Cal heads into spring practice full of optimism

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) The first two seasons at California for coach Sonny Dykes and quarterback Jared Goff haven't quite lived up to expectations,

With just six wins, no bowl games and a defense that has often looked overmatched, the Golden Bears have had few things to celebrate of late on the football field.

But with Dykes' third spring practice set to begin next week, optimism abounds around the program. The biggest reason for that is Goff, a prolific passer his first two years who is poised to take another big step forward as a junior and get the Bears back into a bowl game and Pac-12 contention for the first time in years.

''Expectations are high,'' Goff said this week. ''They are as high as they've ever been since I've been here. We want to win. We think we can win a lot of games this year and be extremely competitive and compete for a championship in the Pac-12. Our goal to win the Pac-12 championship and ultimately win the Rose Bowl at the end of the year. That's the end all, be all right now.''

The Bears were basically a .500 team in Jeff Tedford's final five seasons as coach and then took a major step back in year one under Dykes. Their only win in 2013 came against lower-division Portland State despite promising play from Goff as a freshman quarterback.

Cal rebounded last year to win five games, but the narrow losses to Arizona and UCLA still burn months later because those games ultimately cost the team a shot at a bowl game.

''We ended the season on a bad note in our eyes. We didn't do any of the stuff we wanted to,'' running back Daniel Lasco said. ''We still have a sour taste in our mouth and that won't leave until the season gets here and we put all our hard work on the field.''

That starts Monday at spring practice, where the Bears will start work on filling holes on the offensive line, finding a replacement for receiver Chris Harper and upgrading a defense that allowed 42.8 points per game in Dykes' first two seasons - worst among all major conference teams.

The Bears hope that an influx of younger players, the eligibility of transfer defensive tackle James Looney, and the second season under coordinator Art Kaufman will help bolster the defense.

''I wouldn't say a big leap is needed,'' linebacker Jalen Jefferson said. ''We just have to take small steps as a defense and don't stress out the offense too much to put up 58 or 60 points a game. The big thing is we just have to get out of the game on third down and make the plays that need to be made.''

If the defense does that, Goff and the high-powered offense should be able to handle the rest. He has thrown for 7,481 yards and 53 touchdowns his first two seasons and is growing more comfortable with the offense each day.

Goff said he expects to have much more freedom this year to change the offense at the line of scrimmage. That's part of the progression that comes with Goff and so many other players in their third seasons under Dykes' leadership and contributes to the optimism this spring.

''Everybody associated with the program is expecting better things,'' Dykes said. ''We've recruited better every year. We got better academically every year. We're a program that has grown up. Our younger guys have grown up.''

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