College football programs change every year due to graduating players, incoming freshman, improved players and early entries into the NFL, but Cal’s schedule shows their is a reasonable best/worst case scenario.
1. Fresno State (neutral site)
2. @ Colorado
4. @ Washington
5. @ Oregon
8. @ UCLA
9. @ Washington St.
10. Oregon State
11. @ Stanford
12. @ Arizona State.
After the jump, see the different ways the season could go for Cal (in terms of wins and losses) and be sure to jump in with your comments as to how you see it going down.
Even though Fresno State should have an improved team led by a new, more talented quarterback in Derek Carr, I expect Cal, despite their uncertainty at QB with the unproven Zack Maynard, to win a low scoring, sloppy game. Picking an upset here would be bold (though not out of the question), and depending on how the loss went, Cal would be in serious trouble and no longer would any games on the schedule be a shoe-in (except poor Presbyterian).
That being said, Cal should again start off 3-0 like they do most years with their cupcake schedule. However, Fresno State is not Nevada last year, but they’re not Sacramento St. or UC Davis either.
Worst case, Cal loses to Fresno State but bounces back against Colorado but…they are on the road at Colorado with a new QB. I still think we can pencil that one in. So, worst case, Cal is 2-1 after week 3.
Cal then goes to Washington to face a Husky team without Jake Locker. Winnable game. Also one Cal could get handled in. Best case, Cal is 4-0 (even if their team really isn’t that great, as was the case in past years) after beating Washington, or perhaps 3-1, or 2-2 should they lose to Fresno.
Then Cal goes to Oregon for what should be a loss, and then comes home to play USC. It’s really hard to gauge that game without having seen Maynard and the team play, but I lean towards a loss here. Now Cal is (best case) 4-2, or (most likely 3-3), or (worst case) 2-4, with their only wins coming against the hapless Buffaloes and the Blue Hoses.
Then we stay at home against Utah. If on the road, I put this game up as a toss-up like Washington. But at home, with a Cal team that should get better each week, I like Cal to beat Utah. Then Cal goes to southern cal to face a UCLA program that Rick Neuheisel has turned into push over. Another win to Cal. They are now (best case 6-2), or (most likely) 5-3 or 4-4, or (worst case, should they lose on the road to Utah), god forbid 3-5.
Unless Cal comes up big and upsets either Oregon or USC, they have to take these kinds of games to stay comfortably above .500 and in the Pac-10 title debate. They really can’t afford losses to teams like Fresno State, Washington and Utah.
Part of the reason is Cal then plays a shoe-in up north against Washington St. but then comes home to what has long been a tough match up against Oregon State. Though perhaps not as strong as in recent past, this may well be a toss up game, but I still give the edge to Oregon State. However, should Cal be in the mix with a 6-2 or 5-3 record, this is a game Cal fans should feel good about winning. Now, Cal is (best case) 8-2, or (most likely) 7-3 or 6-4 or 5-5 (personally I’m going 7-3 here, with losses to only USC, Oregon and either Wash or Oregon St.), or (worst case) 4-6.
Cal finishes the 2011 season with road games against Stanford and Arizona State. I think a split of these two games is the only reasonable conclusion. They play at Stanford with a strong returning team and Andrew Luck, and go on the road to face Arizona St., who they demolished in Berkley last year 50-17. Playing at their place shouldn’t change anything that much.
So, we are left with a best case of 9-3, which may or may not give the team a shot at winning the Pac-12 North, depending on whether Cal lost to both Oregon and Stanford, and who those schools lost against. More likely Cal is 8-4, or 7-5, affording them a meaningless Christmas time bowl game, but a positive season nonetheless.
Worst case is the end up 5-7 just like last year (I think 4-8 is pushing it, though not out of the realm of possibility). Cal’s 5-7 record last year was a worst case scenario, as three losses came down to the wire while either being blown out, or doing the blow out took place all the other games. However, considering the circumstances of the games—Cal lost all its close games, and only won blowouts—its 5-7 record was about right for the way they played.
If you have Cal opening 4-0, which is far from unreasonable, 5-7 seems far fetched, but they could still finish a meager 7-5. If Cal starts 2-2 (losses to Fresno and Washington) then 4-8 is not out of bounds. They have five games that are as good as wins as you can get (Presbyterian, Colorado, Washington St., UCLA, Arizona St.) and three “should-wins” (Utah, Washington, Fresno St.) along with a possible upset week (at home against a depleted USC), leaving 9 wins as the gold mark, with 5 wins being a season to forget.