Pac-12 previews: After losing several close games last year, can Cal Golden Bears get bowl-eligible this year?
The Golden Bears lost five games by a touchdown or less
Editor’s note: First in a series of articles examining each of the Pac-12 football teams heading into the 2022 season.
After last season, California coach Justin Wilcox was offered the job at Oregon, his alma mater, but he opted to remain with the Golden Bears.
Wilcox signed a contract extension through the 2027 season.
“Justin Wilcox is a football coach who shares our values and vision, and we want to ensure that he is the leader of our program for the long term,” Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton said last January. “He is a great fit for Cal Athletics and our university, with a philosophy that places an emphasis on developing young men on the field, in the classroom and as people.”
A year ago, Cal posted a 5-7 record but did earn wins over rivals Stanford and USC. The Golden Bears lost five games by a touchdown or less.
“We need to learn the lessons from the past. Last year taught us a lot of lessons,” Wilcox told the Pac-12 Network. “It’s how close these games can be and the margins of winning and losing in our conference are so small. I thought the urgency in the offseason was evident.”
At quarterback, the Golden Bears must find a replacement for Chase Garbers. Purdue transfer Jack Plummer, Kai Millner and Zach Johnson are vying for that spot as the starter.
“I thought Jack did a nice job, a real smooth operation out there. That’s what he’s done all spring,” Wilcox said about Plummer after the spring game. “He’s been very accurate throwing the ball on time. We’re really looking forward to a great offseason … He’s a very sharp guy and a talented, talented passer.
“We feel really good about Jack and the growth he’s made in a few short months. Kai Millner has taken a huge step forward. We feel really good about him as well. We’re glad to have both of them on the roster.”
Meanwhile, Cal lost four of its top five receivers.
On defense, Cal tied Utah for fewest yards per play allowed, 5.03, in conference games last season. But the Golden Bears also have some key players to replace, including safety Elijah Hicks, linebacker Cameron Goode and linemen Luc Bequette and JH Tevis.
Yet the Golden Bears could be bowl-eligible in 2022, with nonconference games against UC Davis and UNLV. Cal does face Notre Dame on the road, however.
Cal will have to improve on the road. The Golden Bears posted a 1-5 record away from home last season. Wilcox is optimistic that his team will be much improved this season.
“The number of guys who have taken a huge leap forward from last year to now has been really impressive,” he said. “And we’re going to have a number of new starters on both sides of the ball but we feel good about the talent on the roster.”
2021 record: 5-7 (4-5 Pac-12).
WR Trond Grizzell (Park City High)
Sept. 3 UC Davis
Sept. 10 UNLV
Sept. 17 @ Notre Dame
Sept. 24 Arizona
Oct. 1 Washington State
Oct. 15 @ Colorado
Oct. 22 Washington
Oct. 29 Oregon
Nov. 5 @ USC
Nov. 12 @ Oregon State
Nov. 19 Stanford
Nov. 25 UCLA
Next up: Oregon