Welcome to this week's edition of the Q&A, in which we are lucky enough to host some gentlemen from California Golden Blogs! (At least, I think they're all men ...)
If you're interested, you can read our answers to their questions here.
CougCenter: Do you think Cal really is the 24th best team in the country?
Nik Jam: Right now? Absolutely. Cal deserves a ranking for a 4-0 start that included resilient wins over Texas and Washington. Sure other schools have had tougher schedules, but that's why Cal is #24 and not #4. I don't think previous failures and a shaky defense/ST should factor in at this point.
With that said, as far as the big picture goes, I don't see it lasting long once Cal gets to the murderer's row of Utah, UCLA and USC. They could easily lose all three and then find themselves out of the Top 25 and National conversation the rest of the season.
boomtho: Personally, I don't, but I think we could easily have the 24th best resume if that makes sense. At some point you have to reward a team for beating everyone in front of them, and SDSU, @Texas, and @UW are all solid enough wins to justify us being this high for now. I still think we lack the defensive talent and special teams coverage ability to be truly the 24th best team in the country.
Why does Jared Goff make professional scouts swoon?
boomtho: The simple answer is because he has nearly every tool you'd want your favorite NFL team's QB to have.
First off, he's smart, and shows a very mature ability to read the defense and work through progressions. Everyone claims the Bear Raid is a "simple" offense that takes a lot of the burden off the QB, but I don't think that's quite fair. Goff often has a read/pass option on many plays, and he also often cycles through multiple progressions to find the most open receiver. He is even showing improvement in his ability to look safeties off before rifling a pass down field.
Second, he's got good arm strength and consistently makes "NFL" throws. By that, I mean he's not going to rip a 60 yard throw off the run like Aaron Rodgers, but he's got good enough arm strength to deliver the ball on time down field, especially to the corners or sideline of the field. More impressive than his arm strength is his touch and accuracy, though.
Third, he has gotten SO much better at using his feet in the pocket to step into throws, evade pressure, and extend plays. Again, he's not a mobile quarterback, so he doesn't have the physical tools of say a Marcus Mariotta or Colin Kaepernick. His agility is more like Eli Manning or Matt Ryan, players that can move around in the pocket, sidestep pressure, and then step into deliver a great ball.
Last, by all accounts, he's a standup guy and a good leader (Kenny Lawler was effusive in his praise of Goff after the UW game). Knowing that, the NFL will probably find a way to spin him into being "too good", like the nonsense quotes that scouts put out about Mariotta.
Besides Goff, which offensive player is most likely to haunt our dreams?
Nik Jam: If Daniel Lasco plays, he will have a big chip on his shoulder. Having to watch the last two games on the sideline, especially seeing the Cal offense stumble in the fourth quarter in Texas (which was supposed to be his homecoming game, too) must have been a very bad feeling. If he gets in, he will make a huge statement and have a big game, I'm predicting 120 yards and 2 scores. He will be a big reason why Cal wins especially if the Washington State offense keeps the game competitive late.
boomtho: This is a really difficult question because Cal has good depth at both WR and RB. Judging off this year, I'm going to go with Kenny Lawler, who has 6 TD's, including a few beautiful ones on back shoulder fades, yet is being left off of the WR watch lists for now. However, it really could be anyone - WR's Bryce Treggs or Stephen Anderson in the middle of the field, WR Trevor Davis stretching the defense vertically, or RB Khalfani Muhammad using his speed to get to the edge and create big plays (I'm assuming our versatile back RB Daniel Lasco will either not play or be quite limited due to his hip injury).
If WSU can hang onto the ball, Cal will give up yards ... and probably points
The Golden Bears' improvement on defense has been fueled by takeaways -- something that is notoriously fickle and unsustainable.
It seems as if much of Cal's improvement on defense can be attributed to a dramatic uptick in turnovers. Is that a fair assessment, and is it sustainable?
Nik Jam: Cal hasn't exactly played any elite offenses, so I'm not sure we can rely on 3+ turnovers a game, but it was definitely huge. Who knows how the UW or Texas games go without those gift-wrapped possessions?
Berkelium97: We cannot rely on consistently recovering five turnovers per game like we did against the Huskies, but our ability to force turnovers is a symptom rather than a cause of an improved defense. Increased experience and greatly improved depth at defensive line means that we can generate pressure with only three or four defenders (we couldn't even get pressure when sending five or six last year). This forces young, inexperienced QBs to make hasty, ill-advised decisions which turn into interceptions for our defense. It also helps that our LBs and DBs are consistently in place to take advantage of these mistakes, rather than letting receivers roam free.
Scott Chong: The turnovers are nice, but we can't rely on that consistently. Our D is better because our guys are in position to make plays on the ball. They're more confident in their assignments so they're playing faster. One might almost say that they're flying around out there, real physical. Almost across the board on D, we have more experience and more depth. In past years, we were trying to make it work with underclassmen, walk-ons, and converted wide receivers.
boomtho: That's a fair statement, but there have been a few other factors as well. The secondary play has gotten a LOT better - Darius White, a year after getting repeatedly torched in his first Pac-12 year, looks like an upper echelon Pac-12 corner. In addition, the DL has improved a ton, though more from depth than tremendous top-level talent. This is the second year in Art Kaufman's scheme, and the players look much more comfortable with their assignments.
As a stats major and Grantland reader, I'd argue any kind of outsized turnover differential isn't really sustainable for a full season. I think we should end the season with a positive differential due to Goff's ball security, but I doubt we end up with any more 5 TO games.
If Cal wins this game, it will look like ...
Nik Jam: The game is competitive early and Washington State may even get an early 7-10 point lead, but Cal fires on all cylinders in the second and third quarters to take a sizable lead. Like Texas and UW, the game is scary (for Cal fans) in the fourth quarter, but both sides of the ball get it done in the clutch and Cal manages to win by 14-21.
boomtho: I think Cal will try to use the run game to keep WSU off the field. Another common misconception about the Bear Raid is that it's super pass happy - in reality, Dykes is shooting for something just south of a 50/50 run-pass balance. Our run game has looked pretty good (not great especially against UW), and I think Dykes will try to exert early tempo control.
However, Cal is well equipped to win this game multiple ways. With Goff and the WR corps, we can throw on most defenses, and if our defense maintains even a mediocre level of play, I doubt WSU can hang around (knock on wood!)