December 2, 2022

California Football: the Pac-12’s last team standing

FILE - In this Oct. 28, 2017, file photo, California head coach Justin Wilcox claps during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Boulder, Colo. Wilcox has signed a new five-year deal to stay under contract with the school through the 2023 season. The deal signed Thursday, Dec. 6 2018, adds two more years to the original contract signed in 2017. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Four weeks into the 2019 season and the Golden Bears are the only undefeated team remaining in the Pac-12.

California’s road victory over Ole Miss made a statement not only for the program. but for the conference as well. It’s no secret that the Pac-12 been left out of the College Football Playoff for two-straight years.

With Oregon’s opening-season loss, Washington rebuilding, Stanford struggling and the USC hoopla, the league’s chance at post-season glory again looks grim.

However, the spotlight is now on California. The Golden Bears are No. 14 in the latest AP Poll, their highest since 2009 and 4-0 for the first time since 2015. Justin Wilcox is only in his third season with the program, but has already established California as contenders in the North.

It’s something his predecessor Sonny Dykes could never accomplish during his four-year tenure. The program hasn’t had this much buzz since Aarron Rodgers, Marshwan Lynch and Desaun Jackson played.

Under Wilcox the team has established an identity. Hard-nosed defense and physical play has been the ingredient to the teams’ success. The Golden Bears are one of five ranked Pac-12 teams, including three in the top-15 from the North division. Wilcox should expect his squad to get every teams’ best from this point forward.

Now the players have to adjust from being the hunters to being the hunted. Still, it’s great exposure for the team and the bandwagon is loading up. The Pac-12 is currently on life support as far as Playoff contention and California is literally giving the conference mouth to mouth.

Wilcox will have an opportunity to show the country his team is legit when California resumes conference play Friday night under the lights against a ticked off Arizona State team coming off a home-loss to Colorado. Still, the Golden Bears have momentum.

The Sun Devil pose a threat and could also be a trap game for the Golden Bears, with a road date at Oregon looming in week six. The next two weeks will show if California can sustain success.

As the team navigate through the Pac-12 gauntlet, they’ll need the offense to put up more points. Evan Weaver and Ashtyn Davis are some of the best defenders in the league, but the Golden Bears’ defense can only do so much.

Sophomore quarterback Chase Garbers has played solid with 835 passing yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions through four games. He’s also dangerous with his mobility and had a career day throwing the ball against North Texas.

Wilcox’s team has shown a tendency to get off to slow starts. California has been held scoreless in the first quarter, two out of its’ first four games. The Golden Bears don’t have an offense that’s built for comebacks and can’t afford to fall in the hole early against Pac-12 competition.

With its’ stifling defense, all California needs to do is score 24 points to pull out a win. The team has yet to allow an opponent to score over 20 points in the past five games. Expect Wilcox’s team to continue dominating on that side of the ball and Garbers to be smart with the football.