Well, after getting another pessimistic comment about the likelihood of a Bears victory this Saturday vs. ASU, I feel compelled to do my prediction for the Cal game before the rest of my Pac-10 predictions tomorrow.
There areÂ 5 reasons I think Cal will win on Saturday (in no particular order):
- ASU is soft after weak non-conference schedule
- Strong run defense/weak ASU run offense will allow Cal to shutdown the passing game
- Cal has too many offensiveÂ weapons for ASU’s defenseÂ
- ASU struggles in Berkeley
- Tedford has ASU/Koetter’s number
Let’s start with the weak non-conference schedule…
I accept no statistics of how strong ASU is from how they’ve done thus far this season, particularly their defense.Â The reality is that they’ve had a WSU worthy non-conference schedule (although how were they to know how much Colorado was going to stink when they scheduled them).Â Northern Arizona is a joke and is 1-2 having beaten Dixie St. (who?) (and remember that they were up 14-0 over ASU in the 2nd quarter), Nevada lost a great deal of their 2005 talent and is struggling this year (they’re 1-2), and Colorado is 0-3 having lost to Montana St. and Colorado St. as well as ASU.Â So don’t tell me about ASU’s 18 sacks and only giving up 4 touchdowns.Â There’s no way to know what those numbers mean against the craptastic schedule they’ve had.
Beyond that, a weak schedule means a soft team.Â They don’t know what a hard hitting team feels like.Â They won’t be used to the speed of play.Â This wouldn’t be a big deal if they were going to play Stanford first and could ease into Pac-10 play.Â ASU doesn’t get that luxury.Â They’re coming to Berkeley and are going to play one of the hardest hitting fastest teams in the Pac-10.Â They won’t be fully ready for it.
Now, compare that schedule with Cal’s: Tennessee, Minnesota (which by the way has shutout both of their other opponents 106-0) and Portland St..Â While I’ll agree that Portland’s offense was nothing spectacular, their defensive line was, as advertised, the best I-AA line I have ever seen.Â That makes three teams with stout defenses all of whom hit hard.Â The only team in the Pac-10 who may be more battle tested than the Bears is Oregon.Â The Bears are ready for anything.
But if you’re a fan of statistics, we can talk about those too.Â Statistics like, ASU hasn’t beat Cal in Berkeley since 1997 (even Holmoe only lost to ASU once in Berkeley).Â Or how about ASU is 0-10 in the state of California in their last 10 games.Â Or how about the one where Tedford has never lost to ASU.Â Let’s face it, ASU has a soft spot for Cal and particularly in Berkeley.Â Doesn’t everyone remember the 2004 game where Cal was going to face it’s toughest opponent yet when ASU came to Berkeley and we shut them out?
But enough with the statistics and schedules, let’s talk about the two teams.
ASU is going to have a very hard time keeping track of all of Cal’s offensive weapons.Â The Cal offensive line is definitely a grade below last year’s line and it’s been readily apparent.Â What that means is that Cal will not be able to run the ball when strong defenses are loading the box.Â However, unlike last year, Cal’s passing game is vastly improved and Cal will make ASU pay if they try and shut down the Cal running game.Â Expect Tedford to come out of the gate throwing to loosen up the ASU defense.
On the other side of the ball, ASU does present the strongest passing attack Cal has seen to date.Â But, just like balance will be the key to Cal’s offense, a lack of balance will be ASU’s demise.Â ASU has always had a weak running game and I haven’t seen anything in them that suggests an improvement this year.Â (Again, don’t tell me about the 158 yards per game… that’s meaningless against their opponents.)Â Cal will be able to keep it’s safeties back and drop a line-backer or two into coverage while still having the push needed to keep the ASU running game in check.Â If this was a balanced team, I’d be worried, but they’re not so I’m not.
So, as I’ve said, I’m confident.Â However, there are three things that worry me:
- Turnovers – Turnovers can kill any team and Cal has hadÂ just a little bit too much fumblitis this season.Â I think we can afford a couple of turnovers but no more.Â Thankfully, Longshore looks to be much more disciplined that Booya in the INT category.
- Penalties – In some sense this is the one that bothers me the most because Cal usually plays a very disciplined game.Â The last couple weeks have been very distressing in this sense.Â However, those games were blowouts and sometimes teams get sloppy when they’re way ahead.Â I’m hopeful that Cal returns to its disciplined track-record for this game.
- SydQuad Thompson – OK, I’ll admit it, I miss Mixon too.Â The key to this area is that Bob Gregory (the defensive coordinator) gives Thompson the help he needs as a young defensive back.Â Thompson has got the speed to play the position, he’s just not experienced yet (although getting better).Â If he knows he’s got a safety inside him and a linebacker underneath, he’ll be able to focus on not getting beat deep.Â That’ll be the key, not getting beat deep.Â My biggest fear however is that Gregory won’t modify the gameplan to account for his defensive weaknesses (which is what killed us against Tennessee).Â Luckily, from the last two games, it seems that Gregory learned his lesson.
These weaknesses are very overcomable and I expect the Bears to be ready to play.Â They’re still hungry for respect after the Tennessee game and are not going to let another National audience see them fail.Â They’ll be hitting hard, playing with intensity with a loud home crowd behind them (Cal has one of the most under-rated home field advantages) and win this one with ease: 31-13
Now do you guys see why I’m confident?