USC Football Schedule Preview 2015: Scouting Cal


USC football heads back up north to Berkley in 2015 to take on an improving Cal Bears team hoping to take the next step on Halloween

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Sonny Dykes’ Cal team had no drafted players for the first time in decades. On the one hand, that is indicative of how hapless the Bears have become over the years. On the other hand, few NFL departures means this Cal squad sees the vast majority of its talent return to build on a 5-7 record from 2014.

Here’s an early look at USC’s eighth opponent of the year:


Jared Goff had a prolific season in 2014, finishing fifth in the nation in passing yards and touchdowns with just seven interceptions. He’s back for his junior season after leading the Bears to five wins with sights on rising even higher in the Pac-12 rankings.

The Cal quarterback nearly doubled his touchdown totals from year one while also decreasing his interceptions with the same number of attempts. Now he faces the Kevin Hogan question: Will he stagnate or take the next step towards becoming one of the top QBs in the conference?

Nov 13, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff (16) throws a pass against the Southern California Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The talent is there and the offense is built to put up big numbers once again.

Of Goff’s eight favorite targets, just one departed this offseason — Chris Harper declared early for the NFL draft. That means receivers responsible for catch 3,334 of the 3,973 passing yards Goff threw for last season will be back.

Bryce Treggs, Kenny Lawler, Stephen Anderson, and Tevor Davis headline a considerably deep receiving corps.

Senior running back Daniel Lasco broke 1,000 yards last year and should be the focal point of a the Bears running attack. Back up Khalfani Muhammad returns, but Vic Enwere had a great spring and could earn a more sizable role as a sophomore.

The biggest losses on offense for Cal were on the offensive line. With Chris Adcock and Alejandro Crostwaite gone, the Bears are seeking replacements at center and right guard.

Junior Matt Cochran or sophmore Addison Ooms are battling for the starting job in the center this offseason while Jordan Rigsbee, one of Cal’s most experienced linemen, has slid over from tackle to guard.

Pac-12 honorable mention Chris Borrayo is back as the left guard.


Cal’s defense lost five players with starting experience on defense, but in a unit that conceded a Pac-12-worst 39.8 points per game last season, its not like things could get worse.

Defensive tackle Austin Clark is gone, but defensive end Kyle Kragen returns after missing last season due to illness.

Mustafa Jalil led the line in tackles in 2014, but with just 35 total on the season. He and the entire line will be expected to pick up the pace in 2015.

Sep 7, 2013; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears linebacker Jalen Jefferson (7) celebrates after a sack against the Portland State Vikings during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Trojan fans may remember DeVante Wilson, who joined Cal by way of Riverside JC after departing USC. He could be in the mix for the Bears this season.

The major plus for the defense is the return of all three starting linebackers, who have 54 games of starting experience between them despite their relative youth. Michael Barton and Hardy Nickerson are both entering their junior seasons while Jalen Jefferson is back for his senior campaign. Barton led the Bears in tackles last year.

The Cal secondary was awful in 2014, conceding 42 passing touchdowns for the worst mark in the nation.

Losing safety Michael Lowe won’t help, but there are even bigger fish to fry when it comes to fixing this problem.

With five defensive backs out this spring because of injury, at this point there is really no way to tell what the composition of this unit will be come the fall.

At the very least, starters Cedric Dozier, Darius White and Cameron walker will be back, though considering the record reinforcements in the secondary could cause quite the shake up.

Special Teams:

Last year’s starting kicker James Langford graduated, so the Bears have been looking for a replacement this spring. One of Franklyn Cervenka, Matt Anderson, Robbie McInerny or Noah Beito will be that man.

Handling punt duties is Cole Leininger, who averaged 39.85 yards on each kick in 2014.

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Harper’s departure also means Cal must find a new punt returner. Trevor Davis handled kickoffs last year and will likely take over punt duty as well.

Threat Level: Low

Cal’s offense will no doubt present a challenge to any team that faces them, but unless there is a major turn around on defense the Bears will remain one of the “easier” games on the conference schedule.

If Jared Goff takes the next step, his team will surely win a fair share of shootouts. The talent gap between USC and Cal remains, however.

Though the Trojans would be wise to avoid letting the Bears back into the game in the fourth quarter as they did in 2014, the obstacles to victory are relatively low. USC will enter the game as a sizable favorite.