By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The 2009 season was supposed to be a big year for California, and while the Golden Bears fought hard throughout the campaign the team was unable to finish in the AP Top 25 for the third straight season.
The Golden Bears stormed out of the gates to start the year, pounding their
first three opponents by a combined margin of 146-40. However, the team's
offense quickly lost its momentum and scored a total of six points in back-to-
back losses to Oregon and USC. Despite being 0-2 in league play early in the
year, coach Jeff Tedford's troops regained their focus and ripped off three
straight wins. In the victories over UCLA, Washington and Arizona State, the
offense for the Golden Bears bounced back in a big way, averaging 39.0 ppg
during the winning streak. After a 31-14 setback to Oregon State at home, the
Golden Bears went back on the winning path, grabbing close victories against
Arizona and Stanford. Despite falling to Washington in embarrassing fashion
(42-10) to close out their regular season the Golden Bears still tallied eight
wins and earned a spot in the Poinsettia Bowl. Unfortunately, the Golden Bears
were defeated by Utah, 37-27, closing out their season on a down note.
OFFENSE: Usually it is a tough task replacing a talented running back such as
Jahvid Best, but fortunately for coach Tedford not only does he have a
reliable answer in Shane Vereen, but he also has a player in Vereen that
gained valuable experience filling in for Best this past season. Vereen will
now have the pressures of being the main back and more of the offense will
rely on him, but the junior seems ready to lead the way.
"It hasn't changed too much," said Vereen. "However, it has changed my role on
the team. I feel I've taken more of a leadership role this year and I feel
like my preparation has been better."
Vereen, who rushed for 952 yards and 12 touchdowns while only starting four
games last year will have the luxury of running behind a very experienced
offensive line that returns four starters.
Also benefiting from a veteran line will be quarterback Kevin Riley, who is
looking to build off his solid junior campaign. Riley has a solid target in
Marvin Jones, who hauled in 43 receptions last season, but after Jones, the
Golden Bears are a little thin at the receiver position. Fortunately for fans
in Berkeley there was a large amount of talent in the recruiting class at the
receiver position, so maybe one of the newcomers can step up and give Riley
another option other than Jones.
DEFENSE: After struggling defensively last season, Cal brought in new
defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and he will be charged with improving
a unit that ranked 72nd nationally with only five returning starters.
Up front the Golden Bears do return Cameron Jones, who racked up six sacks
last season, but besides him the rest of the line is rather young and
inexperienced. Jones is a tenacious end, that coach Tedford believes can be a
leader for this unit.
"Cameron does have great potential and ability," said coach Tedford. "What is
going to help him in the new scheme is if we are rushing four or five, he will
be able to get to the quarterback. He is very gifted."
Another leader for this defense will have to be middle linebacker Mike
Mohamed. The senior linebacker, who racked up 112 tackles last season will be
joined by junior D.J. Holt who showed plenty of promise last year. Mohamed is
one of the best linebackers in the conference, but he understands he is
expected to be a leader and he is ready to take on that challenge.
"I am aware of the preseason accolades but my main focus is the team," said
Mohamed. "I want to win the Pac-10 and play in the Rose Bowl. It doesn't
really affect me. I just need to get out there and have a great season and
help my team as much as I can."
California was atrocious against the pass last season, and it is likely the
team will struggle in this area once again, with only one starter back. Sean
Cattouse will return to his safety spot, but he only earned the starting gig
late last year. There will be plenty of inexperience at corner as freshman
Steve Williams will likely get the starting nod.
SPECIAL TEAMS: With Vereen now the team's starting tailback it is likely he
will be relieved of his kick return duties. Look for speedy Isi Sofele to take
over for Vereen, and he could be just as dangerous for the Golden Bears. The
kicking game is not as clear, as Giorgio Tavecchio and Vince D'Amato battling
for the starting spot. Neither player was very consistent last season, but at
the present moment Tavecchio may have a slight edge.
OUTLOOK: Expectations were high for the Golden Bears over the past few
seasons, but this year those high hopes have tampered off and California
enters this campaign flying under the radar, which could be a good thing.
Tedford still feels his team is good enough to compete for the conference
title and anything less is not good enough.
"A success will be to go to the Rose Bowl. That is what we are here for. We
are going to work our hardest to reach our full potential," said coach
Tedford. "It used to be 8 or 9 wins was a good season. People were satisfied
with that. But that is not good enough anymore. We have to get over that hump.
We have a burning desire to go to the Rose Bowl. Our fans do, our coaches do,
our players do. We are going to go out there and work our hardest to reach our
goal. I wouldn't go and say that if we lose and game or two and don't make our
goal that it's a failure. I am not putting that on our backs. We want to reach
our goal and have fun doing it."
The schedule may not be accommodating. The Golden Bears will have tough road
contests against Arizona, USC and Oregon State, and even though the squad ends
the year with three straight home matchups, those games come against Oregon,
Stanford and Washington.