Injuries, youth and all-around poor play contributed to one of the worst seasons in Cal history in Sonny Dykes' first season as the Bears' head coach.
Dykes' job was never in jeopardy, and the Bears figure to improve next season with nearly all their starters coming back and most of their injured players returning as well.
"We've got to get a lot better," Dykes said, according to the Oakland Tribune. "Physically, we've got to get bigger and stronger. That's pretty obvious to anyone. Our football team will look a lot different next year than it does this year."
Two players - backup quarterback Zach Kline and offensive tackle Freddie Tagaloa - have already said they plan to transfer, with more expected to follow. Plus, Dykes will have trouble restoring confidence to a team that was dominated nearly every week in 2013.
The Bears' 1-11 record represented a Cal single-season record for losses in a season. The Bears finished the season with 10 straight losses overall, 14 in a row to Pac-12 opponents and 16 straight against FBS foes.
Dykes' spread offense, which helped Louisiana Tech lead the nation in scoring and total offense last season in Dykes' final year as the Bulldogs' head coach, never got off the ground this season for Cal. The defense was even worse, ranking 122nd of 123 FBS teams in points allowed (45.9 per game).
The lasting impression was the 63-13 loss to traditional rival Stanford. It represented the most points ever scored by a team in the 116 games played between the two teams and was also the largest margin of victory in the series.
Freshman quarterback Jared Goff separated his shoulder in that game, necessitating surgery a week later.
Dykes can take some solace in the fact that all but three players who started that Stanford game will be back next season. Nine of those starters were freshmen, including four true freshmen. However, he will lose his best defensive player, senior defensive tackle Deandre Coleman.
Only eight players who started the final game had been starters in the opener. And several other players projected as starters this season never got on the field. Injuries caused starters to miss 73 games this season.
Cal figures to build around the skill-position players in its passing game - Goff, who set a single-season school record for passing yards in a season, and its three gifted wide receivers, sophomore Bryce Treggs, sophomore Chris Harper and redshirt freshman Kenny Lawler.
The Bears need significant improvement in their running game, which showed some potential in the final few games.
Defensively, the Bears will keep defensive coordinator Andy Buh, hoping the return of several injured linebackers and defensive backs as well as the improvement shown by young players forced into action will translate into better results.
"If you did things for appearances, all you would do is try to win today," Dykes told the Oakland Tribune regarding his decision to retain Buh. "Building a program is about doing things the right way over the long term. In coaching, it's funny how you get dumb really fast, then how guys get smart again really fast."
The Bears will have some defensive talent if they are all healthy.
Cornerback Stefan McClure (knee), defensive end Brennan Scarlett (hand), linebacker Nathan Broussard (knee) and defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil (knee) and safety Avery Sebastian (Achilles) all missed all or most of the season, but should be back for spring ball on at least a limited basis.
Dykes plans to hold spring practice later than originally scheduled, hoping to have as many injured players back as possible.
Cal will be expected to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12 North again next season, and if the Bears are not noticeably better in 2014, Dykes and his staff will be on the hot seat.
CAL GAME OF THE YEAR: Northwestern 44, Cal 30 - It speaks to the Bears' problems that their game of the year was a loss. However, Cal's performance in that season-opener provided promise that the Bears might be a decent team. True freshman QB Jared Goff had an outstanding game in his first college action, attempting 63 passes for 445 yards, suggesting Sonny Dykes' spread offense might be able to put up a lot of points. The Bears were tied in the fourth quarter against a team expected to challenge for the Big Ten title. "I'm really proud of the way our guys played," Dykes said after the game. "We have what it takes to be a good football team." But that turned out to be Cal's best showing of the season, a performance that lost its luster as Cal's losses mounted and Northwestern faded out of the rankings.
CAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: PK Vincenzo D'Amato - Having a place-kicker as the team's player of the year tells you what kind of season it was for Cal. D'Amato was the only Cal player named to the first- or second-team all-conference team, and D'Amato made it as a second-team selection. But he did have a fine season. He was 17-for-20 on field goal attempts, and was 11-for-11 inside the 45-yard line. He also hit one from 51 yards out. Among the regulars, senior DT Deandre Coleman (9.0 tackles for loss) and sophomore WRs Bryce Treggs (77 receptions) and Chris Harper (70 catches, five TDs) probably had the best seasons for the Bears.
LOOKING AHEAD: Sonny Dykes made no major changes to his coaching staff despite the results. He even kept defensive coordinator Andy Buh, even though the Bears finished 122nd of 123 FBS teams in both total defense and scoring defense. Cal loses just three players who were starters in the final game - DT Deandre Coleman, OLB Dan Camporeale and C Mark Brazinski - although the loss of Coleman is significant. The Bears are well-stocked at wide receiver with Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper and Kenny Lawler, and Cal has a quarterback to build around in Jared Goff, who started every game in 2013 as a true freshman. The Bears need help at virtually every other position, especially on defense, although it expects improvement throughout based on the experience gained by young players and the anticipated return of nearly all the players who missed games because of injuries. The offensive line, which was completely rebuilt at midseason, showed improvement late in the season and will benefit from spring practice. Coach Sonny Dykes plans to postpone the start of spring practice until after spring break. That will allow injured players to get healthy in time for workouts.
RECRUITING OUTLOOK: Coach Sonny Dykes plans to sign about 20 players. A number of them are likely to be junior-college players needed to fill specific holes. The Bears need help immediately and cannot afford to wait for players to develop. Cal has verbal commitments from 10 high school players as of Dec. 3, the most noteworthy being WR Erik Brown and FB Devante Downs. Brown, rated the No. 18 wide receiver by Scout.com, is the highest rated of the Cal commits and should fit into the Bears' spread offense. Downs, a 6-3, 215-pounder, is the nation's No. 3-rated fullback, according to Scout.com, and could be the big, power back Cal lacked this season. Only two of the 10 commitments are from defensive players, which is what the Bears need most.
QUOTE:: "I got after them pretty good. I wanted to be honest with them, and I wasn't happy with some things I saw the last two, three ballgames. They're going to reveal their character to us by the way they handle this. It's easy to be a good guy when you win the lottery." - Cal coach Sonny Dykes, to the Oakland Tribune, on what he said to the team after the season-ending 63-13 loss to Stanford.
CAL PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2014:
WRs Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper, Kenny Lawler - All three demonstrated they can be reliable receivers who can put up big numbers in Sonny Dykes' spread offense. Treggs and Harper, both of whom were sophomores, combined for 147 receptions in 2013 and both can get additional yards after the catch. Lawler, a redshirt freshman in 2013, emerged midway through the season and is particularly effective in the red zone. He had 21 of his 37 catches and all five of his touchdown receptions in the final four games of the season.
QB Jared Goff - Goff started all 12 games as a true freshman. Although he had some ups and downs and was replaced in three games for ineffectiveness, he set Cal's single-season record for passing yardage and ranked 11th nationally in passing yards per game. His touchdown-to-interception ratio (12 TDs, 10 interceptions) was not good. But he showed poise throughout the season, and has the talent and personality to be a quality college quarterback.
RB Khalfani Muhammad - A California state high school sprint champion in high school, Muhammad showed his big-play potential late in his true freshman season. He rushed for 184 yards on 25 carries (7.4 yards per attempt) over Cal's final three games. He should flourish in Sonny Dykes' spread offense, which provides gaps and enables speedy running backs to break off big runs.
CAL PRO PROSPECTS as ranked by NFLDRAFTSCOUT.com
DT Deandre Coleman (197 overall/No. 17 defensive end) - Coleman is likely to be the only Cal player taken in the 2014 NFL Draft, and even Coleman is not a sure thing. At the moment he's projected to be taken between the fifth and seven rounds. A 6-5, 315-pounder, Coleman has the size to be a run stopper while having enough pass-rushing skill to be a factor in the middle of a defensive line. He started all 12 games this season and started 11 games in 2012. He had 8.5 tackles for loss in 2012 and 9.0 this year.
PK Vincenzo D'Amato (338 overall/No. 5 kicker) - D'Amato has an outside chance to be drafted in the late rounds of the NFL Draft. He was a first-team all-Pac-12 selection last season, when he made 16 of 23 field-goal attempts. He had a better season as a senior when he hit 17 of 20 attempts, although he earned only second-team all-conference honors in 2013. He was 11-for-11 on kicks of less than 45 yards this season, and he hit one from 51 yards out.
C Mark Brazinski (837 overall/No. 32 center) - Brazinski is unlikely to be drafted, but he might get a tryout as a free agent. He did not become a starter until midway through the 2013 season, but at 6-2, 305 pounds he has the size to earn some interest.
---QB Jared Goff underwent surgery to repair a separated right shoulder suffered in the final game against Stanford. He is expected to be ready for spring football.
---QB Zach Kline, who was Goff's backup this season after being beaten out by Goff for the starting job in preseason, said he will transfer to another college.
---OT Freddie Tagaloa, who began the season as a starter before being replaced, said he plans to transfer.
---LB Nick Forbes, who was expected to be a major contributor, played in only two games this season because of a disk problem in his back, and he may not be able to play next season either.
--- WR Chris Harper (hip), LB Khairi Fortt (arm), CB Stefan McClure (knee), DE Brennan Scarlett (hand), LB Nathan Broussard (knee), DT Mustafa Jalil (knee) and safety Avery Sebastian (Achilles), all of whom missed the final game of the season with injuries, should be back for spring ball on at least a limited basis.