How tough is the Cal football 2021 schedule?

The Bears have tough series of games scattered throughout the season.

Avinash Kunnath: It's hard to say any Cal schedule with your rival schools being back-to-back-to-back being completely ideal. It takes a lot of mental energy to beat your in-state rivals. 

This might actually be Cal's hardest non-conference slate since Justin Wilcox arrived (neither North Carolina nor Ole Miss turned out to be that good the years we played them). TCU is attracting buzz as a dark horse Big 12 title contender after a very strong finish to the 2020 season. Nevada went 7-2 last season and is returning their core unit.  So Cal can't afford to rest to start the first third of the season, with an always daunting trip to Washington to wrap it up.

The middle-third of the schedule is the most navigable. Colorado, WSU, OSU at home are three games Cal should be modestly favored in and should win. A bye week before Oregon is also ideal, and a Friday night game at Autzen will hopefully not be as raucous as a Saturday game would be. 

Ultimately, the final third has the biggest variability. Enough has been said with our history with USC. Enough has been said about our history in Tucson. More than enough has been said about Justin Wilcox's history against Chip Kelly. It says a lot about how times have changed that the Big Game is now probably the easiest game of the lot, and we still lost this Axe a year ago.

Finally, fan attendance. How packed will football stadiums be this fall? I imagine there will be a lot of apprehension at returning to stadiums, so I don't think Memorial will be particularly at more than 60-70% attendance. I'm sure no one in TCU will care that much, but considering how tough our road schedule projects out, having fewer fans in the stands on average for 2021 isn't the worst thing.

So I'd say it's fine. It's still one of the 30 hardest schedules in college football, and I'd be happy to pull eight wins and a winning Pac-12 season out of it. 

RollOnYouChairs: I agree with pretty much everything Avinash stated. Although, as psychologically rough as it is for the players to have the 3 rivalry games back-to-back at the end of the season, I'm looking forward to it as a fan from the entertainment and excitement standpoint. The only downside is that the last 2 games are on the road, which will be tougher.

To me, the home games all look pretty darn winnable, although U$C will probably be a lift. With regards to away games, I'm most worried about TCU; Arizona should be a win; Washington will most likely be a loss but is still within reach; Oregon is always tough but luckily we have a bye week; and UC L.A. and Stanfurd will hopefully be victories given recent trends, though late-season games are often influenced by injuries and roster depth… So we'll see where those 2 games go. In the end I can see us going 8-4 overall and 6-3 in conference, give or take a couple games depending on injuries and luck. The most likely losses in my mind are TCU and Oregon, plus some combination of Washington/U$C/Furd/UC L.A.

Erik Johannessen: Travel-wise, it's a reasonable schedule. One big road trip to Texas for TCU, and then the road games are spaced-out, with the only back-to-back road games coming at the end of the season @ Stanford and UCLA, both in California and one of them local. Plus, the Friday road game at Oregon follows a nicely-placed bye.

Weather-wise, it's also nice, in that the trip to Washington is in September (avoiding the cold) and the trip to Arizona is in November (avoiding the heat), so your most adverse conditions are likely to be heat and humidity outside Dallas @ TCU in September.

Opponent-wise? It's not easy. At first glance it looks like a 6-6 record for the Bears -- the easiest road game is probably at Arizona, where the Bears have won once in the past 30 years. USC is always tough, and I expect Nevada to give us a tougher fight than some of the rest of the Pac-12 home slate. It's not an impossible schedule -- every game is plausibly winnable -- but a *lot* would have to go right, with a bunch of toss-ups, a number where Cal is a slight-to-substantial underdog, and not many that they definitely *should* win. 8-4 against this schedule would be a healthy leap forward for the Bears in either level of play, luck, or both.

Nick Kranz: Aesthetically, I love ending the season with USC/Stanford/UCLA all in a row, though that certainly sets up all kinds of angst for the fan base. Also, getting to travel to Arizona and UCLA in November makes me happy as a fan of trying to go to a few road games this year, even if taking a trip to watch Cal play in Tucson and Los Angeles is basically like voluntarily taking something out of the oven with your bare hands.

As with any odd-year schedule, having to manage 5 road games including trips to Oregon and Washington really limit whatever dark horse Pac-12 north title contention we might idly dream about, even if that's a lame thing to say in the off-season. Damned realism.

Rick Chen: My immediate reaction to the 2021 football season: anxiety. (Doom!)

The home slate is unexciting, and I imagine if fans are allowed at Memorial Stadium, the stands will only be semi-full (even against the expected reduced capacity) for the first and last games. I expect pent-up demand for college sports to help drive interest against Nevada, and of course, USC is always a fan favorite for Cal fans.

I imagine I will get more excited as the season continues, especially if we can get some solid wins in the first half. I don't think it's unreasonable to travel to Seattle with three solid non-conference wins, especially since most college football fans expect TCU to be solid next year. The Washington game will be big and likely set the tone for butts in seats for the rest of the season.

My guess is the end of the season, beginning with the game at Arizona, will be incredibly tough. I foresee some tough losses coming in a mix of lopsided blowouts and close games that don't fall in our favor. I expect some head-scratching decisions from the referees already.