Cal Football: Why the Bears' No. 23 Preseason Ranking by USA Today Is Not Far-Fetched

Jeff Faraudo

While we all are beginning to wonder if there even will be a college football season — or at least what it will look like in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic — Cal continues to get preseason love.

USA Today has the Golden Bears at No. 23 in its updated preseason Top-25.

Here’s what they had to say about Cal:

“There's a ton of high-level experience on defense, coach Justin Wilcox's specialty, and the possibility of a pretty successful offense should quarterback Chase Garbers remain healthy. The Golden Bears went unbeaten last season in games Garbers started and finished.”

-- Evan Weaver, star linebacker of the 2019 Bears, talks about his very high expectations for the 2020 squad, even invoking a reference to Pasadena:

Cal is among four teams from the Pac-12 Conference listed in the USA Today rankings, with Oregon at No. 4, USC at No. 22 and Washington at No. 24.

The top-5: 1. Clemson; 2. Ohio State; 3. Georgia; 4. Oregon; 5. Alabama.

In an earlier related story, USA Today explored whether the Pac-12 has a team beyond Oregon that could become a contender for the College Football Playoff. No one was commanding USA Today’s attention.

The publication’s take on Cal in that conversation:

“It could be California, a program trending in the right direction under Justin Wilcox but one that hasn't reached double-digit wins since 2006 nor reached the equivalent of a New Year's Six bowl since 1958.”

Not everyone is on board. The website 247Sports, commenting on USA Today’s projections, wrote: Lots of West Coast love here . . . and we don’t agree with a couple of the picks, notably Cal.” According to 247Sports, the Bears will win just two conference games.

Most projections cite Oregon as the clear favorite in the Pac-12 North, with Washington and Cal dueling for the second spot.

There are some reasons to favor the Bears in a head-to-head matchup vs. the Huskies:

— Wilcox returns for his fourth season as head coach, having improved the Bears' win total each year, while Washington has a new man in charge with Jimmy Lake replacing Chris Petersen, who unexpectedly retired after going 47-20 in six seasons.

— Garbers returns for his second season as starting quarterback while the Huskies lost starter Jacob Eason to the NFL draft and are expected to replace him with sophomore Jacob Sirmon, a former high-end recruit and nephew to Cal co-defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon, who threw three passes last season.

— Cal has beaten Washington the past two seasons and the teams play this year at Berkeley.

In fact, the Bears’ schedule is quite favorable in 2020, with home games against Utah, Oregon, Washington, Stanford and UCLA. Their Pac-12 road games are against Washington State, USC, Oregon State and Arizona State.

Depending on how the battle against the COVID-19 virus unfolds, Cal is scheduled to kick off its season on August 29 at UNLV. The Bears’ home opener is Sept. 5 against TCU.