Cal’s 35-28 loss to 18th-ranked UCLA on Friday was the epitome of the Bears’ 2022 season. Close, but not good enough.
The Bears finished 4-8, the first time since 2013 that they lost more than seven games, and their 2-7 Pac-12 mark represented Cal’s 13th consecutive season with a losing conference record.
That’s the bottom line on 2022, but the headline for the season is this: Cal still can’t win close games.
Cal is 2-10 in games decided by seven points or fewer since the start of the 2021 season, including 1-7 in Pac-12 games. And that one “close” conference win was not really a one-score victory as Stanford kicked a window-dressing 61-yard field goal on the game’s final play to make the final score 27-20 a week ago.
“I think we’re a better team than our record showed,” Cal quarterback Jack Plummer said in the video atop the story. “I think we played a lot of teams really tough. We just couldn’t find a way to win a lot of the games. And I think that’s a skill that’s developed.”
Cal has not developed it yet, not in Wilcox’s sixth season as the Bears’ head coach.
---Washington, which is currently ranked 13th in the country, got away with a 28-21 victory over Cal when the Bears could not convert a fourth-and-2 play from the Washington 42-yard line with 28 seconds left.
---USC, which is line for a berth in the College Football Playoff, got two first downs in the final 2:31 to protect a 41-35 victory over Cal.
---Cal’s Jaydn Ott fumbled at the Bears’ 38-yard line in the closing seconds on Friday, ruining Cal’s chance at an upset of No. 18 UCLA.
Plummer had an outstanding game, finishing 24-for-34 for 294 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks. He completed 14 passes in a row at one point, pushing Cal ahead 21-10 late in the second quarter.
Now the question is whether Plummer will return to Cal next season for his final year of college eligibility. He said Friday he will decided within a week or two, so we should know quickly. It would seem to be in Plummer’s best interests to return to Cal because he is unlikely to be taken in this spring’s NFL draft. Of course, it all depends on who Wilcox hires as his offensive coordinator, a choice Plummer has said will influence his decision on whether to return.
Cal inside linebacker Jackson Sirmon faces the same decision about whether to return in 2023. He has been Cal’s most consistent defensive player this season, and he had 13 tackles Friday, while safety Daniel Scott had 16 tackles and Sirmon’s partner at inside linebacker, Femi Oladejo, had 17 stops.
There’s always a chance Sirmon or Plummer would transfer, and Wilcox must try to prevent his big-play performers – wide receivers Jeremiah Hunter (153 receiving yards Friday) and J.Michael Sturdivant and freshman running back Jaydn Ott – from leaving for another school.
Cal has not been nearly as active as a lot of teams in the transfer portal in Wilcox’s tenure at Cal, but he implied that’s going to change, saying Friday he was going to “work aggressively” in that aspect over the next few months. USC has shown you can go from 4-8 to a national-title contender in one year by going through the transfer portal, so maybe Cal can go from 4-8 to something considerably better next season if it adds a few transfers to plug some holes.
However, there is no sugar-coating the fact that Cal finished this season at 4-8, the worst in Wilcox’s six seasons.
“The record is not what we thought it could have or should been, so that’s very disappointing, can’t get used to that, never will,” Wilcox said.
However, Wilcox expressed his optimism for the future several times.
“I know we can do it. I know [the players] know we can do it,” Wilcox said, “but we have to evolve.”
And win some close ones.
Cover photo of Justin Wilcox is by Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports
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