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Cal football transfer portal in review: Is the offense better or worse?
The California Golden Bears needed to restock and did so in a crucial way with impact Power 5 transfers.
Cal did not have the easiest time retaining players this offseason after a tumultuous 4-8 campaign, losing over two dozen players to the transfer portal. Recruiting also suffered, with a class that ranked among the worst in Power 5.
However, Cal did attack the transfer portal with a vengeance, reshuffling their depth and getting new talent that could help them immediately at every position
247Sports ranks the Bears with the 17th best transfer portal class after the addition of Stanford offensive lineman Barrett Miller this weekend.
Let’s run down the new additions.
Cal needed a new quarterback, as their top three QBs from last season entered the portal. They landed a few, one more likely to triumph.
Sam Jackson (via TCU): The favorite to be the starter, Jackson has already adjusted to the new offensive coaching staff during spring football and seems the most comfortable and dynamic for the Bears in this system. Jackson is a redshirt sophomore with only a few Power 5 snaps to his name, but his athleticism and speed burst off the charts.
Ben Finley (via NC State): Finley was brought in after spring camp and will likely be one of the top contenders along with Fernando Mendoza to push Jackson for that starting role. Finley does have more consistent reps under his belt with a few starts with the Wolfpack.
Jack Plummer (to Louisville): Plummer was Cal’s starting quarterback for the entire 2022 campaign, playing hurt for most of the second half of that season. It’s tough to imagine any replacements coming in and fixing the changes.
Kai Millner (to North Arizona): Millner could not crack the starting lineup when Plummer was hurt, and it was clear the new offense was not a good fit, so he’s returned closer to home.
Zach Johnson (TBD): Johnson just never was able to find his way into the rotation in Berkeley.
Cal’s running back rotation has nearly completely turned over. But upon further review, this feels like the deepest backfield the Bears have enjoyed since Sonny Dykes patrolled the sidelines. The question with all of these backs is health.
Byron Cardwell (via Oregon): Cardwell was a top prospect for the Ducks but fell out of a crowded Ducks rotation. Cardwell got a host of snaps in the spring and is the likely second-string running back, but he had injury issues at Oregon that shouldn’t be discounted.
Justin Williams-Thomas (via Tennessee): Williams-Thomas is the long-term add who could certainly develop into a very special RB2 over time. If Cardwell struggles I imagine Williams-Thomas being right there to provide an additional spark.
King Doerue (via Purdue): The grad transfer should also provide Cal with additional depth, particularly as someone who could catch footballs out of the backfield. But Doerue does have his own health concerns after a quiet campaign last year.
Isaiah Ifanse (via Montana State/via San Jose State): Ifanse might be the sleeper candidate for rotation—when he was healthy, he was a workhorse for the FCS powerhouse Bobcats. However, Ifanse too struggled with injury in 2022. You can see why Aristotle Thompson optimized for depth.
DeCarlos Brooks (to Arizona State): The very talented ball-carrier stayed in-conference. Unfortunately, health issues bothered Brooks for much of his time at Berkeley, and they are already causing issues for him at Tempe.
Damien Moore (to Fresno State): Moore will try and follow in the footsteps of Nikko Remigio and achieve mid-major success with Jeff Tedford.
Ashton Hayes (to Nevada): Hayes seemed like a nice add alongside Ott, but after Ott clearly won the starting job among the two freshmen, his place was likely confined to second-best for the rest of college. He’s headed back to his home state to reset and find a home for himself.
Chris Street (TBD): Street could never get a good share of running back snaps, and with the new staff, it looked even less likely to happen for him at Cal.
Cal is deeper here, but their biggest loss in the portal came here too. So it balances out.
Taj Davis (via Washington): Davis feels like a lock to be the next outside wideout lined beside Jeremiah Hunter—he was crowded out of a talented Husky wide receiver corps, but there is more than enough talent in him to shine in Berkeley.
Brian Hightower (via Illinois): Hightower has a lot of experience under his belt in college and will certainly get a ton of snaps when Cal goes to four verticals.
Marquez Dortch (via Mississippi State): Dortch is a great depth add who is certainly more familiar with Air Raid concepts that will pepper the new offensive pass philosophy.
J.Michael Sturdivant (to UCLA): Despite Cal having a much deeper receiving corps, it’ll be tough for the three incoming wideouts to replace the talent of Sturdivant, who is a near lock to be the top receiver on the Bruins this fall.
Cal had a pretty deep tight end corps, but they were often underutilized. So it’s hard to say what a more competent offensive staff can do with the able-bodied blocking receivers.
Asher Alberding (via North Texas): Alberding followed his offensive coaches to Berkeley, and he already is making his mark with his blocking skills.
JT Byrne (via Oregon State): Byrne didn’t get much passes to catch with the run-heavy Beaver attack, but he has been targeted a lot more in spring ball. Both him and Alberding should get plenty fo run.
Jermaine Terry (to Oregon State): Terry’s loss hurts. And he’s now in an offense that should showcase his talents better. The Beavers are definitely even more potent with his addition to their pass attack.
Keleki Latu (to Nevada): Latu was proving to be an adept pass catcher but just wasn’t targeted as much as you’d have liked. He will certainly be targeted more often in Reno.
This is very much a wait-and-see game. Cal lost more offensive linemen than they gained. But the two entrees are very experienced and seasoned. It FEELS like the Bears should be better here than last year?
Barrett Miller (via Stanford): Miller gives Cal a much-needed option in their starting rotation. He started for much of his time at Stanford and is a virtual lock to start at either tackle or guard, depending on where the need is.
Matthew Wykoff (via Texas A&M): Wykoff is a huge pickup for the Bears, and is arguably talentwise one of their best interior offensive linemen in years. He instantly upgrades the potency of Cal’s offensive attack if he’s 100% ready.
Ben Coleman (to Arizona State): Coleman’s loss was definitely the hardest to take given he was arguably Cal’s best linemen at times last year. He’s unfortunately suffered a significant leg injury in Tempe that will keep him out for at least half of the 2023 season, if not longer.
Jackson Brown (to Pitt): Brown was a tough one to lose, but it definitely felt as if he wanted a starting spot sooner rather than later, so he started looking for opportunity elsewhere. He has ended up at his father’s alma mater.
Cal fans, looking at the portal additions and subtractions, how do you feel about the new-look offense? Sound off in the comments and vote in the poll below.