Teams need NFL-caliber talent to compete for a Pac-12 football title, and we mentioned in Part 1 of this Cal preview series that the lack of stars is a concern for the Golden Bears.
Cal is the only Pac-12 team not to have any of its current players named to the preseason first- or second-team All-Pac-12 team.
However, there are several Cal players who have established themselves as quality players who might be considered stars and NFL prospects by the end of the season.
We list eight Cal players who are on the verge of stardom, presenting them in the order of their current status.
1. Cameron Goode, outside linebacker -- There is little question that Goode was Cal’s best player in 2020. The reason he returned for a sixth season rather than turn pro is because he’s a tweener and doesn’t seem to fit any NFL position, an opinion he hopes to change this season. He fits well in Cal’s defense. He had three sacks and eight tackles for loss in just four games last season, and he has 27.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks in 26 games in his Cal career. Two magazines (Athlon and Phil Steele) listed Goode as a preseason second-team all-conference player.
2. Luc Bequette, defensive end – You want experience? Bequette is in his seventh year on a Division I roster and this will be his fifth season as a starter. He started all 11 games for Boston College last season, when he had 18 tackles, including three for losses. And he started 38 games from 2017 through 2019 for Cal, collecting 130 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, three pass breakups , four forced fumbles, and one blocked kick. In both 2018 and 2019 he was named Cal’s best defensive lineman of the season. And his most important quality may be his versatility. He can play anywhere along the defensive line, but is best at the defensive end spot in Cal’s three-man front.
3. Elijah Hicks, safety – This will be Hicks’ fifth year as a starter in Cal’s secondary, but this is just his second season as a safety. He demonstrated last season that he can handle the switch from cornerback, and he should be better this year in his second season at the position. A third-team preseason all-Pac-12 player according to Athlon, Hicks had 28 tackles, one interception and to pass breakups in four games last season.
.4. Kuony Deng, outside linebacker – Deng played the past two seasons as an inside linebacker spot, and he was fourth in the Pac-12 in tackles per game in 2019, leading to high expectations in 2020. He was not as dominant last season as expected, although he was the star of the win over Oregon, when he forced two fumbles. He’s now playing outside linebacker, which seems better suited to his body type (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) and affords him an opportunity to make game-changing plays.
5. Chase Garbers, quarterback – Outstanding in his final few games of the 2019 season, Garbers received a lot of preseason hype last year. He was not as productive as anticipated, however, finishing just ninth in the conference in passer rating in 2020. Another year in Bill Musgrave’s system should benefit Garbers, who is entering his fourth season as the Bears’ primary starting quarterback. That kind of experience typically pays dividends at the quarterback position.
6. Nikko Remigio, wide receiver, kick returner – Remigio is on the watch list for the Hornung Award, which goes to the nation’s most versatile player. Although he is a starting wide receiver (two touchdown catches last year and three in 2019), his real value is as a return man, both on punts and kickoffs. He showed his return skills against Oregon State when he returned a punt 89 yards for an apparent touchdown and returned a kickoff to the Beavers’ 3-yard line. However, both plays were negated by Cal penalties.
7. Josh Drayden, cornerback – Drayden, a third-team preseason all-conference selection by both Athlon and Phil Steele, has played in 43 games in the Cal secondary. He started all four games last season, when he had 14 tackles, one interception, four pass breakups and five passes defended. He is a perfect fit for the Bears’ nickelback position.
8. Valentino Daltoso, offensive lineman – Versatility is the reason Daltoso is included on this list. It starts with the fact that he has started 34 games in his Cal career, but his value is in his adaptability. He has started 12 games at left guard, 10 games at right guard and 12 games at left tackle. And this year he is listed as the Bears’ starting right tackle.
Cover photo of Elijah Hicks making a tackle is by Kelley L. Cox, USA TODAY, Sports
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