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September 2, 2011

What can Cal fans expect in 2011?



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After a little more than nine months, California football is finally back. For Bear Backers, it's been a long offseason -- the longest since 2003. So what will avid fans of the blue and gold get for their patience?

Nobody knows ... nobody!

Sure, everyone has an opinion, but we're not talking about a team that nearly won a national championship and returns for a 2011 season with almost every starter back for more. We're also not talking about a team that has a recent history of losing nearly all of their games.

We are talking about the unpredictable, ever-frustrating and always under-achieving California Golden Bears.

Anyone -- and I mean anyone -- who tells you they know how the Golden Bears will fare this season is either lying or guessing. That uncertainty can be both cause for excitement and trepidation to the start of another college football season.

When others find out that I cover Cal, media and fans alike, the first question out of their mouth is, "How do you think they're going to do this year?"

I always answer, "I don't know."

I then follow that cop-out answer with another cop out by saying, "It all depends on their offensive line."

As a reporter/analyst/Miss Cleo, it frustrates me to no end to have to give that answer. That answer is no better than a head coach telling the media before a big game, "If we stop the run and succeed in the running game, we have a chance."

Ugh! Just tell everyone that you have as much a clue about your teams' chances as Paris Hilton has of becoming President of the United States!

Unfortunately, as much for me as it is for you, Cal's chances of success this season does hinge on the play of their offensive line. Enter: Jim Michalczik.

Bears fans remember what Michalczik did as the Cal offensive line coach from 2002 through 2008. What they might not know is that he did a pretty good job with the Oakland Raiders as well.

While the Raiders offensive line hasn't been one of the best in the NFL over the last two years, Michalczik was able to keep it together using 10 different starters during that span.

The Silver and Black even ranked 10th in total offense in 2010, and as we've all heard from every coach or broadcaster at least once, it all starts up front with the offensive line.

As cliche as it is, it's the truth, and nothing but the truth. Oh brother!

Win or lose in what is being billed as "Battle by the Bay," against Fresno State, Cal's season won't be foreseeable until they are already halfway through it.

Granted, if they lose to Presbyterian in game three after losing to the Bulldogs and Colorado in games one and two, the Bears will have given all of us a sure sign of what they are made of -- and Jeff Tedford will start feeling the burn of a very hot seat.

It's likely that Cal will be 3-0 before the official Pac-12 season begins, Bear Backers will be full of confidence, and for a moment, the Golden Bears will begin gaining some national exposure.

Big deal. We've all seen that before. The true test will begin when Cal travels north to battle the Huskies.

After going on the road against a team that barely beat them by three points at home to end last season, the crew from Berkeley will travel two weeks later to face an Oregon team that fell three points shy of a national championship in January.

Seven days later, Cal will come home to face hated USC. The Trojans are projected to be even better than they were last year when they embarrassed the Bears in Los Angeles with a 48-14 thrashing.

Six games into the season, Cal should be no worse (and probably no better) than 4-2. That's rather promising for the Bears, because by that time Michalczik will have had enough time to start working his magic touch with the offensive line.

Utah comes to town for game seven, and that should be a win. Of the final five games, three are on the road and Cal had a 3-2 record against those opponents last season.

In 2010, the Bears beat Washington State, UCLA and this year's Pac-12 darling Arizona State by a combined score of 105-37. They also lost to Stanford and Oregon State by a total of 83-21.

The closest game they had of those final five opponents in 2010 was a 20-13 win over the Cougars -- perennial Pac-10 doormats.

Ah yes, that does sound like the Cal we all know. Forrest Gump might say they are like a box of chocolates ...

And that's why none of us will know what we are 'gonna' get' with this season's Golden Bears...until we've already started getting it.

Here's a pessimist's prediction: 4-8
Sep. 3 vs. Fresno State (L)
Sep. 10 at Colorado (W)
Sep. 17 vs. Presbyterian (W)
Sep. 24 at Washington (L)
Oct. 6 at Oregon (L)
Oct. 13 vs. USC (L)
Oct. 22 vs. Utah (W)
Oct. 29 at UCLA (L)
Nov. 5 vs. Washington State (W)
Nov. 12 vs. Oregon State (L)
Nov. 19 at Stanford (L)
Nov. 25 at Arizona State (L)
Dec. 2 Pac-12 Championship Game (Funny, real funny)


And the optimist: 8-4
Sep. 3 vs. Fresno State (W)
Sep. 10 at Colorado (W)
Sep. 17 vs. Presbyterian (W)
Sep. 24 at Washington (W)
Oct. 6 at Oregon (L)
Oct. 13 vs. USC (L)
Oct. 22 vs. Utah (W)
Oct. 29 at UCLA (W)
Nov. 5 vs. Washington State (W)
Nov. 12 vs. Oregon State (W)
Nov. 19 at Stanford (L)
Nov. 25 at Arizona State (L)
Dec. 2 Pac-12 Championship Game (Not invited, but a Holiday Bowl win is likely)


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