Cal Football: Previewing the Bears' 2020 Opponents -- Game 5: WSU Cougars

Jeff Faraudo

For the third time in their first five games of the 2020 schedule, the Bears will face a team led by a first-year head coach.

Assuming the current schedule holds, which certainly is not a sure thing given the COVID-19 pandemic, Cal will play its first Pac-12 road game on Oct. 3 against Washington State. The Cougars are now coached by Nick Rolovich, who came from Hawaii to replace Mike Leach, who departed Pullman for Mississippi State.

The Cougars hit a bump in the road last season and Rolovich has work to do, including finding a new quarterback and rebuilding the Cougars' defense.

Previously, the Bears will have faced new head coaches in Beau Baldwin of Cal Poly and Marcus Arroyo go UNLV. 

Game 5: CAL AT WASHINGTON STATE, Saturday, 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.

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 alone, but the Cougars were deep at the position and return Renard Bell, Travell Harris and Tay Martin, each 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, 324-pound junior.

Weaknesses: The Cougars have had no practices yet and chance to sort out the quarterback spot 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 incoming freshman Jayde de Laura, a four-star prospect from Hawaii, none of whom has thrown a pass in a college game. . . . 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 Nick 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 position is unresolved and the defense must take a major step forward. The cupboard is far from empty for Rolovich, but the Cougars will have a tough time finishing higher than fourth place in the Pac-12 North.

Cal-Washington State game prediction: Cal 31, WSU 21

*** Justin Wilcox talks in the video below about overcoming adversity after Cal's win over WSU last season that snapped a four-game losing streak.

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