Projecting a best- and worst-case scenario for any situation misses the mark on what is most likely: Something in between.
How often do the extremes actually become reality? Most often neither everything goes right or wrong.
Then there was last season and all that the pandemic brought to college football. There was no in between in 2020.
A year ago, the worst-case scenario for the Pac-12 was briefly realized when the conference canceled the season because of COVID-19. By the time I embarked in this exercise in projecting the future, the league had reinstated a six-game, conference-only schedule.
It turns out I over-sold the best case and under-sold the worst case.
A Pac-12 North title was the unlikely but possible ceiling I saw for the Bears. A 3-3 record was the worst it could go.
The pandemic led to more cancellations and changes to the schedule, and the Bears wound up playing only four times. They won just once.
We’re (somewhat) back to normal (hopefully) in 2021. COVID continues to be a threat, and so does smoky air from wildfires in the West. (Coach Justin Wilcox discusses contingencies for that in the video at the top.) But two days before kickoff, Cal has 12 games on its schedule and there is reason to believe all of them will be played.
With that as our backdrop, let’s try again to project best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Golden Bears:
CAL'S BEST-CASE SCENARIO
Let’s not get crazy here. There are games the Bears simply aren’t likely to win. Oregon at Autzen Stadium is chief among them. USC — which has won 16 of the past 17 meetings, and 11 of those by double-digit margins — will be a daunting assignment, even at home.
The Saturday opener against Nevada and quarterback Carson Strong will be a challenge, but do-able. Week 2 at TCU will be tougher still, but not impossible.
Washington is expected to be very good and there was a time the notion of Cal winning in Seattle was laughable. But the Bears did it in 2019, even following a lightning storm that postponed kickoff deep into the evening.
There are few gimmes on the schedule, Sacramento State led by one-time Cal star Troy Taylor being the most notable exception.
For Cal to be at its best, Chase Garbers must play like a quarterback who has started 22 games, the offensive line has to mesh, a deep threat needs to emerge from a promising but green batch of receivers and the defensive line must overcome the absence of versatile star Brett Johnson.
If all that happens — and the team stays healthy — the Bears could win eight or nine games. Maybe 10? Yeah, a little crazy. But we’re talking best case.
CAL'S WORST-CASE SCENARIO
As we have learned the past couple years, presenting a worst-case scenario is tricky business because it can’t always envision the changing landscape.
For our purposes here, we’re going to assume that the season will not be derailed by forces beyond the Bears’ control. If it’s all on them, what’s the worst that could happen?
Obviously, a key injury would have impact. Cal was 7-0 in 2019 when Garbers started and finished games. The Bears were 1-5 when that was not the case.
Second-year offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s scheme cannot afford more growing pains. The restrictions levied by the pandemic made it impossible for the Bears to full embrace and execute his offense last year, but unless the Bears can do substantially better than 20 points per game they have no chance.
The Bears list 10 players at three defensive line positions on their Week 1 depth chart, and eight of them have a combined total of one tackle for Cal.
There is size and depth here but lots of youth. If the promise doesn’t blossom and the Bears can’t stop the run or pressure the passer, trouble looms.
And, of course, the kicking game cannot self-destruct as it did last year, leading directly to two defeats.
Merge all these crises and our worst-case vision is something like 4-8.
Will things go that badly? Unlikely. Can the Bears be 10-2? Just as unlikely.
Fans should expect something in between and hope for the best.
Cover photo of quarterback Chase Garbers by Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo