Monday Grab Bag 2: Good News is a Figment of the Past

More basketball recruiting, Pac-12 mascot geography, and a dark look ahead at the chances of a 2020 football season.

Warning: the last few paragraphs at the bottom get really depressing really fast. If you go ahead and read, I advise chasing them with 10 minutes of Jahvid Best making defenders look awful.

Actual Cal News

Michael Flowers goes elsewhere, Cal still looking at transfer targets

Pessimistic (realistic?) Cal fans might see Cal missing out on a transfer to a Sun Belt team as further evidence of lackluster recruiting. In this particular instance, maybe there were other reasons. Of course, the real issue is that Cal couldn’t get this particular transfer target. It’s that Cal whiffed on so many other targets that they left themselves in a position where bad luck/bad fits can leave them scrambling even further.

So, who’s up next on the transfer roulette?

Pros: Foreman is a legitimately plus shooter (37% from three on a very high volume of shots, 85% from the line) and played lots of minutes for the 2nd best defense in the America East conference. He would almost certainly be a good 3-and-D rotation piece.

Cons: The America East conference isn’t really even a mid-major conference - the step up in competition would be considerable. Also, while Foreman nominally played point guard, his negative assist-to-turnover ratio suggests he was a shooting guard thrust into the role, which wouldn’t really solve Cal’s lack of point guard depth. Also, Foreman is reportedly drawing interest from other solid programs like Minnesota and BYU.

POINTLESS RANKING OF THE WEEK

Pac-12 schools ranked by how well their mascot matches the school/region:

1) UCLA Bruins - the perfect mascot for a school that defines itself as secondary to and lesser than its superior forebearer.

2) Arizona State Sun Devils - could there be a better mascot for a hellish place where the average temperature is 100+ degrees for four straight months?

3) Oregon State Beavers - Beavers aren’t exactly unique to Oregon, but they’re a great mascot for a state defined by trees and the timber industry.

4) Colorado Buffaloes - At one point Buffaloes roamed most of the damned continent, but even after we nearly killed them all they still maintained populations in Colorado.

5) California Golden Bears - the perfect mascot prior to the extinction of the Grizzly Bear subspecies in the 1920s. Still a great fit and the symbol of the state, but marked down points as a reminder of how destructive humans are.

6) Utah Utes - It’s literally the name of the people native to the state (yes, Utah has permission) so I guess it’s entirely fitting, but is also something of a tautology.

7) Oregon Ducks - Ducks are everywhere, but at least this kinda fits in with the whole it’s-always-raining-up-here-and-we-like-it-that-way vibe in the PNW.

8/9) TIE: Washington State and Arizona - Cougars/Wildcats/Mountain Lions are still native to everywhere west of Rockies, so literally every Pac-12 school could’ve justified this particular boring choice.

10) Stanford Cardinal - On one hand it’s the absence of a mascot, so how do you even rank it? On the other hand, not even trying to come up with an answer is strangely apropos to a fan base that is defined by apathy and absence. Partial credit.

11) Washington Huskies - I’m not aware of the Husky having anything in particular to do with Seattle, but at least this particular breed of dog seems like they’d be happy in perpetually rainy, cloudy weather?

12) USC - It’s hard to find a place on earth farther away from Los Angeles than the Northwest Turkey. Worse, USC doesn’t even have the good grace to sport a similar losing record as the city they named themselves after.

Incredibly obsolete game theory rant

I’ve learned a lot in my decades of Cal fandom and my 10 years of blogging. And thanks to pandemic-related game replays, I’ve been given opportunities to remind myself of how much my opinions on college football strategy have changed over time.

As just one example, I recently rewatched the 2003 Cal/UCLA game, a horrible contest in which Cal lost in overtime despite outgaining UCLA by 169 yards and winning the turnover battle. How does a team manage that?

By going 2-6 on field goal attempts, including two blocks (one returned for a touchdown). This may have been the game that first started the fire-Pete-Alamar campaign that lasted six seasons. But I’m not here to excuse poor special teams. I’m here to marvel at the fact that Tedford had Fredrickson (6-12 on field goals entering the game) attempt multiple kicks in regulation rather than ever considering attempting a 4th down conversion. Here’s the log:

4th and 14: 51 yard FG (no good)
4th and 4: 47 yard FG (good)
4th and 1: 34 yard FG (blocked)
4th and 15: 39 yard FG (good)
4th and 2: 41 yard FG (blocked, returned for TD)

Attempting long field goals on 4th and 4, 4th and 2, and 4th and 1 when you have Aaron Rodgers and a great running game is . . . just astronomically bad. Like, even if you had a reliable field goal unit it was awful. As it turns out, if Cal had attempted all three of those conversions and failed they probably still win in regulation because then UCLA doesn’t have that blocked kick touchdown.

And yet I have zero memory of questioning those decisions at the time, and zero memory of any meaningful criticism from Cal fans back in the day. Maybe that’s because at the time we were still just 1.5 years removed from the Holmoe era and we were simply grateful to have competent football again. In any case, it’s amazing how far football strategy has come in less than 20 years.

RANDOM READER QUESTION OF THE WEEK

I’m saving Kodiak’s question for next week because I couldn’t make up my mind on what to include by deadline.

I’m never one to shy away from a good round of Larry-Scott-Piñata, but I’m also on record that Larry’s Scott’s job is harder than many presume:

Unless and until fans nationwide are as interested as watching USC as they are Alabama, Washington State as they are Michigan State, or Arizona State as they are Georgia Tech, the Pac-12 will never have competitive equality with the rest of the Power 5 conferences. 

So I have a dim view of how much a conference commissioner can do. But Scott made two different kinds of mistakes when he negotiated the Pac-12’s current TV deals.

The first mistake was a mistake of taking fans for granted, and it’s a mistake that pretty much everybody involved in college football has been making. By treating fan eyeballs as a given, TV networks and conference bigwigs have increasingly created a schedule that is great if you want to watch EVERY game but awful if you just want to watch your team. It’s too soon to suggest that two week kickoff windows and late games are actively reducing the college football fan base (viewership numbers are conflicting) but it almost certainly reducing in-stadium attendance. And that in-stadium revenue matters, even if it’s not the biggest slice of the pie any more.

The second mistake was the mistake of assuming the Pac-12 had way more leverage than it actually had to sell the Pac-12 network. It’s oddly sad to watch the network, even before the pandemic. It’s clear that the network is struggling badly to sell ad space, with bizarre ad partners (the Cayman Islands thing this past basketball season particularly stood out) and more and more breaks just full of advertisements for the Pac-12 itself. How different things might have been if Larry Scott had more accurately appraised the value of the content he was trying to sell.

As for how to approach the 2020-21 college sports season during a world wide pandemic . . . well, it’s impossible for me to answer this question without getting political.

In my mind, a best-case scenario (and not the scenario I’d be betting on) is that we get sports without spectators. Why? Because any activity that requires close person-to-person interaction can’t happen until the federal government has a robust test-and-trace system set up nationwide. Sadly, our federal government is objectively incompetent.

So even if an attempt is made to have sports in the fall, it’s all going to get shut down as soon as somebody (player, coach, whatever) inevitably tests positive and everybody that person has come in contact with has to go into quarantine. I don’t see how you can run a conference like that, when an entire team with a schedule might suddenly get shut down for a few weeks.

Maybe other states will have the political appetite to attempt to have a football season despite the inevitability of virus transmission. I think we all damned well know that Pac-12 states don’t. So my guess is that Larry Scott and the Pac-12 won’t have a ton of say, because the chancellors and governors who have more authority than they do will make the decision for them.

It’s going to be a long, sad off-season.