for All-America honors
1999 Cal Football Outlook
Defense to Spearhead Bid for Bowl in '99
April 8, 1999
Berkeley - Given the strong probability that Cal will be one of the premier defensive football teams in the country next fall, the equation for success in 1999 is very simple.
If Cal can move the ball and score points on offense, the Bears should emerge as a legitimate contender in the rugged Pac-10 Conference and nail down the program's fifth bowl berth of the current decade.
The program is in stable hands under head coach Tom Holmoe, who saw his team jump from three victories in '97 to five wins last season and foresees further improvement this coming season.
"There's no question in my mind that we've improved our team and we'll see better results in the win-loss column," said Holmoe. "We were one win away from a bowl berth last year with an offense that ranked last in the Pac-10. It doesn't take a genius to see that we can make a big jump if we can make some strides on that side of the football."
More significantly, Holmoe is thrilled about the overall health of the Cal program in the long term. A succession of solid recruiting efforts, highlighted by a banner group this past February, has begun to build the type of depth that only the elite teams in college football enjoy.
Cal returns 16 starters (7-offense, 7-defense, 2-kickers) from last year's squad that bolted out of the blocks to a 4-1 mark before the offensive problems began to take their toll and saw the Bears stumble down the stretch, finishing with a 5-6 mark.
Clearly, the focal point of the Cal Football team in '99 will again be on defense. The Bears have both quality and depth, with as many as four potential All-America candidates and 18 of 22 players returning from last year's two-deep depth chart.
Improving from last year's performance will be a large chore, given the fact that Cal allowed just 340.3 yards a game and opponents averaged only 18.3 first downs a game, but defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich says that anything less will be a disappointment.
"With the type of experience and ability we have on defense, we have some high expectations entering the '99 season," said Setencich. "I'm not sure we can play much harder than we did last year, but there's room for improvement in execution. I'm pretty excited about this group of players, but the key for us will be to stay healthy. We have some guys who are coming off surgeries in the off-season and, while the prognosis is good for all of them, it's something that we'll need to watch closely."
The core of the Cal defense will be a group of five players who will be in the starting line-up for at least their third straight season. That's a wealth of experience to build around for Setencich, regarded as one of the master defensive strategists in the game.
Defensive linemen Andre Carter and Jerry DeLoach will be in their third seasons in the starting line-up while linebackers Sekou Sanyika, Matt Beck and safety Pete Destefano will all be in their fourth year as starters in '99. The fact that all five are solid NFL prospects underscores the point that Cal not only has seasoning in its line-up, but also talent to spare.
If there ever was a season to begin with a clean slate, the upcoming season is a perfect opportunity for the Cal offense to leave the past behind and focus on the future.
After enduring dismal performances in '98 which saw the Bears rank last in the league in scoring (16.6 ppg), total offense (292.2 ypg) and first downs (189), head coach Tom Holmoe made some dramatic changes.
He hired an enthusiastic new offensive coordinator in high-energy Steve Hagen, who in turn, has installed a new offensive system that promises to be an exciting departure from the last two seasons.
Another important off-season development was the addition of veteran offensive line coach Ed White to the staff. Regarded as a master motivator and a brilliant technician, he'll be asked to develop a line that was inconsistent last season.
The centerpiece to the offense will be the quarterback position and that battle is wide-open following the graduation of Justin Vedder. Sophomore Samuel Clemons and redshirt-freshman David Page will be given a long look during the spring, but hotshot freshmen QBs Kyle Boller and Ryan Sorahan will arrive in the fall and provide plenty of competition.
The Bears do have a solid nucleus on offense with seven starters back, including three offensive linemen who average 312 pounds in John Romero, Langston Walker and Brandon Ludwig. Cal is also hoping for a break-through year out of 210-pound tailback Marcus Fields, who averaged 4.5 yards a carry as a sophomore.
The Bears are short on experience in the wide receiver corps with only senior Joel Young and sophomore Ronnie Davenport possessing any real game experience. However, a group of four highly touted redshirt-freshmen will get every chance to have an impact and the coaching staff expects at least two out of that group to emerge in the playing rotation.
Cal will have a challenging schedule to face this fall with only five home games on tap and trips slated for Nebraska and BYU, traditionally two of the most difficult road venues in college football
(NOTE: WE WILL TAKE AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE CAL OFFENSE ON FRIDAY, FOLLOWED BY NARRATIVE ON THE CAL DEFENSE AND SPECIAL TEAMS IN SUBSEQUENT DAYS)