Running back Marshawn Lynch looked so good in his limited role as a freshman last season that there isn't as much concern in Berkeley over the departure of J.J. Arrington, the nation's only 2,000-yard rusher in 2004, as you might expect. The 5'11", 200-pound Lynch averaged 8.8 yards per carry, dashing 628 yards and scoring eight touchdowns on 71 rushes. Blowing through Pac-10 defenses came so easily to Lynch that teammates even caught him smiling during a 55-yard scoring run in a 41-6 rout of Stanford. "He definitely has fun," says senior All-Pac-10 center Marvin Philip. "There are big shoes to fill this year, but nobody's worried about Marshawn."
That's good news because there were three other gaping holes left in the offense by the departures of All-Pac-10 quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receivers Geoff McArthur and Chase Lyman. Replacing them won't be easy, but coach Jeff Tedford has signed three straight strong recruiting classes and picked up a pair of juco standouts in the City College of San Francisco passing combination of quarterback Joseph Ayoob and wideout Lavelle Hawkins. Tops among the young players is freshman wideout DeSean Jackson, a 4.4 burner who'll pair with Hawkins, another speedster. Duties at quarterback will go to Ayoob, a 2004 junior college All-America, or 6'5", 230-pound redshirt freshman Nate Longshore, who has a strong arm but has yet to take a live snap. "I feel very good about both of them," says Tedford. "Joey has a lot of ability, and Nate's had the luxury of getting good experience behind Aaron Rodgers."
Coming off a 10--2 season in which they outscored opponents by 21 points a game and were ranked No. 4 at one point, the Golden Bears face high expectations. With only three starters back on defense, it's all the more reason for the offense to kick in right away. "We did lose a lot of players," says Lynch, "but we can't worry about that. I know this team can compete with any team in the country." --M.B.
2004 RECORD 10-2 (7-1, 2nd in Pac-10)
FINAL AP RANK 9
RETURNING STARTERS 11
KEY RETURNEES (2004 stats)
DB Donnie McCleskey (Sr.) '03 All-America was slowed by bad shoulder
RB Marshawn Lynch (Soph.) 8.8 yards per carry topped Pac-10
DT Brandon Mebane (Jr.) Of 28 career tackles, 23 were solo
C Marvin Philip (Sr.) Rimington Award finalist as a junior
Rushing yards allowed per game by the Bears last season. Only national champ and Pac-10 rival USC surrendered fewer (79.4).
Athletic, fast and smart, senior roverback Donnie McCleskey always seems to be around the ball. In 2003 he was an All-Pac-10 selection, making two interceptions, breaking up 11 passes and leading all conference defensive backs in total tackles (102), sacks (5 1/2) and tackles for loss (12). He'll be a crucial player on an inexperienced defense.
Sept. 3 SACRAMENTO STATE
10 at Washington
23 at New Mexico State
Oct. 1 ARIZONA
8 at UCLA
15 OREGON STATE
22 WASHINGTON STATE
Nov. 5 at Oregon
19 at Stanford