* Last in a series of stories previewing Cal’s six firm opponents on their revised 2020 Pac-12 schedule. This story, which appeared on Cal Sports Report in April, has been substantially updated, reflecting changes since then.
Game 6: CAL at WASHINGTON STATE, Saturday, Dec. 12
Original date: The Bears originally were scheduled to visit WSU for Game 5 on Oct. 3.
Washington State 2019 record: 6-7 overall, 3-6/tied for 5th in Pac-12 North
Series record: Cal leads 48-28-5. The Bears won 33-20 last year. The home team has won the past 5 meetings. Cal is 12-3 vs. WSU since 2005.
Washington State coach: Nick Rolovich, first year at WSU; 28-27 in 4 years as head coach at Hawaii.
Recent changes: Rolovich made headlines for the wrong reasons in August after a phone conversation with Kassidy Woods in which the first-year coach told the sophomore wide receiver that if he became involved with the Pac-12 players’ #WeAreUnited movement he wouldn’t be welcome to remain on the team. Rolovich later tried to soften his position, but the PR damage was done and Woods joined top returning wideout Tay Martin and two other receivers who had entered the transfer portal. The Cougars already had lost their top three wideouts — all seniors — from a year ago. Safety Skyler Thomas, who started 25 of the previous 26 games, also entered the transfer portal then changed his mind and returned to school.
Top players: Junior RB Max Borghi (817 rush yards, 11 touchdowns; 86 receptions, 597 yards, 5 touchdowns); junior PK Blake Mazza (20-for-21 field goals, 55-for-57 PATs, 115 points); senior S Skyler Thomas (72 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 pass breakups, 2 fumble recoveries); junior OT Lucas Abraham; LB Justus Rogers (70 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss)
Strengths: Running back Max Borghi totaled more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 28 touchdowns in two seasons in an offense that preferred not to run the ball much. He should be one of the most productive backs in the Pac-12 next season. . . . WSU lost three wide receivers who totaled 221 catches and 26 touchdowns last season, and lost four more who transferred in the offseason. But the Cougars were deep at the position and return Renard Bell and Travell Harris, both of whom had at least 43 receptions and four TDs. . . . Blake Mazza was the first-team All-Pac-12 placekicker last season. . . . Three starters return on the offensive line, including second-team All-Pac-12 right tackle Abraham Lucas, a 6-foot-7, 328-pound junior who will be given his own Zip code if he grows much larger.
Weaknesses: The quarterback spot was left vacant by the departure of seniors Anthony Gordon, Gage Gubrud and Trey Tinsley, who combined for 50 touchdown passes last season — 48 of them by Gordon. The candidates are redshirt freshman Gunner Cruz, sophomore Cammon Cooper and freshman Jayden de Laura, a four-star prospect from Hawaii, none of whom has thrown a pass in a college game. Rolovich said on a local radio show this week that a starter had been picked "internally," then said he regretted giving that much away. Still, no one outside the program is clear which player has won the job. . . . The defense returns eight starters but allowed 31.4 points per game and ranked last in the Pac-12 against the run surrendering 185.5 yards per outing.
What you should know about Washington State: The Cougars start over with Rolovich, who was 10-5 last season at Hawaii, beating BYU 38-34 in the Hawaii Bowl. . . . Rolovich, 41, replaces eight-year WSU coach Mike Leach, who left for Mississippi State. Rolovich grew up in the North Bay and attended Marin Catholic High, the same school that produced former Cal star Jared Goff. He led City College of San Francisco to the 1999 junior college national championship, then played at Hawaii, where he ended his career with three straight 500-yard passing games, including 543 yards and eight touchdown passes in a 72-45 win over BYU. He played for the Las Vegas Gladiators in the Arena Football League. . . . The Cougars have played in a bowl game five straight seasons. . . .
Spring practice status: The Cougars were scheduled to begin spring workouts on March 27, but sports were shut down by the COVID-19 threat before that date. As if that wasn’t tough enough, three days before that rising junior safety Bryce Beekman, 22, was found dead in his apartment. Police did not suspect foul play and the cause of death was still pending.
2020 Season projection: The Cougars are transitioning from Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense to Nick Rolovich’s run-and-shoot attack. They will still be wide open, but the quarterback picture is unclear and the defense must take a major step forward. The cupboard is far from empty for Rolovich, but the Cougars, who open Nov. 7 at Oregon State, will have a tough time finishing higher than fourth or fifth place in the Pac-12 North.
Cal-Washington State game prediction: Cal 31, WSU 21
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
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