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Pac-12 preview: Will stout defense, improved QB play help Cal contend in the North?

Quarterback Chase Garbers will need to take another step forward for California to be successful in 2021

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Cal safeties California safety Daniel Scott and Elijah Hicks zero in on UCLA’s Brittain Brown during game in Los Angeles.

Cal safeties California safety Daniel Scott, left, and Elijah Hicks zero in on UCLA running back Brittain Brown during game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. The two safeties are expected to be mainstays on the Bears defense in 2021.

Kelvin Kuo, Associated Press

Editor’s note: Third in a series of stories examining the 12 football programs in the Pac-12.

Before being hired as California’s head coach in 2017, Justin Wilcox had overseen the incremental improvement of the Golden Bears’ defense every season.  

That makes sense, because his previous stops included serving as the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, USC, Washington, Tennessee and Boise State.

Cal is expected to be strong in the secondary in 2021, led by safeties Elijah Hicks and Daniel Scott and cornerback Josh Drayden. The big concern is replacing Camryn Bynam, a first-team All-Pac-12 pick in 2020. Candidates include Collin Gamble, Chigozie Anusiem, Isaiah Young and Tyson McWilliams. 

Linebackers Kuony Deng and Cameron Goode are back as well.

On offense, the Bears return quarterback Chase Garbers and most of the team’s top playmakers, including wide receivers Nikko Remigio and Kekoa Crawford and tight end Jake Tonges. 

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s top priority is to develop Garbers into a more productive quarterback.

Word on the street

“On paper, Oregon and Washington should be the favorites to win the Pac-12 North in 2021. For California to have a shot at closing the gap or pushing for the division title, the offense needs quarterback Chase Garbers to take a big step forward. As a freshman in 2018, Garbers paced the offense with 1,506 passing yards and 14 touchdowns and added 420 yards and two scores on the ground. He improved through the air as a sophomore, connecting on 60.9% of his throws for 1,772 yards and 14 touchdowns. … The unusual offseason likely prevented first-year coordinator Bill Musgrave from installing his offense and developing a better rapport with Garbers. With a full offseason to work out the kinks, the Musgrave-Garbers partnership has a chance to improve in 2021.”

— Steven Lassan, writing for Athlon Sports

By the numbers

2020 record: 1-3 (1-3 Pac-12)

Returning starters: Offense: 8, defense: 6

Players with local ties: None

2021 schedule

Sept. 4 Nevada

Sept. 11 @ TCU

Sept. 18 Sacramento State

Sept. 25 @ Washington

Oct. 2 Washington State

Oct. 15 @ Oregon

Oct. 23 Colorado

Oct. 30 Oregon State

Nov. 6 @ Arizona

Nov. 13 USC

Nov. 20 @ Stanford

Nov. 27 @ UCLA