2020 Season Preview Part 1: No Frills Football

What if you striped everything away from a football season except for a relentless gauntlet for a conference championship? Welcome to 2020.

Welcome to the 2020 football season! As of today, we are 33 days away from kickoff, and with just barely more than a month to go, it’s time to start previewing the season that we didn’t think we were going to get. Consider this first piece as a wide angle narrative preview. In the next few weeks, I’ll be diving into each side of the ball, to go along with looks at coaching, the schedule, and some predictions. Meanwhile, look for other pieces from everybody else at Write For California on anything and everything you might want to know about this unprecedented season.

Crowds. Non conference games. Tailgates. Bands (I’m assuming). Bye weeks. Cheers and jeers.

Many things considered to be a normal, if not essential, part of the college football experience will not be there this year for us west-coasters. That the 2020 season is happening at all is improbable, and may not be a particularly good idea.

Let’s be real: if a pandemic hit during most seasons of the recent past, this kind of season would be a huge bummer. When you’ve spent the last decade going a collective 54-70, it turns out that all of those extracurriculars are a really important part of keeping the experience fun. Take away the fight song and the camaraderie, and all you’re left with is mostly frustrating, aimless football.

I’m going to miss everything 2020 has taken away from the season. Not playing UCLA and USC feels wrong. Missing a visit from TCU is a shame. More than anything else, not being able to see friends and family in person in Berkeley hurts deep down inside, this year more than most.

But this year, that has been boiled down to its essence, was the season that we had been waiting for, the season with potential and hope for more than middling success. The season with the right combination of experience on offense and talent on defense. The season with the right coaches, and the right continuity, and the right schedule. The season that could be sustained without all of those non-football aspects of a Cal Football season.

Now all that’s left is the football itself, and even then only the football that is necessary to determine the best in the west. Hell, throw out that game against ASU. This is what matters this year:

Washington
Oregon State
Stanford
Oregon
Washington State

And Cal

Six teams who have been playing each other consistently for 100 years, round robin, to determine who gets to play for a conference title.

For the first time in a long time, I can squint and imagine that Cal might be able to end the season on the top of that heap. Are the Bears the favorite? By any remotely objective analysis, no. But the favorites are vulnerable in a way that is rare.

Oregon State is getting better but still in the middle of a deep rebuild. Washington State is starting a rebuild of their own under a new coaching staff. Stanford is finally experiencing real consequences from their long, slow slide down from the college football elite. Oregon lost an entire offensive line and a 1st round quarterback, and have been the single team most decimated by early NFL entrants thanks to all the instability around this season. Washington is also replacing most of their offense, coming off a rough season by their standards, and is transitioning to a new coach.

Meanwhile the Bears are returning most of the roster that put together their best season in a decade despite a nasty spate of injuries. Are there some experience question marks on defense? Are there potential transition costs under a new OC on offense? Sure. But when everybody else has question marks, and the season has been distilled to 6 games, the opportunity the Bears have been afforded becomes clear.

You have just more than 30 days to get ready for a season of high stakes football. Every single division game is a must win in a way that has never really been the case before. If your goal is a division title (and why wouldn’t it be?) then the regular season begins with a must-win game, is filled with must-win games in the middle, and ends with a must win game on December 12 in Pullman, where the average high temperature in the last month of the year is a balmy 36 degrees.

If you like your football pure and uncut, with nothing to distract you from zone blocking, run fits, and wide receiver route trees, then this is your year. Strap in, and hold on.