In four seasons with Sonny Dykes as head coach, the California football team was known for its explosive offense and dynamic play at quarterback.
For three years, it was Jared Goff starring at quarterback before Davis Webb produced the monster stats last year. Both are now in the NFL.
Unfortunately for the Golden Bears, they didn’t win much with Dykes and the star passers, so a new era begins.
This month, BuffZone.com is previewing each of Colorado’s opponents, with this installment focusing on the Bears, who visit Boulder on Oct. 28 in head coach Justin Wilcox’s first season.
While Wilcox, who is in his first season as a head coach after spending the last 11 coordinating defenses at five different stops, was hired to build a winner, it may be a process that takes some time.
A new offensive system — which will actually use a tight end – has been installed, and the defense has converted to a 3-4 base scheme.
“There was a lot of learning going on,” Wilcox said after spring drills. “The guys were really eager and embraced it, which was great, so you saw tremendous growth from throughout offseason conditioning and through spring football. We have a lot of work left to do, but it was encouraging.”
Just 19-30 (10-26 in Pac-12 play) over the last four years, Cal faces a long climb in the Pac-12 North, which means this year could be about building some sort of a foundation.
For this season at least, the first task will be to find a quarterback.
Junior Chase Forrest and sophomore Ross Bowers emerged as the top two contenders in spring ball. Between them, they have just 18 career passing attempts, all by Forrest in 2015. The competition figures to last throughout preseason camp, but Wilcox came away from the spring impressed by the progress of both players.
The offensive line is inexperienced and a work in progress, but there are some talented play-makers in the fold.
Running backs Tre Watson and Vic Enwere both have over 1,000 yards in their careers. At receiver, true sophomore Demetris Robertson is one of the best in the Pac-12, if not in the country.
On defense, the Bears were abysmal under Dykes, giving up at least 39.8 points per game in three of his four seasons. Last year, the Bears yielded 42.6 points per game – ranking 127th out of 128 FBS teams.
Cal will lean on seniors, such as defensive end James Looney, linebackers Devante Downs and Raymond Davison and safety Luke Rubenzer, to get the defense to improve. In all, eight starters are back on defense, and that experience could pay off, but it still figures to be a long year.
Wilcox might be the answer to turn around the program in the long run, but missing out on the postseason for a fifth time in six years seems likely this season.
CU opponent preview: California Golden Bears
Date with CU: Oct. 28, at Folsom Field in Boulder, time TBA
Head coach: Justin Wilcox, 1st season
Series: Cal leads 5-3
Golden Bears in 2016: 5-7, 3-6 in Pac-12
Returning starters: 13 – 5 on offense, 8 on defense
Offensive players to watch: QB Ross Bowers, So.; RB Vic Enwere, Sr. (61 att., 336 yards, 2 TD); QB Chase Forrest, Jr.; TE Raymond Hudson, Sr. (16 catches, 165 yards, 3 TD); WR Demetris Robertson, So. (50 catches, 767 yards, 7 TD); WR Melquise Stovall, So. (42 catches, 415 yards, 3 TD); WR Jordan Veasy, Sr. (25 catches, 306 yards, 3 TD); RB Tre Watson, Sr. (143 att., 709 yards, 4 TD; 21 catches, 241 yards, 4 TD).
Defensive players to watch: CB Darius Allensworth, Sr. (12 tackles, 4 PBU); LB Raymond Davison, Sr. (69 tackles); LB Devante Downs, Sr. (84 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks); CB Marloshawn Franklin, Sr. (15 tackles, 2 PBU); DE James Looney, Sr. (17 tackles, 1.5 sacks); NT Tony Mekari, Sr. (33 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack); S Luke Rubenzer, Sr. (58 tackles, 2 INT, 2 fumble recoveries).
Notable: This is CU’s first meeting with Cal since Cal’s 59-56 double-overtime win in Berkeley on Sept. 27, 2014. … Two of the last three meetings between these teams have gone to overtime. … Wilcox is in his first season as a head coach. He spent last season as the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin. Prior to that, he was the defensive coordinator of USC (2014-15), Washington (2012-13), Tennessee (2010-11) and Boise State (2006-09). From 2003-05, he worked at Cal as the linebackers coach. … While Wilcox doesn’t have any head coaching experience, his two coordinators do. Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin spent the previous nine years as the head coach at Eastern Washington and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter was the head coach at Fresno State the previous five years. … The Bears have arguably the best kicking game in the Pac-12.Kicker Matt Anderson was second in the Pac-12 in scoring with 117 points and went 22-for-26 on field goals. He’s 40-for-47 on field goals in his career. Punter Dylan Klumph’s 44.8-yard average was second in the Pac-12 last season.
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.