Cal's football Bears seem to be on the upswing, led by a hot quarterback, but almost everybody knows that. The real question this handicapper wants answered is whether they're worth betting on, or not.
Cal Bears 2015 NCAA Futures
Head coach Sonny Dykes might have something brewing out in Berkeley. The Bears return most of the roster from a team that almost made it back to a bowl last season, and they're going to score a lot of points. Cal's fate this season depends upon its defense.
Last season in Review
Cal opened last season with an upset of Northwestern in Evanston, winning outright as a 10-point dog, then disposed of Sacramento State to top 2013's win total, which was one. But the Bears then blew a chance at what could have been a big Pac-12 road victory, giving up a Hail Mary on the last play of the game to lose at Arizona 49-45.
Cal shook off the shock and outgunned Colorado and Washington State the next two weeks, by a combined score of 119-115! But perhaps gassed, the Bears went home and laid an egg against Washington. They then lost a tough game at home to UCLA 36-34, and then lost at Oregon by 18 points – no surprise there.
Cal then pulled off a minor upset at Oregon State to get to 5-4, a win away from bowl-eligibility. But the Bears then lost at USC, at home to Stanford and at home to BYU, missing out on a bowl, and the extra practice time that comes with it.
Bottom-line, Cal advanced from 1-11 to 5-7 in its second season under Dykes, and more importantly won three Pac-12 games, after winning none in 2013. Most “experts” figure the Bears will make another advance this season.
Cal also went 7-5 against the spreads last season, and 7-5 on the totals, as Bears games averaged a very healthy 78 points per.
Cal returns 17 starters this season, eight from an offense that averaged 495 yards per game last year and nine on a defense that gave up 512 YPG. Obviously, the Bears need some improvement on D.
Cal gets back a Heisman candidate at QB in Jared Goff, who hit on 62 percent of his throws last season while compiling a 35/7 TD/INT ratio. He'll be complimented by 1,100-yard rusher Daniel Lasco, almost the entire receiving corps and three of the big boys along the offensive line.
Defensively the Bears return 12 of last year's top 13 tacklers, including three of four starters up front, all three starting linebackers and three of four in the secondary. One would think Cal can't help but improve on defense this season, but there's no guarantee.
Goff is getting +8500 at 5Dimes to win the Heisman Trophy this season.
This year's slate is no walk in the park; the Bears play five conference road games, and three of their Pac-12 home games will be tough, too.
Cal opens at home with Grambling State and San Diego State, and better be alert for the Aztecs. The Bears then play at Texas, then open Pac-12 play at Washington. They then get Washington State at home, but then visit Utah and UCLA (on a Thursday night). Cal then hosts USC on Halloween, plays at Eugene, hosts Oregon State, but has to go to the Farm for the Big Game. The Bears then finish the regular season at home against Arizona State.
Cal will be a better team this season than last season, but how many more games will it win?
Betting Cal in 2015
Coach Dykes seems to have this program headed in the right direction, but we're leery of young teams entering a season with heightened expectations; they often seem to fall flat on their faces. And if Cal doesn't improve on defense that might happen. The Bears are probably going to score a ton of points, and should go bowling for the first time, but what they're really interested in is making some noise in the Pac-12. Can they win at Utah? Beat UCLA, USC, or Oregon? Stop their five-game slide against Stanford?
Ultimately, the Bears won't be sneaking up on anybody this season, so we won't be surprised if they struggle a bit ATS. Also, at the moment Cal has a reputation for playing high-scoring games, so there's a good chance college football odds makers and the betting public will combine to create some over-inflated totals on Bears games.
Bovada is offering a wins OVER/UNDER of 5.5 on Cal for this season, but we see at least seven winnable games on the slate. So we like the OVER on the Bears.
5Dimes, meanwhile, is offering +4000 on Cal winning the Pac-12 championship, but with such a tough schedule we'll save our money for elsewhere, or perhaps next season.
College Football Pick: Cal Over 5.5 at Bovada