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TODAY at No. 50: CALIFORNIA Coach: Sonny Dykes (6-18, entering third season; 28-33 overall record) 2014 record: 5-7, 3-6 in the Pac-12 Conference; fourth...

college football winning pickTODAY at No. 50: CALIFORNIA

Coach: Sonny Dykes (6-18, entering third season; 28-33 overall record)

2014 record: 5-7, 3-6 in the Pac-12 Conference; fourth in the North Division

Look back: Few programs saw such a marked improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 than the Cal Bears under the direction of coach Sonny Dykes. Cal went from one win in 2013 to five wins in 2014. Injuries on the defensive side of the ball prevented the team from capitalizing in close games, including a four-point loss to Arizona and a two-point loss to UCLA.

Offensive starters returning: 8

Offensive starters lost: 3

Defensive starters returning: 7

Defensive starters lost: 4

Key losses: WR Chris Harper, OL Chris Adcock, OL Alejandro Crosthwaite, DT Austin Clark, DE Brennan Scarlett, DE Harrison Wilfley, S Michael Lowe, K James Langford

Top returnees: QB Jared Goff, WR Kenny Lawler, WR Bryce Treggs, OL Chris Borrayo, OL Steven Moore, OL Jordan Rigsbee, LB Michael Barton, DT Mustafa Jalil, S Stefan McClure, CB Cameron Walker

Strengths: Cal is coming off a record-setting season offensively, during which the Bears set marks in points (38.3) and total yards (495.2) per game. The offense ranked seventh in the nation in number of plays per game (81.3). Junior quarterback Jared Goff finished first in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (341.1) while throwing for 3,973 yards with 35 touchdowns. More impressively, Goff threw just seven interceptions during 510 pass attempts.

Cal returns two of its top three receivers from last season, including junior Kenny Lawler, who led the team in receptions (54), receiving yards (701) and receiving touchdowns (9). He’ll be joined by senior Bryce Treggs (52 catches, 583 yards, 6 touchdowns) and tight end Stephen Anderson (46 catches /661 yards /5 touchdowns).

There are 15 offensive linemen on the roster, but only six are upperclassmen. Senior right guard Jordan Rigsbee returns after starting every game during the past three seasons (36 career starts). Chris Borrayo and Steven Moore have 39 career starts on the left side of the line.

Michael Barton led the team in tackles (80) and, along with fellow linebackers Hardy Nickerson (69 tackles) and Jake Kearney (40), anchor the Bears’ defense.

Weaknesses: Cal was one of just six teams in the FBS last season to give up more than 500 yards per game on defense. The 512 yards per game the Bears allowed in 2014 was an improvement over the previous season’s average (530). If the team hopes to improve its defense, the work starts up front. The defensive line is anchored by senior Mustafa Jalil, who started every game last season for the Bears. He’ll be joined by fellow senior Kyle Kragen, who missed all of last season with an illness, and Wake Forest transfer James Looney.

The secondary was one of the worst in the country, helping allow more than 367 yards per game through the air. The unit returns just two starters — safeties Griffin Platt and Stefan McClure — and needs to improve vastly in 2015.

Outlook: Cal has the talent level and experience to make a run at a bowl — its first since 2011 — but there must be improvement on the defensive side of the football. Creating turnovers and limiting big plays are a must against a schedule that is one of the toughest in the country.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 Grambling

Sept. 12 San Diego State

Sept. 19 at Texas

Sept. 26 at Washington

Oct. 3 Washington State

Oct. 10 at Utah

Oct. 22 at UCLA

Oct. 31 USC

Nov. 7 at Oregon

Nov. 14 Oregon State

Nov. 21 at Stanford

Nov. 28 Arizona State

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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