Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: Even with eight bowl appearances in his 10 years at the helm for California, Jeff Tedford's seat has been warming up and this might be a make or break year for his Golden Bears.
After a 7-6 2011 campaign followed up a 5-7 mark in 2010, California needs and wants to get back into contention not just in the Pac-12 but on the national scale as well.
The Golden Bears were 3-0 through the first three games of 2011 including a 36-33 overtime win on the road against conference foe Colorado. California then hit a brutal stretch with games at Washington and Oregon and a home game against USC, which all turned into defeats. The Golden Bears shored up the season by finishing with a 4-2 record, but a 4-5 mark in Pac-12 play kept the Golden Bears near the middle of the pack yet again.
With the 7-5 record in the regular season California got a bowl bid, although in the Pac-12 competing for Rose Bowls is what counts. The Golden Bears didn't make the trip a good one as they were out-muscled 21-10 by Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
OFFENSE: California has a bona fide offensive star in wide receiver Keenan Allen. The 6-foot-3 junior was far and away the most favored target of the Golden Bears offense last season as he caught 98 balls for 1,343 yards and six scores, all tops on the squad. Allen had ankle surgery in April, but is expected to be ready for summer camp and the beginning of the regular season.
If Allen is option one, then running back Isi Sofele is clearly next in line. The senior is coming off a 2011 campaign when he rushed for 1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns. He proved last season he can carry the load as an every down back with his 252 rushing attempts more than the rest of the team combined.
"The experience that Isi gained last year and the way he hits a hole now is night and day. When he hits that hole, he really hits it," Tedford said.
The rest of the skill positions, especially on the edge, have less polish. Freshman Maurice Harris will be the second receiver, while sophomore Richard Rogers will get the starting job at tight end. Rogers has not caught a pass in his college career.
Running the show, and having the privilege of throwing to Allen and handing off to Sofele, is Zach Maynard. The 6-foot-2 quarterback was inconsistent last season, throwing 10 interceptions in the team's first eight games before settling down. On the season as a whole Maynard, who is Allen's half brother, completed 57.0 percent of his passes for 2,990 yards, 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
"I have a lot of confidence in Zach," Tedford said of his starting quarterback. I think (Maynard's) early struggles were about game management and I think that comes with experience and knowledge."
Three seniors return to starting roles on the offensive line including center Brian Schwenke, but there are still some big holes to fill. Senior Tyler Rigsbee may have the toughest job to take over, moving into the left tackle spot that was held last year by second-round draft choice Mitchell Schwartz.
DEFENSE: The defense will not be so fortunate in its returning players as the unit will go through a major face-lift in 2012.
Gone are six senior starters, including Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks. Senior Robert Mullins and sophomore Nick Forbes will be on the inside and will have the unenviable task of replacing Kendricks' production. Mullins has recorded nine career tackles, while Forbes did not record any in his freshman year. Dan Camporeale will return as a starting outside linebacker after having only 19 tackles and 4.0 for loss in 2011.
The defensive line has an entirely new look. A lot will be expected of senior nose tackle Kendrick Payne, who will need to take a leadership role with a junior (Deandre Coleman) and sophomore (Mustafa Jalil) stepping in as the primary defensive ends.
"(Coleman and Jalil) played a lot last year and are talented guys," Tedford said. "I'm expecting both of those guys to step up and be leaders at that position."
The cornerback spots will have some familiar faces in senior Marc Anthony and junior Steve Williams. Williams recorded 45 stops last season to go with a pair of interceptions. Anthony had 37 total tackles and 5.0 for loss. Safety Josh Hill also shores up the secondary as the leading returning tackler, after posting 49 stops in 2011.
SPECIAL TEAMS: California will be putting new players at both punter and place-kicker in 2012. Freshman Cole Leininger will step in for punts as three-time all-conference selection Bryan Anger was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft.Junior Vince D'Amato will step in and handle field goals.
Brandon Bigelow, who led the team in kickoff returns, averaging 20.7 yards per attempt while bringing one back for a score, will be back in that role while Allen is slated as the starting punt returner after spring ball.
OUTLOOK: The Golden Bears will be moving back into a newly renovated Memorial Stadium this season and will be trying to make a splash of their homecoming.
California will get familiarized with its renovated home field in the first two weeks of the season with matchups against Nevada and Southern Utah. Then the Golden Bears trade in home cooking for a brutal road back-to-back against Ohio State and USC. Three of the next four games come at home including an October 20th renewal of the Big Game rivalry against Stanford. November is also dominated by home games with Washington and Oregon traveling to Berkeley before the Golden Bears wrap up the regular season against Oregon State.
Although he is the all-time wins leader among California football coaches, Tedford will have a great deal of pressure going into this season. The defense is almost entirely new but in an offensively-dominated Pac-12, the Golden Bears have the weapons that could justify the high expectations that come with a revamped stadium.