contests.
“He’s a guy that when he has the ball, he can make some things happen,” Wilcox said. “Whether you hand it to him, throw it to him, he’s a guy that you’ve got to account for.”.
The Cal defense will get a big boost with the expected return of lineman Brett Johnson. Considered one of the top defensive linemen in the conference, Johnson missed the 2021 season with a hip injury from a car accident and then missed last season with a torn knee ligament suffered late in training camp. Johnson was an honorable mention all-conference pick in 2020.
“Brett when healthy, as you remember a couple of years ago, he’s a very, very good player,” Wilcox said. “He’s an excellent football player. He changes things up front.”.
The Bears have a tricky opening stretch with a trip to North Texas followed by a home game against Auburn. The toughest part of the schedule starts with a home game against Oregon State and a trip to Utah the first two weeks in October. After a week off, Cal hosts USC and travels to Oregon. The Bears end the season with back-to-back road games against rivals Stanford and UCLA.
AP college football: https://apnews.Com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.Com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll.