Cal had high expectations for the 2020 season, and since the Bears will not be playing football in the fall, we decided to speculate on how the season, based on the original schedule, might have played out.
We provided a summary of what might have happened on the day the game was scheduled to take place, starting with the season opener at UNLV, which was scheduled for today.
Date: Saturday, August 29, 2020
The Opponent: UNLV
Marcus Arroyo, who was Cal’s quarterbacks coach in Jeff Tedford’s final two seasons as the Bears coach (2011, 2012) and was Oregon offensive coordinator last season, is the Rebels new head coach. Nate Longshore, who was Cal’s quarterback in 2006 when it shared the Pac-10 title with USC, is an offensive analyst for UNLV.
Last season, the Rebels went 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the Mountain West, tied for last place in the West division. Their star is running back Charles Williams, a first-team all-conference selection, and the quarterback is sophomore Kenyon Oblad, who started eight games last season and whom we suspect would have beaten out TCU transfer Justin Rogers for the starting job in preseason camp. The Rebels lost seven starters from a defense that ranked 108th of 130 FBS schools in scoring defense last year, allowing 33.30 points per game.
UNLV preseason ranking (among 130 FBS teams)
No. 114 by ESPN power rankings
No. 118 by Athlon
No. 109 by College Football News
Picked to finish last in the West Division of the Mountain West by Athlon
This was scheduled to be the first football game played at the $1.8 billion Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. It has an artificial field for UNLV games, although the Raiders will play on a natural grass field at the same stadium.
What does Cal need to do to beat UNLV?
Cal simply needs to avoid game-changing mistakes against a team it is expected to beat. The Bears must limit the effectiveness of running back Charles Williams and force the quarterback (probably Oblad) to beat them.
Cal quarterback Chase Garbers needs to be efficient and not take any unnecessary chances, and Christopher Brown Jr. and the Bears’ other backs need to make consistent gains against a UNLV defense that yielded 5.14 yards per rush last year and must replace its three best defenders.
Cal’s experienced offensive line needs to control that game.
What are the concerns for this season opener?
This will be Cal’s first game using the offense of new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, and there may be some mistakes and some hesitation.
The high preseason expectations could add pressure to a Cal team not used to those elements, and playing on the road is never easy.
UNLV will be excited in its first game under Arroyo and its first game at its magnificent new stadium.
Cal lost two safeties taken in the NFL draft (Ashtyn Davis, Jaylinn Hawkins) as well as the Pac-12 defensive player of the year (Evan Weaver), so there are some questions on defense.
Which Cal players need to show up in a big way?
Garbers must make good decisions and play efficiently, and at least one wide receiver needs to make a big play.
Brown needs to have a big day.
Linebacker Kuony Deng is one of the key players in stopping Charles Williams
Elijah Hicks, starting at safety for the first time, needs to prevent big plays and come up with a big play himself.
How does the simulated game play out?
The Bears are a little shaky on offense to start the game as the new offense, opening-game jitters and playing on the road conspire to limit the Bears to a field goal in the first quarter. But Cal’s defense shuts down the UNLV attack, limiting the Rebels to a second-quarter field goal as the half ends tied 3-3.
Cal takes the second-half kickoff and marches 75 yards for a touchdown and then begins to dominate.
UNLV moves the ball on Cal but cannot cash in. Williams is limited to 85 yards on the ground, and Oblad throws two interceptions before he is replaced by Rogers.
Garbers throws a long touchdown pass to Nikko Remigio and runs for another score, but also throws an interception. Brown rushes for 122 yards and a touchdown before he is replaced midway through the fourth quarter because of a leg injury.
Cal rolls to a 31-13 victory.
What effect does this game have on the Bears’ (mythical) season?
Cal did what it was supposed to do against a mediocre team and showed improvement in its new offense over the course of the game. However, Garbers has room for improvement as Justin Wilcox notes in his postgame comments.
Defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon is generally pleased with the Bears’ defense, but would like to see more big plays. The Bears forced only one turnover and recorded just one sack (by Cameron Goode). Cal’s new starting safeties (Hicks, Daniel Scott) were adequate but not as productive as last season’s duo.
Cal must hope Brown’s leg injury is not serious and that he will be available for the next game.
The Bears did not look like Pac-12 title contenders in their opener. They will need to play better in their home opener next week.
Cal Record: 1-0
TCU at Cal, Saturday, Sept. 5
Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53
Find Cal Sports Report on Facebook by searching: @si.calsportsreport
Click the "follow" button in the top right corner to join the conversation on Cal Sports Report on SI. Access and comment on featured stories and start your own conversations and post external links on our community page.