2020 Team Preview: Can California Win Its First Pac-12 North Championship?

It has been a long wait, but the Pac-12 returns to the football field in early November for a seven-game conference season. The reality of a seven-game season means that each team will get to play all five division opponents. How these five division games go will likely decide the Pac-12 division titles, North and South. California has not yet won a Pac-12 North Division championship. The Golden Bears are wondering – along with everyone else in the division – if this is the year when they can rise to the top.

Offseason Changes

The Bears’ one key loss in terms of players is Evan Weaver, one of the best tacklers in the country. Weaver was the central guiding force on California’s front seven. He was a dynamic and reliable playmaker who caused havoc in opposing offenses’ backfields. He required a lot of attention and help from offensive lines, which freed up teammates for better pass rushing opportunities.

Other than Weaver, though, California doesn’t lose a lot of important players. Of the 22 starters last year, 18 of them return. The real changes are on the coaching staff.

Angus McClure will be the new offensive line, Aristotle Thompson is the new running backs coach, Marcel Yates will be the new defensive back coach. Linebacker coach Peter Sirmon is now co-defensive coordinator. Most of all, former NFL offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is now the team’s offensive coordinator. That might be the move most California fans are especially excited about.

The Golden Bears Will Succeed If…

Chase Garbers plays as well as he can possibly play. California has generally relied on its defense in recent years while trying to get just enough production from its offense and limit mistakes. Garbers was asked to be a game manager last year, and he was a very good one. He did, however, get hurt, and when he went out, the team struggled. Garbers comes back for one more season. If he can elevate his level of play a notch above a game manager – not to the point of being a Heisman candidate, but simply making enough dynamic plays to be more than just the caretaker of the offense, California should be able to score enough to complement its defense and field a very strong team this year.

The Golden Bears Will Fail If…

Their defense is disorganized in the early portion of the season. California’s defense should be good, but in this year of pandemic football, you can see that a lot of teams’ defenses have been slow to adjust to the lack of regular practice and preparation. Look at Alabama, for instance, which surrendered 48 points against Ole Miss just over a week ago. California could get everything fixed by December, but if it struggles in November, that might be long enough to ruin the season. California has to be sharp on defense from Game 1 onward. It can’t require three games to settle into things this year. The shorter Pac-12 schedule won’t allow it.

Prediction

The Golden Bears will be in the division title hunt, but Oregon has too much talent for California. The Bears will have to settle for second place. They should finish ahead of Washington, which might get some disagreement from a lot of people who watch the Pac-12.

Prediction: 2nd in Pac-12 North

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