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Game Twelve – CU at Cal – November 24th

Last game between the two schools … October 28, 2017 – Colorado 44, California 28

On an afternoon when Rashaan Salaam’s No. 19 was retired by the school, the Colorado offense put forth an effort CU’s Heisman trophy winner would have been proud to witness. Steven Montez threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns as the Buffs posted 553 yards of total offense in a 44-28 Colorado victory over California.

A week after being benched in the second half against Washington State, Montez went 20-for-26, also rushing for a seven-yard touchdown. Phillip Lindsay posted a “Salaam-worthy” 33 carries for 161 yards, while Shay Fields led the receiving corps with four catches for 101 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown.

“I was really happy with the way Steven [Montez] played,” said Mike MacIntyre. “That’s the way I expect him to play all the time, because he can do all those types of things. The offensive line did a good job and helped him. [Phillip] Lindsay does what Lindsay does. He’s pretty special always.”

… The full game story and You Tube video of the game, along with the essay for the game, “Any Given Saturday“, can be found here


2017 California results – 5-7 (2-7 in Pac-12 play)

– Returning starters, Offense: 10 … Returning starters, Defense: 7


– 2017 California National Rankings (Offense)

— Scoring – 71st … 27.8 points per game  (Colorado scoring defense – 74th … 28.2 points per game)

— Rushing – 109th … 125.6 yards per game   (Colorado rushing defense – 108th … 208.0 yards per game)

— Passing – 40th … 258.9 yards per game   (Colorado passing defense – 94th … 242.6 yards per game)

— Total – 90th … 384.5 yards per game  (Colorado total defense – 109th … 450.6 yards per game)

– 2017 California National Rankings (Defense)

— Scoring – 78th … 28.4 points per game  (Colorado scoring offense – 81st … 26.4 points per game)

— Rushing – 64th … 164.1 yards per game (Colorado rushing offense – 74th … 157.2 yards per game)

— Passing – 113th … 265.8 yards per game (Colorado passing offense – 39th … 260.4 yards per game)

— Total – 96th … 429.9 yards per game  (Colorado total offense – 48th … 417.6 yards per game)


California storylines … 

– California Dreamin’ …

In 2017, California finished 5-7 overall, 2-7 in Pac-12 play.

In 2017, Colorado finished 5-7 overall, 2-7 in Pac-12 play.

In the major statistical categories, above, California finished last season ranked 90th or worse nationally in four categories.

In the major statistical categories, above, Colorado finished last season ranked 90th or worse nationally in three categories.

When the two teams met in Boulder last October, the Buffs rolled the Bears, 44-28, posting a season-high 553 yards of total offense.

Yet in virtually every preseason magazine, Cal is consistently ranked higher (e.g., Athlon: Cal – 49th; CU – 67th; Lindy’s: Cal – 52nd; CU – 73rd).

What gives?

One of the reasons is that Cal has 17 returning starters, while Colorado has 11.

Another reason: Cal is perceived to be on the rise under second-year head coach Justin Wilcox (even though the Bears merely matched the 5-7 record Cal posted in 2016), while Colorado … not so much.

Perhaps the most telling reason: Both teams were sitting on five wins in mid-November last fall, with opportunities to pick up a sixth win and a bowl invitation. Colorado entered November with a 5-4 record, but limped home with a 41-30 loss to Arizona State, a 38-24 loss to USC, and a 34-13 embarrassment at Utah to close out the season.

Cal, meanwhile, finished the season with two games on the road, barely losing to Stanford (17-14) and UCLA (30-27).

“Those games that are the three-point games, one-point game (a 45-44 2OT loss to Arizona), that’s the difference,” said Justin Wilcox. “Those are the margins that are toughest to overcome. We’re looking for those marginal gains everyday”.

Wilcox is being the benefit of the doubt heading into the 2018 campaign … while Mike MacIntyre still has something to prove.


Players make plays

Ross Bowers passed for 3,039 yards last season, with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

But might not be the starter by the time CU travels to Berkeley in November.

South Carolina transfer Brandon McIlwain, whose ability to run separates him from Bowers, may take over the starting position this fall. “They’re better than they were,” said Wilcox coming out of spring practices. “It’s still going to be competitive”.

Whoever wins the battle for starting quarterback will have several options at wide receiver. Kanawai Noa and Vic Wharton combined for 123 catches last season. They were to be joined by 2016 freshman All-American Demetrius Robertson, who missed most of last season with a sports hernia, but Robertson decided the end of June to leave the team.

The rushing attack, which ranked 106th in the nation, is led by Patrick Laird, a former walk-on who rushed for 1,127 yards last season (though there is no depth behind Laird).

Good news/bad news along the offensive line for Cal … All five starters return, which is normally cause for celebration. However, the Bears were 11th in the Pac-12 in total offense last season, with offensive production falling 9.3 points per game from 2016.

Defensive production was significantly improved in 2017, with the Bears improving from 42.6 points allowed per game in 2016 to 28.4 points per game last season.

Seven starters return, but four of those starters are in the defensive backfield. There were major losses in the front seven, with the top defensive tackle and top linebacker drafted into the NFL in April.

“Can we hold up front with a bunch of guys who don’t have a lot of playing time?”, asked defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. “That’s one of the questions we have to face”.


How the Buffs fit into the Bears’ 2018 schedule

Write this one down, and save it for a bar bet this fall:

When was the last time Colorado finished the regular season with an opponent other than Nebraska or Utah, and who was the opponent?

It’s going to happen this year, when Colorado will travel to Berkeley to face the Bears in the 2018 regular season finale. A week after CU hosts Utah in the Buffs’ home finale, and Cal hosts rival Stanford, the two teams will meet at Memorial Stadium on November 24th.

Cal’s schedule was similar last fall, with the Bears playing Stanford the week before finishing the season with UCLA. Both Cal and UCLA were 5-6 heading into the contest, with the Bruins getting win No. 6 – and a bowl bid – with a 30-27 victory.

A similar situation may prevail this fall, with both Colorado and Cal potentially being in a position of needing a win to secure a sixth victory and a bowl invitation.

Cal’s 2018 season may play out in a similar manner to that of CU’s 2017 season … a 3-0 non-conference start followed by two months of trying to pick up three more wins. The Bears open with North Carolina, BYU and Idaho State, and may well be 3-0 before hosting Oregon after a bye week.

If Cal can’t pick up three Pac-12 conference wins by late October, however, it may be a struggle to the finish.

Cal’s last five games: Washington: at Washington State; at USC; Stanford … and then Colorado.

The Bears should be pretty beaten up by the time the Buffs come calling – and may be looking for win No. 6.

(Trivia answer … The last time CU finished a season against a team not named Nebraska or Utah was the final year of the Big Eight, when No. 9 Colorado traveled to Manhattan, Kansas, to take on No. 7 Kansas State. Behind quarterback John Hessler, the Buffs emerged with a hard-fought 27-17 victory).


Bottom Line

If Colorado were facing Cal in the 2018 season opener, it would be a tough call as to how the game would turn out. Both teams finished 5-7, 2-7 last season. Fans for both teams have reason for optimism; fans for both teams have reason for concern.

By the time Thanksgiving weekend rolls around, however, much more will be known about both teams.

Colorado or Cal  or both – could be a surprise team in 2018, making a move in the Pac-12 standings.

Colorado or Cal – or both – could be a disappointment in 2018.

The oddsmakers favor Cal to be more likely to head into the season finale with a chance at a bowl, with the over/under for season victories for the Bears at 5.5 … while Colorado is only 4.0.

We’ll see …


2 Replies to “Scouting the Opposition – California”

  1. Hopefully the Mighty Buffs will not need to win this game to get a bowl. Hopefully the game will be to get a better bowl.

    Go Buffs.


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