Predict the 2022 Cal Football Season: Results!
5 likely wins, 3 likely losses, and 4 games that will define the season
The Wilcox Era has been defined by close games. 5 games in 2021 were decided by a touchdown or less (Cal was an excruciating 0-5 in those games). 2020 featured 3 such games (Cal went 1-2), 6 such games in 2019 (4-2), 7 such games in 2018 (4-3), and 4 such games in 2017 (1-3). When Cal wins these coin flip games, the season tends to be remembered fondly. When I think of 2018, I think of the rockfight against Washington, breaking the losing streak to USC, and the hilarity of the Cheez-It Bowl. 2019 brings memories of bringing the Axe back home, defeating Washington in the lightning bowl, and a triumphant bowl win. 2021? Sure, Cal beat USC and the Lobsterbacks, but I mostly remember the bizarre offensive (pun intended) playcalling against Nevada, TCU’s momentum-building TD before the end of the first half, the overtime fumble against Washington, and the handful of Ryan Glover deep passes in Tucson that were dropped or just outside the reach of his receiver. Flip a play or two in all of those one-score games and we could be heralding the triumphant return of a Cal team coming off a 10-2 regular season rather than another 5-7 finish.
Well, it’s 2022 now and nothing has changed in our forecasts for the season. We’re destined for another season where a handful of one-score games are going to make the difference between bowl ineligibility and a fantastic bounce-back season.
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A few weeks ago I asked you all to predict the chance the Cal defeats each of the opponents on the schedule. Today we pore over the results and forecast what may unfold this season. The games break down as follows: 5 likely wins (Davis, UNLV, Arizona, at Colorado, and the Big Game: 1 of which will be an upset loss), 3 likely losses (at Notre Dame, Oregon, at USC: Cal has a decent chance of stealing one of those), and 4 season-defining toss-up games (at Washington State, UW, at Oregon State, UCLA). Win all 4 and Cal finishes with an 8- or 9-win season. Lose all four toss-ups like they did in 2021 and it’s another 5-7 season and possibly the end of the Wilcox Era.
The table below lists each opponent, the average chance of victory, and a standard deviation capturing how much variation is in our predictions (other than Davis, there is remarkable consistency in those SDs).
The season starts off with the two likeliest wins of the year, followed by the toughest game of the year: a road trip to #5 Notre Dame. After that it’s three consecutive winnable games, although two of those (against the Washingtons) are toss-ups. If you put on your rose-colored glasses, a 6-1 start to the season is possible.
The final five games of the season are a gauntlet, however. Cal faces its toughest Pac-12 foes in back-to-back weeks before heading up to Corvallis, which has been a house of horrors for the Bears for most of the last 15 years. The Big Game is the most winnable game in the second half of the season—isn’t it nice to watch the slow, painful demise of the Lobsterbacks in recent years?—ahead of a home game against a wild card UCLA team that could be 8-3 or 4-7, depending on whether Dorian Thompson-Robinson continues to improve or regresses to the fumbling, bumbling, bad-decision-making machine (I pray to Oski it’s the latter). After 12 games and many tears (of sadness or gladness—TBD), we’re projecting 7.18 wins for the Bears.
Below I’ve plotted the distribution of our predictions for each game. Interestingly, there’s a local mode at 50% (a little peak in the distribution) in half the games. Who’s ready for some coin flip games?!
Simulating the Season
Now we’re going to turn these predictions into actual outcomes. I used our predictions to simulate the season one million times. The simulation process is simple. We start with the UC Davis game, grab a prediction at random, and use it to determine if Cal wins or loses. If we draw a 95%, for example, then I draw from a hat where 95% of the outcomes are wins and 5% of the outcomes are losses. I note the outcome, and move on to the UNLV game to begin the process again. After 12 games we get our final record. I’ve plotted the total number of wins below.
7 wins is the likeliest outcome, followed by 8 and then 6. Fortunately, there’s only about a 15% chance that the Bears fail to achieve bowl eligibility—that would require another winless season in coin-flip games.
Moving beyond the win total, we can look at how likely the Bears are to achieve each possible record after each game. So we can see how likely 1-0 is after Davis vs. 0-1. Or 2 wins vs. 1 win vs. 0 wins after UNLV. In the plot below the numbers represent the likelihood that Cal achieves each record and the squares are color-coded such that likelier outcomes are darker blue.
A win over Davis is a foregone conclusion and a 2-0 record after UNLV is very likely. Unfortunately, a 2-1 record after the trip to South Bend is the likeliest outcome. After that, a 3-1 record after Arizona is most likely. Then we’re split between a 4-1 record and a 3-2 record after the trip to Pullman. 4-2 after Colorado is most likely, followed by 5-2 after UW. The team has never achieved a 5-2 record under Wilcox, so that would be an impressive feat. Unfortunately, that’s when schedule gets much more difficult. After the Oregon and USC games, the Bears are still most likely to be stuck at 5 wins, although after a trip to Corvallis the Bears are likely to return home with a 6-4 record and bowl eligibility. The Bears cross the 7-win mark after the Big Game and then finish the season 7-5. A 7-win season (25%) is barely more likely than an 8-win season (23%), while 6-win (19%) and 9-win (13%) games aren’t inconceivable.
Some say that kids these days get too many trophies (usually the same people making those complaints are the same people raising those kids, and it’s not like the kids are giving themselves trophies). Anyway, we’ve handed out thousands of awards over the years in these predictions pieces and the Rating the Bears series, so anyone complaining about too many trophies has a right to point a finger directly at us. That said, let’s hand out some awards!
First, we have the the most optimistic predictions led predictably by Remember the Calamo.
I suppose it’s encouraging that the top-5 aren’t filled with unrealistic 11-12 win projections (sorry, Calamo). Those 9-10 game projections are feasible if the offense magically rights itself and all the coin flips go Cal’s way.
Next, we have the worst predictions of the bunch.
Only four predictions fall outside bowl eligibility! Five wins isn’t inconceivable, however. If the Bears win their 5 likely wins, lose the 3 likely losses, and lose all four coin flips, that’s a 5-win season. Following a season in which the Bears were 0-5 in one-score games, these coin flips can easily go awry.
The Voice of Reason
Finally, we have those whose predictions were closest to the community average. Nice job staying rational and reasonable amid the rising swell of optimism that always accompanies a new season.
Thanks to all who participated and congrats on surviving another offseason. Next week we’re back to our regularly scheduled football content: previews! analysis! hand-wringing! (okay, maybe not much hand-wringing during UC Davis week…at least not until we only manage 27 points against the Aggies) Go Bears!