"Next year is going to be a crazy year for our offense."
That's probably what a lot Cal fans are thinking after the Bears' 35-20 victory over Illinois on Monday, but more important it is what Cal redshirt sophomore quarterback Chase Garbers said to a television reporter moments after the Redbox Bowl victory.
Not only did Cal have its highest-scoring game of the year, but the Bears will return virtually every important player on offense next season.
The key, of course, is Garbers, whose improvement from last season was demonstrated vividly on Monday. In last year's 10-7 loss to TCU in the Cheez-It Bowl, Garbers threw three first-half interceptions and was pulled at halftime, replaced by a player who had not thrown a pass all season.
On Monday, he had the best game of his career, throwing four touchdown passes with no picks as Cal improved to 7-0 this season in games in which Garbers played more than one half.
The Bears also solved their turnover woes. After having the most turnovers in the country last season when the Bears gave it away 31 times, Cal set a single-season school record with just 13 turnovers this year.
Garbers noted the lofty possibilities for next year's offense in the video above immediately after Monday's game.
"It's a pretty big ceiling coming off this win," he said.
Now Justin Wilcox faces the most important hire of his career. Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin is gone, becoming Cal Poly's head coach as soon as the Redbox Bowl ended. Wilcox has to hire an outstanding offensive coordinator who can make use of the talent and experience that will be under his watch. Wilcox noted recently in the video below that the job should be attractive because of the potential to show dramatic offensive improvement.
Now, let's take a deep breath before getting too excited. The Bears' 35 points and Garbers' performance came against an Illinois team that finished with a losing record and ranked ninth among 12 Big Ten teams in total defense.
Let's also remember that the Cal offense has been an embarrassment the past two seasons, finishing last in the Pac-12 in both total defense and scoring defense each of the past two seasons.
Finally, having a lot of returning starters doesn't mean much if those players are still substandard performers, and the Bears need to make major strides just to be among the top five or six offenses in the Pac-12.
But the possibility is there. Cal center Michael Saffell calls the offensive propects for next season "awesome" as he talks up the 2020 Cal offense in this video.
It starts with what other teams in the Pac-12 North will not have. Cal knows its starting quarterback for 2020 will be Garbers, who showed significant improvement this season over 2018. Stanford presumably will go with Davis Mills, who started a number of game due to the injury to KJ Costello.
However, Washington, Oregon, Washington State and Oregon State all need to break in new quarterbacks, and none of the four has a clear-cut front-runner for the job.
Cal returns its entire starting offensive line and will add tackles Gentle Williams and Will Craig, both of whom were starters before suffering season-ending injuries back in August.
"I'm excited about next season," said Cal offensive line coach Steve Greatwood in the video below. Soon after making that statement, however, Greatwood announced his retirement.
Wilcox needs to hire a quality offensive line coach to continue the development Greatwood has begun.
Jordan Duncan is the only receiver who will be gone, and his absence in the Redbox Bowl was not even noticed. Nikko Remigio had 18 receptions for 251 yards over the final three games, and his 25-yard reception for a key first down in the second quarter Monday was star-quality stuff. Freshman Makai Polk had a season-high 105 receiving yards in the Redbox Bowl, and Michigan transfer Kekoa Crawford showed what he can do if he stays healthy.
Tight ends Gavin Reinwald (touchdown catch Monday) and Jake Tonges (three receptions against Illinois) both showed significant improvement in the second half of the season.
Even before the bowl game, Remigio allowed himself to contemplate the offensive possibilities of 2020.
"Every time I think about it, I get a little bit jittery and pretty excited," he said in the video below.
Christopher Brown Jr. seems to be just scratching the surface. Bothered by bumps and bruises much of the season, the powerful tailback had 111 rushing yards in the regular-season finale against UCLA and 120 against Illinois. Those were his two best games against FBS teams this season, and it showed what he can do behind an offensive line that got healthy late in the season.
Cal linebacker Evan Weaver added the final appraisal of the Cal offense in 2020.
"That's going to be pretty good if you ask me," he said Monday.