CAL

2013 RECORD: 1-11, 0-9 Pac-12 (6th in North)

COACH: Sonny Dykes, 2nd season

BIG DATE: The Bears open at Northwestern, hoping to avenge a 44-30 loss in their debut a year ago under Dykes. A victory could have a huge impact on the team's confidence and alter the trajectory of their season.

KEY DEPARTURES: Two linebackers who could have impacted this team left early, with Nick Forbes taking a medical retirement and Khairi Fortt jumping to the NFL. ... Cornerback Kameron Jackson made an unexpected early leap to the pros at a position where Cal had few established replacements.

DIFFERENCE MAKERS: The receiving corps, led by Bryce Treggs (77 receptions last season) and Chris Harper (70 receptions), should be the strength of the team. Transfer Trevor Davis caught 45 passes in two seasons at Hawaii. ... QB Jared Goff had a productive freshman season, and the offensive line is expected to be substantially improved.

FRESH FACES TO WATCH: Freshmen Tre Watson and Vic Enwere are expected to be part of the rotation at running back. ... Freshman linebacker Devante Downs and JC cornerback Darius White are battling for jobs.


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BEST-CASE SCENARIO: If the offensive line holds and the defense makes a leap under new coordinator Art Kaufman, the Bears will be markedly improved. But against a daunting Pac-12 schedule, how much will that improvement show? Earning four wins won't be easy, but it would be considered a major step in the right direction for what is still a young team.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: The Bears have improved their depth but still don't have enough proven players at some spots -- especially on defense -- to overcome the kind of injury epidemic they faced a year ago. If attrition takes a toll or the Bears start slowly, they could face another grim season.

BOTTOM LINE: This team should be much-improved over a year ago, but the arc of this season could be determined early. Success out of the gate could fuel the confidence and momentum that Cal badly needs. The schedule is ferocious beginning in mid-October.

FAN ESSENTIALS

RADIO: 810-AM (Joe Starkey, Mike Pawlawski, Todd McKim)

TICKETS: 1-800-GO-BEARS or www.calbears.com