Post Thanksgiving Saturday. The last week of the regular season. A rematch of the Heroes of the Dorm matchup. The top quarterback prospect of the 2016 NFL Draft is playing. Winner likely goes to the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl.
Saturday's game between the Arizona State Sun Devils and the California Golden Bears in Berkeley will certainly be interesting. We asked our friends at California Golden Blogs boomtho and Ruey Yuen how the Bears look and what to expect in the regular season finale:
It's certainly been a wild season for Cal. The Golden Bears got off to a hot start but ran into a lot of trouble when they finally faced the Pac-12's elites. What are Cal fans' sentiments like in Berkeley at the moment?
boomtho: The Cal fanbase seems to be quite divided at the moment, and honestly I'd say "tensions" are high (as high as they can be for a sport discussed heartily in online comments!)
On the one hand, most win predictions I saw for Cal before the season had Cal in the 5-7 range. By that metric, we're right on track, which would indicate that Sonny has done a fine job. On the other hand, Cal was at one point 5-0, against an admittedly easy part of the schedule. Still, that start significantly raised fans' hopes that we would finally be able to beat an upper-tier team in conference, like one of the California schools. That has made the subsequent 1-5 slide all the more painful.
So, if you're one of the fans that bought into the 5-0 start, you're probably feeling pretty pessimistic right now. If you're one of these fans, then the rumors of AD Mike Williams and Sonny Dykes starting extension talks feels incredibly premature.
However, if you're a fan that maybe cares more about program trajectory, you can absolutely point to Sonny raising his win total in each 3 years, improving the academic numbers, improving the team culture and accountability.. which could lead you to wanting to extend Sonny, even if he hasn't won a big game (let alone a Big Game) yet.
Ruey Yen: Yep, like Boomtho said, tension is high in Bear Territory. Sonny Dykes is due for a contract extension (or might even be poached by another school...possibly Arizona if Rich Rod goes somewhere else). Not being able to beat our California schools rival does not sit well with most of the fanbase. While some parts of the fanbase is quite proud of how Sonny has emphasized the academics to his team, ultimately it is the win-loss record that matter the most to the majority of the fans.
So it's an interesting time. People are happy that the Bears are back bowling but only has a guarded optimism to a Jared Goff-less future. A win over ASU and in a bowl games can really swing the mood greatly to the positive side.
We released our bowl projections this week, and the winner of ASU-Cal would likely be headed to the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl in wonderful Phoenix, Ariz. What bowl do you think lies in store for Cal, and what do fans prefer?
boomtho: Not sure if you're aware, but former Cal RB coach Pierre Ingram was actually arrested at a Motel 6 in a prostitution sting this offseason. While I'm not going to poke fun at someone who clearly has some problems to work through, the possibility of Cal ending up in that bowl might be the perfect end to what has been a turbulent season.
I selfishly am hoping for the Vegas bowl, since I happen to love Las Vegas. In fact, some friends and I have already bought flight tickets on the off chance that Cal ends up there.
I'm not sure there's a bowl Cal fans "prefer", since we're not actually going to the Rose Bowl - but I'm guessing that Vegas is a preferrable destination than El Paso, for example.
Ruey Yen: So a mini-crisis was just averted that the Bears' Grambling State win does count. I think the fans would be happy to go to Phoenix for the Cactus Bowl as opposed to the one of three bowls in Alabama, for example.
Jared Goff is projected by several analysts as the No. 1 quarterback prospect of the 2016 NFL Draft class. How much has Goff progressed in his time at Cal, and is he worthy of that ranking in your eyes?
boomtho: Jared Goff came to Cal as a pretty impressive freshman. From game 1 (close loss to Northwestern at home), he showed great arm strength, nice touch, and an ability to spread the ball.
In the two years since then, he's added even more polish and skill to his game. First, he's got great pocket mobility. Todd McShay in last week's broadcast gave him a "B" in this category, which is is pretty absurd. Goff is by no means a running QB, but he consistently evades rushers, extending plays while always keeping his eyes downfield. Sadly he's had to learn this skill because Cal's OL has been... inconsistent in the last 3 years, to say the least. Second, he's improved his ability to throw downfield. He's probably been a bit underwhelming in this regard this year - he consistently puts a bit too much air on the ball and often underthrows people - though there's some speculation that was related to a nagging injury. Last, he is already NFL-ready in his ability to go through his progressions. There are many plays where he ends up on his 3rd or 4th read, but he does so in a timely manner and still manages to get the ball out.
I honestly have not watched much CFB outside of the Pac-12. I can say definitely Goff is the best QB prospect out of any QB in the Pac-12, and based on what I've seen on Twitter about Hackenberg and Cook, he's probably the best QB prospect in the nation.
Ruey Yen: The more hyped QB (but he also brought the whole recruiting class together) of Goff's time to shine was Zach Kline, but Goff won the position battle and never looked back (other than briefly in the rainy Oregon game in his freshman year).
Goff has all the tools to succeed in the NFL. Yes, he does lack that signature moment of a leading a come from behind drive like when the Bears had he ball and the chance to win in the end of Utah and USC game this year but I don't think those intangibles matter that much to the NFL scout.
While you would think that some luster has vanished after the great Cal start on Goff, I think the scouts are still high on him. Whether Goff gets picked early or late in the first round would be determined by his Pro Day anyhow. I do expect to see Goff starts on Sunday in the near future.
On offense and defense, what's a name that's gone under the radar this season that ASU fans should look out for on Saturday?
boomtho: On offense, I'll go with Tre Watson. Watson came into the year competing for 3rd on the RB depth chart, behind incumbent Daniel Lasco and speedster Khalfani Muhammad. Unfortunately, Lasco hurt his hip early in the year and has been dealing with nagging injuries all year, and Muhammad, after a few games of playing quite well, also got hurt. Watson appears to have beat out bruiser Vic Enwere for the lead back role recently, and played quite well against OSU and Stanford. Cal's running game will always be a bit constrained by the OL being non-dominant, but Watson seems to be a very balanced back - decent power, good shiftiness, and decent hands out of the backfield.
On defense, I'll go with CB Darius White. White came to Cal last year as a JUCO transfer, and just absolutely got torched in Pac-12 play. He clearly dedicated his offseason to getting both stronger and faster, and the impact has been obvious. He's been remarkably improved, showing an ability to hang with elite WR's and break up plays. Our secondary has been hamstrung by the lack of pass rush, but they've been battling all year and have been quite improved.
Ruey Yen: On offense, my first choice would have been Tre Watson as well. Instead, I'll mention one of the talented receivers who will likely be counted on for more this Saturday, especially if The Human Highlight Reel - Kenny Lawler is still limited. Maurice Harris is another talented receiver capable of making every kind of catch. He turned two short screen passes into long TDs against Oregon State (okay, that may not mean much). I would not be surprised if he had another wow moment on Saturday on Senior Night.
Defensively, Jalen Jefferson is the key guy for the Bears. I'm not sure he's under the radar but he's surely going to make a difference on Saturday.
Prediction and final score?
boomtho: This is a weird game to predict - post Thanksgiving, not much to play for on either side.
I'm going to predict a one-touchdown victory for Cal, predicated both on the players rallying to fight for Sonny Dykes and for a win after the frustrating loss to Stanford in the Big Game... and some optimism as well.
Ruey Yen: Cal has won every game this year when they are favored by Vegas and lost everyone when they are not. I'll take a Cal win at home in a second half shootout.
Cal 45, ASU 35