California 2013 season preview


Jeff Tedford found Aaron Rodgers, but never found Rodgers' successor. That's really the only way to sum up the resurgence, then decline, of California football. Tedford continued to recruit and develop talent at plenty of other positions on both sides of the ball -- Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson and Alex Mack among his 44 pupils that were drafted over 11 years -- but that wasn't enough to overcome quarterback play that ranged from competent to downright awful after Rodgers left.

New head coach Sonny Dykes should be able to reverse that trend given his track record running a wide-open shotgun spread passing offense, but he must not fall into the trap of overlooking the defense. With plenty of talent still on the roster, Cal should continue to crank out the draft picks in years to come, but will have a tougher time cracking the top of the Pac-12 North.

Top senior prospects

DT Deandre Coleman: Coleman has the measurables to emerge as one of the top interior defenders in the 2014 draft, but he needs to offer productivity to match that potential. Starting at defensive end in a 3-4 alignment, he had 8.5 tackles for loss (only 2.5 more than in 2011 as a reserve) and struggled to make an impact. Coleman should benefit from the installation of a 4-3 front in which he will no longer have two-gap responsibilities.

Top underclassmen

RB Brendan Bigelow: One of the most explosive yet underutilized players in college football, Bigelow erupted with highlight-reel touchdown runs of 81 and 59 yards at Ohio State only to be buried again for the rest of the season. He struggled to digest Tedford's complex playbook, but the new coaching staff vows to simplify things and play to Bigelow's strengths. Bigelow possesses breathtaking open-field acceleration and balance -- everything sets up for a breakthrough season. He also excels on kick returns and is a solid receiver. However, Bigelow has a history of major knee problems, which NFL teams will not overlook.

WR Bryce Treggs: One of the top wide-receiver recruits in the class of 2012, Treggs was merely a bit player as Keenan Allen, a third-round selection by the San Diego Chargers in the 2013 NFL Draft, dominated targets for a poor passing game. Treggs shows great hands, concentration and route running, and should at worst triple his freshman production (21 receptions for 216 yards).

CB Stefan McClure: In his first career start as a true freshman, McClure put the clamps on then-USC wide receiver Robert Woods, holding the sophomore All-American to five receptions for 36 yards. He missed last season with a knee injury suffered late in 2011. Assuming there are no lingering effects, McClure has the attributes to become a special defender.

QB Zach Kline: Kline possesses ridiculous arm strength and can make any throw on the field with ease. He can move in the pocket, but will never be mistaken for a dual threat. Kline should put up massive numbers in a user-friendly system and has an NFL skill set to back it up. With the spread no longer an inherent checkmark against draft prospects, he should emerge as an intriguing name down the road.

WR Chris Harper: Slot receivers and Mike Leach's Air Raid offense go together like peanut butter and jelly, so Harper has a great chance to become the new Wes Welker or Danny Amendola for Dykes, a former Leach assistant at Texas Tech. As a freshman, he had 41 catches for 544 yards and two touchdowns -- second on the team behind Allen -- and was elusive and slippery on screen passes. Harper must add strength without sacrificing speed or agility.

Who did we choose as the best NFL players from California?

Three must-see games of 2013

Aug. 31 vs. Northwestern: This isn't a lay-up for the reconfigured Golden Bears defense -- Wildcats running back Venric Mark isn't a well-known name but has a huge game. Earning second-team all-Big Ten recognition behind Montee Ball and Le'Veon Bell last season, Mark topped 100 rushing yards in eight games and finished with 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns. Mark is also a sensational punt returner, averaging 18.7 yards per return with two touchdowns in 2012.

Sept. 14 vs. Ohio State: The cleverly named "Bear Raid" offense gets a chance to make a statement against the loaded Buckeyes secondary anchored by All-America corner Bradley Roby. Bryce Treggs had just three receptions for 28 yards in a 35-28 loss at "The Horseshoe" last year, but should benefit from vastly improved quarterback play and an offensive system with a clear identity.

Nov. 23 at Stanford: A rare October installment of the Big Game essentially marked the end of Jeff Tedford's time in Berkeley, as the Cardinal bludgeoned the Bears for 252 rushing yards in a 21-3 demolition. Deandre Coleman can make amends by pushing Stanford guard David Yankey off the ball and reclaiming the Axe.

Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.

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