There are many unknowns for the Cal Bears as they head into the 2013 football season with a new head coach, new to-be-determined quarterback, and young talent on both sides of the ball.
Last season, the Bears started their disappointing 3-9 season with a surprising loss to Nevada at home in the season opener, the first game in the newly renovated Memorial Stadium. The injuries that piled up didn’t help matters, nor did the brutal schedule without a merciful bye week to regroup. Cal’s backwards momentum just kept on rolling right to the ultimate decision to fire former coach Jeff Tedford.
The Bears are looking for a fresh start in 2013, but new coach Sonny Dykes and his untested new quarterback won’t get to ease into this fall’s schedule. Cal starts the season with three home games, but with the exception of Portland State in week two, they’re tough ones.
Cal hosts Northwestern in the home opener, the second-ever game between the two programs. The Wildcats were an unlikely force in the Big Ten last year, finishing 10-3 with a win in the Gator Bowl. Northwestern also won its only other game against Cal, 20-14, in the 1949 Rose Bowl. The Wildcats return fifteen starters, including senior quarterback Kain Coulter, All-Big Ten running back Venric Mark, and defensive end Tyler Scott, the Big Ten’s sacks leader in 2012, so the Bears will have a difficult time avoiding another home loss to start the year.
If the Bears fall to the ‘Cats in week one, they should be able to get into the win column the following week when Portland State comes to town, but week three features another challenge against a Big Ten contender when the Ohio State Buckeyes travel to Memorial Stadium.
Ohio State went undefeated in 2012 but were ineligible for a bowl game. Second-year head coach Urban Meyer has the team on the right path, and quarterback Braxton Miller, who finished fifth in the Heisman voting last season, should be even better this year.
The Bears will be itching for another shot at the Buckeyes after nearly winning last year’s meeting in the Horseshoe. Cal running back Brendan Bigelow had a breakout game, rushing for 160 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown that set a record for the longest run by an opposing back in Ohio Stadium, but the Bears missed three field goals and had a touchdown called back for a penalty in the 35-28 loss.
Cal has a brief respite after the early non-conference stretch with a bye week before heading to Autzen Stadium to open the Pac-12 schedule against the Oregon Ducks. Last year’s game was a 59-17 debacle, unsurprising given that top receiver Keenan Allen and quarterback Zach Maynard were sidelined with injuries. Cal started inexperienced junior Allan Bridgford — a painfully tough assignment with the Ducks in town — and Oregon’s freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota threw six touchdowns in the game that may have sealed Tedford’s fate.
After this year’s late September trip to Eugene, the Bears finish the rest of their Pac-12 schedule (missing Arizona State and Utah) before the finale against Stanford in the Big Game, which is back in its rightful place at the end of November. It’s not an easy run, but Cal will get many of its most challenging games out of the way right off the bat.
The first two tough ones are out of conference, which may be good if the Bears don’t come out strong. Potential losses against Northwestern and Ohio State are no reason to panic since they won’t affect Cal’s Pac-12 standing. In fact, they’ll be good tests for a hopefully new and improved Cal squad, which will have a week to tune-up before hitting the Pac-12 ground running.