Bye Week Grab Bag
Catching up on the Pac-12 landscape and Cal's bowl quest
Hey all, I hope you enjoyed the bye week, caught up on chores, stopped neglecting your family, and tuned in just in time to watch Stanford blow it in spectacular fashion.
What we learned in Week 6
Oregon State is gettable
While I’m more than delighted that the Beavers somehow pulled out a win in Palo Alto, there was little about Oregon State’s performance to suggest that Cal can’t beat OSU for the 2nd year running.
Without Chance Nolan, Oregon State’s offense largely struggled against one of the worst defenses in the league, and OSU’s offensive line looks significantly weaker than last year’s stout unit.
There’s still a month left til Cal travels to Corvallis, so there’s a pretty good chance Nolan is back healthy by then. Still, I’m leaning towards OSU being worse than last year, which means Cal should stand a decent chance, even on the road. And Cal will likely need the win, or else need to pull an upset somewhere else on the schedule. Perhaps . . .
Washington might be gettable
The Huskies dropped a wild game to Arizona State in Tempe. Unsurprisingly, Washington racked up yards and points en route to 38 points. Surprisingly, the Washington defense was completely toothless against a previously moribund ASU offense. Would you believe the Huskies allowed ASU more yards/play than either Eastern Michigan or Northern Arizona?!
Will Cal see the struggling defense that averaged just 2.5 tackles/loss vs. UCLA and ASU, or the unit that racked up 10 tackles for loss against Stanford? If it’s the former, Cal can compete at home. If it’s the later, it’s hard to see Cal scoring alongside the revitalized UW offense.
I don’t want to think about Oregon, USC, or UCLA
USC, UCLA, and Oregon represent the 7th, 11th, and 12th best teams per the AP Poll, and the 8th (UCLA), 9th (Oregon), and 24th (USC) best teams in the country per SP+. All three have offenses that are absolutely firing on all cylinders, and defenses that are maybe a little bit suspect or untested.
If forced to pick, I’d take Oregon. It’s a home game, and I think there’s a non-zero chance that Cal’s defense can cause bad Bo Nix to make a reappearance. Meanwhile, the skill position talent at USC and UCLA terrify me, and Wilcox’s record against Chip Kelly has been ugly. USC might be the objectively worst team on the list, but I’d anticipate improvement as they learn under a new coach, and the talent level is obviously high. That plus a trip to the Coliseum screams STAY AWAY.
But I really don’t like Cal’s chances in either three games, which only highlights the importance of UW, OSU, and Stanford in terms of hitting the 6 win mark for a bowl game.
UNLV may not be the impressive MWC contender win they briefly appeared to be
After losing to Cal in close fashion, UNLV recorded three straight wins and looked like they might be a frisky pick in the free-for-all that is the MWC this year. And while one loss isn’t a death knell in that conference this year, a 40-7 shellacking at the hands of San Jose State is a rough blow and an indication that while UNLV is better than last year, they’re probably not that much better than last year.
A Fun but Pointless Visit to Sacramento State
In the aftermath of Cal’s loss to Wazzu, I made the following joke on twitter:
Twitter being what it is, I of course received only encouragement. And seeing that I’ve lived within a 10 minute drive of Sac State for more than 14 years without even once considering going to a Sac State sporting event of any kind, I figured a Cal bye week was the perfect opportunity to watch the 4th/5th ranked FCS team in the land do their thing against Northern Colorado.
For those unaware, former Cal QB Troy Taylor is now the head coach at Sacramento State. His success has made him a pipe-dream future Cal head coach, what with his former experience as a Cal position coach, his Northern California high school bona-fides and now his shockingly successful FCS head coaching tenure.
And what I watched was an utter demolition. As best I can figure, Northern Colorado isn’t a good Big Sky team, but they’re competent. 2-3 against FCS opponents, and reasonably competitive in all games so far this season. The Hornets took the doors off of ‘em. By the time Northern Colorado got their first 1st down of the game, Sac State was ahead 31-0, and if Sacramento had converted on a few early 4th down conversion attempts it would’ve been even worse. The game ended 55-7, and Sac State could’ve made that score uglier had they wanted to*.
This was all delightful to watch, and that was BEFORE I learned that Northern Colorado was coached by former Stanford football player Ed McCaffrey, and that Sac State held QB Dylan McCaffrey to less than 3 yards/pass attempt, under the auspices of NCU offensive coordinator Max McCaffrey. What a weird coincidence that all three of those critical dudes have the same last name!
I posted a lengthy twitter thread with various observations, but to expand a bit on the main point: it’s still shocking that Sacramento State has a dominant football team with legit FCS playoff expectations.
Sacramento State has been a non-entity at whatever level of college football they have ever played at. The university itself is a hyper-local commuter school that has only been at the D1/FCS level since 1993, and their teams have almost uniformly struggled. As best I can tell, the men’s basketball team has had one winning conference season ever at the D1 level. Neither the men or the women have ever made the NCAA tournament. The football team had never made the FCS playoffs.
The stadium atmosphere was kinda high schoolish. Announced attendance was 11,000, but it was very much not that high. This wasn’t shocking or anything, and I knew we weren’t going to see anything like an FBS atmosphere, but this wasn’t even close to the level of what you might see at FCS schools in Montana or the Dakotas, where the football team is the only game in town.
But that hasn’t come close to slowing down Taylor, who has the Hornets rolling. Five wins, all by 16 points or more, three of them on the road, one against an FBS team. All signs point to Sac State being one of the very best FCS teams in the country.
I mentioned in the header that this is all, for a Cal fan, largely pointless. Justin Wilcox is Cal’s coach, and likely to be so for some time. Wilcox is clearly happy in Berkeley after spurning Oregon and signing an extension through 2027. Cal’s administration seems disinclined to change anything for a variety of reasons monetary or otherwise.
That there is an intriguing head coaching candidate just down I-80 from Berkeley who is an alum with multiple years and levels of Pac-12 coaching experience is likely to be irrelevant, or maybe Colorado’s gain?
So really, my visit to Hornet stadium was more about giving the local team some love at a high point, and appreciating a Bear for a really impressive job at Sac State. Much like Dennis Gates and Cal men’s basketball, Troy Taylor and Cal football are likely to be two ships passing each other in the night.
*Don’t worry, it wasn’t lost on me that I spent Cal’s bye week watching a DIFFERENT Bears team with blue and gold as primary colors punt the ball eight times.