The Golden Bears have become the dark horse pick to win the Pac-12 Title
Photo: Rick Bowmer / Associated Press
The Cal football team entered the 2019 season with modest expectations but quickly surprised many when they upset #14 Washington in Seattle and followed that victory with a win over Ole Miss in SEC territory. The Bears were 4-0 and ranked 15th in the country entering a home game against Arizona State.
Then disaster happened. Chase Garbers, the Cal quarterback, injured his shoulder in the 2nd quarter and wouldn't return to full action again until late in the season on November 23rd. Garbers was 9/12 for 117 yards and a touchdown against ASU before being replaced by backup Devon Modster. Once Modster entered the game, Cal was unable to move the ball through the air as Modster finished 5/14 for 23 yards and an interception. ASU managed to pull off a 24-17 win and handed Cal their 1st loss of the season.
Without Garbers, Cal would go on to lose their next 3 games and only scored 24 points in the 3 losses. The Golden Bears eventually found themselves 5-5 by the time that Garbers was healthy enough to return to full time action on the road against a Stanford program that Cal hadn't beat since 2009. But, Garbers once again proved that he could will the Bears to victory. Garbers put together an outstanding game with 285 yards passing and 72 rushing yards and clinched the win with a 16 yard touchdown run with a minute left to help the Golden Bears reach Bowl eligibility.
Cal followed that performance with a 10 point win over UCLA before putting on an offensive show in the Redbox Bowl against Illinois. The Golden Bears saved their best for last as Garbers threw for 272 yards and 4 touchdowns to lead the Bears to a 35-20 win in their bowl game. Cal finished the season on a 3 game win streak and finished 7-0 in games where Garbers started and finished the game.
That brings us to 2020. To the surprise of many, Cal was picked by CBS Sports on May 1st to go 11-1 this season. The projection was met with ridicule, but it isn't so crazy once you delve into the Cal roster and schedule.
Let's start with the Cal offense. According to ESPN, Cal is returning 93% of their offensive production in 2020, which is the most of any program in college football. At quarterback, Cal will once again feature Junior Chase Garbers who had an underrated season in 2019 with 14 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions. During his first 2 seasons, Cal has gone 12-2 in games that Garbers attempted 20 or more passes.
The offensive line returns all 5 starters and will lead the way for star running back Chris Brown Jr. Brown totaled 1080 yards and 12 touchdowns last season as a Sophomore and is one of the toughest players in the Pac-12 to bring down at 6-1 230lb. The receiving unit will be led by Nikko Remigio who came on at the end of last year with 9 catches and 157 yards against Stanford. Remigio should be a breakout star in the Pac-12 in 2020 and should be Garbers' #1 target.
On defense, many key contributors return after allowing just 21.9 points per game in 2019. The linebacker unit will be led by Cameron Goode and Kuony Deng who combined for 180 tackles, 21.5 TFL and 12.5 sacks and Camryn Bynum will be the star among the defensive backs after placing 2nd Team All Pac-12 in 2019. Cal should consistently put together one of the top defenses in the Pac-12 with Justin Wilcox, an elite defensive mind, at the helm.
Cal received a mildly favorable schedule in 2020 as they will play Washington, Utah, Oregon and Stanford at home. Other than Cal, the rest of the Pac-12 North will feature new starting quarterbacks which will give Cal an instant leg-up in the division title race. Cal may not be the most talented team in the Pac-12 in 2020 but they will be one of the most experienced and if they can catch a couple breaks they could find themselves playing in the conference title on December 4th in Las Vegas.