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Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen warms up on the practice field in Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif. on Wednesday, Aug.18, 2010. (Dean Coppola/Staff)

2009 record: 8-5, 5-4 in the Pac-10 (tied for fifth place)

Coach: Jeff Tedford, ninth year (67-35)

Big Date: Sept. 25 at Arizona. The Bears open the Pac-10 season at a venue where they have dropped five of their past six games.

Key departures: Jahvid Best, one of the most explosive running backs in the country who was the 30th overall pick in the NFL draft. Defensive end Tyson Alualu, a playmaker against the run and pass who was picked No. 10 overall by Jacksonville. Cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, who started all 52 games of his career.

The difference makers: Tailback Shane Vereen, an explosive threat who also can make plays out of the backfield. Wide receiver Keenan Allen, a true freshman who rose to the top of the depth chart less than a week into training camp. Defensive end Cameron Jordan, who should benefit from new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's aggressive philosophy. Linebacker Mike Mohamed, last year's Pac-10 leader in tackles.

Keep an eye on: Tailback Isi Sofele, who should get significant playing time behind Vereen and could make an impact returning kicks. Mychal Kendricks, a playmaking linebacker who should benefit from playing on the outside.


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Fresh face to watch: Allen, who was one of the most sought-after recruits in the country and is expected to be an integral part of the offense.

Lingering questions: Will Cal's new crop of wide receivers provide a needed boost to the passing game? Are Keith Browner and D.J. Holt the answer at linebacker? Will a rebuilt secondary help improve last year's woeful pass defense? Will there be a hangover from last year's disappointments?

Potential problem: Depth at wide receiver. Cal is counting on at least two new receivers to make an immediate impact, and possibly more. If they don't pan out, do the Bears have enough firepower among their returning receivers to get the job done?

Best-case scenario: Allen is an immediate star, pairing with Marvin Jones to give Cal the best wide receiver tandem in the Pac-10. Quarterback Kevin Riley improves his consistency, Browner gives the Bears the rush linebacker they didn't have last season, and cornerback Darian Hagan returns to his 2008 form. Cal wins nine or 10 games and goes to a high-profile bowl.

Worst-case scenario: The new wide receivers take time to come along, the offensive line has another up-and-down year, Riley turns in a couple duds, the secondary leaves something to be desired, and the Bears finish near the bottom of the Pac-10.

Bottom line: Expectations haven't been this low in Berkeley since 2003, Tedford's second year on the job. There is still talent at Cal, but recent years have demonstrated that may not always be the issue. Riley and his receiving corps need to get it going, and the defense needs to become more aggressive in Pendergast's new system. If that happens, Cal should be competitive with every team in the wide-open Pac-10.

FAN ESSENTIALS

Radio: 810-AM (Joe Starkey, Troy Taylor, Todd McKim)

Tickets: 1-800-GOBEARS, www.calbears.com

-- JONATHAN OKANES