TOP 25 COUNTDOWN
No. 23 California
7-6 (beat Air Force, 42-36, in the Armed Forces Bowl)
5 offense, 9 defense
vs. Arizona State, Oct. 4
Player to Watch
Zack Follett, senior linebacker
The all-Pacific-10 second-team selection has led the Bears in sacks the past two seasons. He led the team last season with 12.5 tackles for a loss and will look to take advantage of Cal's new 3-4 scheme.
Why They're Worth Watching
Led by Follett, who is on the preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy given to the nation's top defensive player, the Bears' defense should be much improved. Cal's depth lies in its linebackers, which is why the team will use a 3-4 scheme this season. Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder recorded more than 100 tackles apiece last season. Williams, younger brother of Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams, led the team in 2007 with three forced fumbles. Felder was an honorable mention all-Pac-10 pick after a junior season in which he tallied at least nine tackles in nine games. Cal's secondary lost free safety Thomas DeCoud, the team's leading tackler in 2007, to the NFL draft but has the depth to recover. Senior Bernard Hicks will slide over to fill DeCoud's vacancy, and junior Marcus Ezeff will assume strong safety responsibilities. Veterans Syd'Quan Thompson and Chris Conte will man the cornerback positions.
Why They're Vulnerable
Nate Longshore was supposed to be the team's sure-fire quarterback entering his senior season. After a solid 2006 campaign in which he threw for 3,021 yards and 24 touchdowns, Longshore struggled with consistency in 2007. He threw for only 2,580 yards, and his touchdown total dropped to 16. Meantime, his backup, Kevin Riley, performed admirably. Cal trailed by 21 points in the second quarter of the Armed Forces Bowl last December when Riley replaced Longshore in the huddle. Riley completed 16 of 19 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns to lead the comeback victory. Now, Riley will enter his sophomore season with a shot to start. With Jahvid Best, the team's top returning running back, recovering from a hip injury and Cameron Morrah as the team's leading returning receiver (13 receptions for 155 yards and one touchdown in 2007), either Longshore or Riley must establish himself as the team's leader.
-- Steve Yanda
No. 22 Penn State.
No. 25 Arizona State, No. 24 Alabama.