California hopes defensive improvement sparks turnaround
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) A potential first-round draft pick at quarterback, a deep receiving group and a potent running game will only carry California so far this season.
If the Golden Bears are going to get back to their winning ways and a bowl game in coach Sonny Dykes' third season at the helm, the defense will have to show some major improvement.
Cal has allowed the most yards, first downs and second-most points in the nation since Dykes arrived in 2013, leading to a 6-18 record despite the presence of star quarterback Jared Goff.
''We'll be as good as our defense allows us to be. That will be the key for us,'' Dykes said. ''We've been able to address some of our deficiencies in terms of depth. We need some guys to come through. We still have questions we have to get answered, but we think we're going to be much improved.''
It will be hard not to following a season during which five of Cal's seven losses came in games where the Bears scored at least 30 points. While the rest of the nation won over 80 percent of the time when the offense scored 30 or more points, Cal went just 5-5.
That overshadowed another stellar season from Goff, who threw for 3,973 yards with 35 touchdowns and only seven interceptions in a sophomore season that put him near the top of the list of pro prospects at quarterback in college.
Goff's focus isn't on the draft, individual awards or even a bowl game. He is concerned with the process of getting better each day as a team and knows the results will come from there.
''We're excited for the year,'' he said. ''We try not to put too much pressure on ourselves. There are a lot of people out there saying this will be a big year for us. We know it. But we also know we're mature enough to take it day by day and not think about the future too much.''
Here are some other things to watch this season:
GOFF'S AUDIBLES: In his third year in the system, Goff is being given much more latitude to change plays at the line of scrimmage. That control of the offense led to more efficient play in the spring in a development the Bears hope will carry over into the season.
''Jared took a big step between year one and year two,'' Dykes said. ''I thought Jared took an even bigger step between year two in spring football. At the end of the spring, I thought he was a completely different player than he was last fall. That is the kind of improvement that we want him to take.''
FAMILIARITY: The Bears hope a second season with Art Kaufman as defensive coordinator will help shore up the defense. With 17 defensive players who started games last year returning, that should bode well.
''Having the defensive coordinator around for a second season is a huge thing,'' safety Griffin Piatt said. ''We're familiar with the coverages and everything.''
RECEIVING DEPTH: Despite Chris Harper leaving early for the NFL, Cal brings back seven players who caught at least 20 passes last season. That group is led by Kenny Lawler, Stephen Anderson, Bryce Treggs and Trevor Davis, giving Goff plenty of options in the passing game.
''I think they're the best group of wide receivers in the country,'' Goff said. ''A lot of teams have one or two featured receivers. We have two-deep at every position. It doesn't get much better than that. I'm just trying to enjoy it.''
CENTER OF ATTENTION: Cal dismissed starting center Matt Cochran from the team after spring ball, leaving a big hole on the offensive line. Guard Jordan Rigsbee will likely move over a spot and take over that role.
SCHEDULE: The Bears better start fast because the finish of the Pac-12 schedule is brutal. Cal plays road games at UCLA, Oregon and Stanford and home contests against Southern California and Arizona State over the final six weeks of the regular season. The nonconference slate features home contests against lower-division Grambling and San Diego State before a visit to Texas.