What if... Cal Football DIDN'T lose all of our one-score games?
Because living in alternate realities is better than the mess that is the real world.
Thanks to the sensational rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, What If…? has become a timely term in the modern pop culture zeitgeist. (No, not that Zeitgeist from Marvel.) But for the nerdiest among us, What If…? has been a question we’ve been pondering for years—is there any better way of coping with the cavalcade of catastrophes in our actual lives?
What if I were smart enough to get into that one grad program up north? What if I didn’t choose the Garlic Goodness Spinach Salad while interviewing at my dream job? What if figure skaters didn’t ask you about marriage and kids right before your first date?
All you have to do is tilt your head to the left and let your mind run free—like an eagle.
Now I’m mixing my references and fandoms, but the point stands.
Cal Football (unfortunately) finished our season 5–7, with a 4–5 record in-conference. Two years after the jubilation of winning the Roblox Bowl, two years after we anticipated a turning point to catalyze our resurgence and victory over the Pac-12 North, and five years deep into Justin Wilcox’s tenure leading our program… we unfortunately find ourselves plagued by COVID, offensive offense, and general inconsistency.
It’s not much fun living in this world marred by poor results and a struggling team, so let’s practice some escapism and ponder What If…?
What If… Cal didn’t lose all of our one-score games?
kn1g4t on Reddit did the heavy lifting (before the Bears vanquished the vile Trojans, so you’ll have to add that W in) to envision the absolute opposite end of the spectrum—what if… the result of every one-score game were reversed?
California would enjoy one of the biggest twists of fate as the real world condemned us to lose all of our one-score games this year.
Rather, in this utopia, the Bears would be sitting pretty with a beautiful win-loss record of 10–2 (first 10-win regular season since
Pappy went 10–0 in 1949 before losing the Rose Bowl 2004), a winning conference record at 7–2 (first since 2009), and a glimmering North crown to adorn Oski’s furry bear head (first in the history of the 12-team Pac). I might cry from the perfection of this paradise (and then cry again at how badly we’d be slaughtered by the Utes in the conference championship game).
This extreme would be
wonderful outright orgasmic, but let’s query into something a little more reasonable than a 180° reversal.
Instead of flipping every one-score game, I tried to give slight odds based on the real-world point differential—games decided by just 1 point were closer to 50-50 odds than games decided by 8 points. Games that went into overtime (or basically went into overtime if not for an errant snap on a PAT, like Cal–TCU) were left at 50-50. I ran the simulation and the computers smiled upon the Bears. Here are the updated and in silica results of Cal’s one-score games:
Cal def. Nevada
Cal def. TCU
Cal def. Washington
Cal def. Oregon
Arizona def. Cal
Of course we still managed to lose to lowly Arizona! That blasted embarrassment and COVID in general will forever haunt us. For the conference as a whole, this is what the final standings of the regular season would look like for the Pac-12 South:
Utah (9–3, 8–1)
Arizona State (8–4, 6–3)
UCLA (8–4, 6–3)
USC (5–7, 3–6)
Colorado (5–7, 3–6)
Arizona (4–8, 2–7)
The Utes were so good that they won the division in the real world, in the Reddit redo, and in the computer simulation. In my reroll, their sole one-score loss (in triple overtime to San Diego State) still ended up being a loss, so they had no change to their win-loss record. Arizona suddenly has a very respectable performance for a first-year coach and USC is still blocked from bowling. The Sun Devils and Bruins are tied, but the former takes the edge due to the head-to-head result.
The North though…
Oregon (9–3, 6–3)
Washington State (9–3, 6–3)
California (9–3, 6–3)
Washington (5–7, 4–5)
Oregon State (5–7, 3–6)
Stanfurd (2–10, 1–8)
Let’s get the most beautiful thing out of the way first—Stanfurd is now definitively the worst team in the conference and their their one measly highlight of the year (their upset over Oregon) disappeared with the ease of snapping fingers.
Now for the messy part… there’s a threeway tie for the Pac-12 North Champion, which means I had to dig into some crazy tiebreaker scenarios. The first step was to consult the section on multiple-team ties to find the biggest loser.
Head-to-head-to-head results: Tied! Cal beat Oregon beat WSU beat Cal.
Record in divisional games: Tied! All three of us went undefeated against the crappy cohort of Stanfurd, OSU, and Washington.
Record against the next-highest North team: Tied! Again, we all beat Washington.
Record in common conference games: And this is where fate smites the Bears. Our common conference games are the three other North teams and one shared opponent from the South… That damn Arizona game. That stupid loss for us drops us from contention of the North since Oregon and Wazzu took care of business against them.
Down to the Ducks and the Cougars, the Ducks have the head-to-head and still win the North
The computer giveth and the computer taketh. We could have traded either nonconference win (hell—even both of them) to beat Arizona and we would have fake-won the fake-North. This world is not quite as nice as the Reddit redo, but our first 9-win regular season since 2006 and our best in-conference record since 2008 would have still been pretty nice.
However, we don’t actually live in these fantasy worlds and pondering hypotheticals only accomplishes so much. The real world rarely treats us as well as our dreams. But there’s enough young talent on the team for me to still have hope for the real-world future instead.
And there’s also always the option to not take football so seriously. After all, we went to Cal for the Free Speech Movement and to conquer the periodic table, so let’s revel in that instead.
Or you could just develop reality-warping powers a la Franklin Richards and turn Cal into a football powerhouse.