BERKELEY, Calif. – California was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 North preseason media poll but could surprise if its offense can find a way to match its stellar defense. The Bears hope to showcase their new and improved offense starting Saturday in their season opener against visiting UC Davis.
TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network. LINE: No Line
The Cal offense finished last in the conference in average points (21.5) and yards (343.5) last season but should improve behind sophomore quarterback Chase Garbers, who completed 61 percent of his passes a year ago and was named the starter following a strong training camp. "He's throwing the football with authority and knowing where to go with it," coach Justin Wilcox told reporters. "Definitely, you see the growth from last year until now, and even from the start of camp until now." Before visiting Washington next week, the Bears need to be careful not to overlook a dangerous UC Davis squad that won a share of the Big Sky Conference title last season. The Aggies lost star wideout Keelan Doss to the NFL but return senior quarterback Jake Maier, a preseason All-American and All-Big Sky selection.
ABOUT UC DAVIS (2018: 10-3)
Maier threw for 3,931 yards and 34 touchdowns last season and has two of his favorite targets back in junior wideout Jared Harrell and senior tight end Wes Preece, who tied Doss with nine receiving touchdowns last year. Ulonzo Gilliam and Tehran Thomas will split carries behind a veteran offensive line led by four returning starters in Colton Lamson, Kooper Richardson, Jake Parks and Connor Pettek. The biggest question mark for third-year coach Dan Hawkins is on defense, which could be vulnerable in the secondary but has Montell Bland leading a strong linebacking corps.
ABOUT CAL (2018: 7-6)
Sophomore running back Christopher Brown had just 179 all-purpose yards last season, but he figures to receive the bulk of the carries in place of Patrick Laird, who played in 41 games over the past five seasons. Inside linebacker Evan Weaver leads an impressive defense that was ninth in the nation in passing yards allowed (175.1 per game), 15th in total defense (317.2) and 22nd in scoring (20.4 points) last year. Weaver was named to the preseason All-Pac-12 first team while defensive end Luc Bequette, cornerback Camryn Bynum, punter Steven Coutts and safety Ashtyn Davis were second-team picks.
1. Cal holds a 9-0 lead in the all-time series against UC Davis – including a 52-3 win in the last meeting on Sept. 4, 2010.
2. UC Davis faced one Pac-12 opponent last season, losing 30-10 at Stanford on Sept. 15, 2018.
3. Cal has won its last five season openers – including a 24-17 victory over North Carolina last season.
PREDICTION: Cal 34, UC Davis 17