What do Cal fans have to worry the most this year?
Answer: There's so much that California Golden Bears fans have to worry about this year!
The Cal quarterbacking situation remains uncertain. Cal has an entirely new group of quarterbacks. The current favorite (Sam Jackson V) has a ton of talent with not a lot of experience. Fernando Mendoza is also getting a ton of positive buzz. Ben Finley is a more experienced option in case neither of those youngsters make the leap. But it’s definitely an uncertain locker space.
Cal does not enjoy the Jack Plummer safety blanket like they did last season, so the ceiling and the floor are quite wide for where the Golden Bears end up.
Cal men’s basketball should be better. But how much better? California will have several experienced rotation players entering the halls of Haas Pavilion, the talent influx appears to be net positive given the attrition between coaching regime, and the coaching staff appears to be fully invested in creating an attack that actually works.
That being said, Cal was 3-29 last year. Even in the most optimistic scenarios of Year 1 of Mark Madsen, the Bears will have a long road back to being even ready to compete in the upper echelon of the Pac-12.
Cal has overturned most of their offensive two deep. Can they revitalize the Bears on the fly? Cal has two top-quality returning talents in Jaydn Ott and Jeremiah Hunter and talented contributors like Mavin Anderson and Monroe Young. Nearly every other skill player is a newcomer or will be a roster player with not much experience yet. And the offensive line, even with new additions, has big questions to answer.
Aside from the above quarterback concerns, the Bears have to work in an entirely new offensive system. It’s very much a wait-and-see approach on how much the new contributors will be ready for the stage.
Can Cal build back attendance numbers post-pandemic? Cal still has not recovered their football audience since returning to in-field events. The Bears logged two subpar seasons in the books, and even Big Game did not sell out last year. Although attendance improved marginally last year, Cal fans still don’t seem ready to return to Berkeley.
(And of course, men’s basketball attendance cratered right along with the program last year.)
Ticket revenue is not the be-all, end-all, but an enthusiastic Golden Bears fanbase is more likely to invest in the NIL programs that will sustain the revenue sports, so getting those numbers back up is a must. The onfield product obviously must improve.
Is returning to a bowl game enough to restore faith in Justin Wilcox this year? It’s been brought up a little bit before, but I doubt Wilcox putting up a 6-6 type season would inspire much confidence that things are on the up and up in Berkeley. Cal has yet to break eight regular season wins since Wilcox’s arrival (and hasn’t hit that number since 2009).
If Cal is to really garner enthusiasm and get recruits believing that this program is in a healthy enough space to compete for Pac-12 titles, they have to produce some outstanding results, whether it be an eight-plus win season or some marquee upsets. At the moment, Cal is into nearly a half-decade of bland football, which is just not enough.
What type of chancellor will be coming next for UC Berkeley? Legit criticisms aside, Chancellor Carol Christ has been a supporter of Cal Athletics, utilizing her financial expertise to balance the budget of a debt-ridden department with overall university revenue. But it’s hard to say whether UC Berkeley will keep that focus with a business-savvy chancellor, or return to its academic roots.
The selection process is always nebulous here. We’ll just have to keep fingers crossed that the UC Regents keeps finances at the top of their mind and makes sure a business-focused leader is the priority they go with when making their decision.
What does the future hold for Jim Knowlton? The Cal athletic director is facing all sorts of heat from everywhere. There’s the disastrous Mark Fox regime. There’s the disappointing results stemming from two Justin Wilcox extensions. There’s the fallout from the Teri McKeever scandal.
None of this bodes well for Knowlton as his main supporter (Christ) heads out next year. It’s hard to see a new president providing the same level of support for the current Cal athletic director. That being said, Knowlton is under contract until 2029, so maybe he can survive.
Conference arms race existential dread. Looming beyond all the short-term worries is the future of the Pac-12. There’s the fact that a long-term TV deal still hasn’t been inked. There’s uncertainty as to who will be invited to the next iteration of the conference. And it’s unclear whether Cal is staying loyal to sticking it out (like Oregon State and Washington State), or is looking around (like Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have been rumored to have).
This deserves larger walkthroughs (you know my feelings lie toward exploration), but Cal’s fit in the larger college football landscape is still an uncertainty.
Cal fans what are your major worries for the coming year?