2020 Cal football in review: Pre-season questions

Is the answer to every single pre-season question going to be "n/a" or "incomplete?" Click to find out!

I don’t think anybody is sad to see the sun set on 2020 generally or the football season specifically.

Each of the last few years I’ve tried to make a point of reviewing what I said prior to the season, both as a tool to look at how Cal performed relative to expectations, and also as a check on my own attempt to understand a season ahead of time.

This year, the exercise feels nearly pointless, but there are still 7 months between now and next season, and tradition demands it. So, without further adieu, let’s take a look back at what I thought would be the critical ingredients to a successful, unsuccessful, or cruel joke of a season:

Ingredients in an overachieving season

  • Will Craig plays like an all-conference left tackle

Grade: Incomplete

The Cal football season was only four games long, and thanks to COVID protocols, Will Craig only played in two of those games. One of those two games was the UCLA debacle scheduled on two day’s notice. Out of all of the position groups, I think we learned the least about Cal’s offensive line in 2020.

  • Brett Johnson makes The Leap

Grade: B-

Brett Johnson was certainly one of the brightest spots in the shortened season. It is not normal for a nose guard who demands constant double teams to register an impact on the box score, but that didn’t stop Johnson from finishing 3rd on the team in tackles.

The problem, of course, is that due to a complete lack of other options at the position Johnson had to play nose tackle, where is potential impact might be blunted. I desperately want to see what he can do if Cal can scheme to get him more one on one opportunities, in arguably his more natural position. For this reason I almost graded this as incomplete, but Johnson still flashed enough pushing back against double teams for me to feel like he made a clear developmental step forward.

  • The Cal offense rediscovers the big play

Grade: F

Cal finished last in the conference in yards/play, as the downfield pass again seemed to disappear from the play book. This issue is almost certainly tied up into an item that we’ll get to below.

Ingredients in a disappointing season

  • Any amount of injuries or COVID positives for starters

Grade: D

Well, on the plus side Cal did generally avoid physical injuries. But thanks to COVID exposures, Cal had to cancel multiple games and played others with threadbare positional depth. And sure enough, we were all pretty disappointed with a four game season that felt pretty farcical. COVID rests for no man.

  • Nobody can fill Evan Weaver’s shoes

Grade: Incomplete

There’s just not a ton to say about a position that saw a fair bit of rotation, and was often sacrificed when Cal played nickel defenses. Evan Tattersall and Muelu Iosefa got playing time at ILB, but neither got the volume of snaps over the short season to say a ton about either of their play. I think it’s reasonable to be excited and optimistic about Iosefa solely because he played as a true freshman, but I think Cal’s defensive reaction to losing Evan Weaver was to play more nickel and focus on their relative strength and depth at defensive back.

  • Something doesn’t click on offense

Grade: D/incomplete

The offense didn’t click, obviously. Depending on how generous you are, maybe you think that this should be graded as incomplete since Cal’s line was constantly on shuffle thanks to COVID and the team didn’t have the practice time necessary to download a new offense. Maybe you think that Cal’s offense is veteran enough and talented enough that a new coordinator and disrupted practice isn’t reason enough to explain the decline in on-field production. Either way, the pressure will be on to produce in 2021.

Pointless prediction

. . . I think the most likely final record this season for our Bears is 4-3. Maybe that means 4-2 and a loss in the bonus game. Maybe that means 3-3, and a satisfying regular-season-ending win over, um, UCLA?

Honestly, in my effort to just be thankful for what I have, I’d be happy just knowing that the Bears managed to successfully play 7 games, as that would mean that both the Bears and their opponents successfully avoided a COVID outbreak

I don’t even know why I’m bothering to analyze this. 4/7th of Cal’s original schedule was cancelled. The results we actually got were certainly closer to the worst case scenario outlined in the original article.

Bonus Prediction

My closest-I’ll-get-to-a-Hot-Take this year is that everybody in the Pac-12 will lose at least two games.

I was soooo close to nailing this prediction, but was denied by two things.

One was USC’s incredible ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, as the Trojans secured absurd comeback wins over ASU, Arizona, and UCLA, then protected themselves from a potential 2nd loss by declining a bowl invitation.

Two was Washington having half their season cancelled. As it is the Huskies nearly lost to both OSU and Utah and likely would’ve picked up a 2nd loss has they played their full schedule. Like everybody else, I was foiled by COVID.