It can be difficult to keep up with the key names on a college football team on an annual basis. From graduation and transfers to other variables and roster management, fans can be forgiven for not knowing every single player on a football roster any given season. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the key players to know on Cal’s football roster this season.
On offense, Cal will return eight starters from last season’s team, which is always a good sign. There are just a couple of spots to fill on the offensive line, including center, but the Bears are finally establishing depth in the trenches. Leading Cal’s offense will be none other than junior quarterback Jared Goff, already recognized and respected as one of the top players at his position in the Pac-12 entering 2015. Goff has shown he is capable of thriving in the offensive schemes mapped out by head coach Sonny Dykes, and by the end of the season he could have his name in the record books. Before the season is done, Goff should easily hold the school records for most career passing yards and most career touchdowns.
Goff will have receiver Kenny Lawler to connect with in the open field. Lawler is the team’s leading returner from a year ago, but the junior will share the field with returning starters Maurice Harris and Bryce Treggs. Cal also returns 1,000-yard rusher Daniel Lasco, who should carry the load after rushing for 12 touchdowns last season.
The defense should be quite a different story, with plenty of starting jobs to be determined. That begins on the defensive line, where just one player is scheduled to return from last season’s team. Senior defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil may be the only starter coming back, but the starting spots elsewhere on the line are all likely to be upper classmen, which is as good of a situation as a program can have.
Defensive ends Kyle Kragen and Puka Lopa are both seniors and defensive tackle James Looney is a junior. Kragen is actually back after sitting out last season due to mononucleosis. Cal will hope the veteran presence will pay off, because if the defensive line cannot bring pressure and slow things down up front, the rest of the defense could be put to the test. One name to keep a close eye on will be junior college transfer DeVante Wilson, who previously played at USC.
Cal returns a three of its top tacklers from a year ago to the linebacker position. Michael Barton is back after leading the Bears with 80 tackles last season. He should flank one outside linebacker spot, while Hardy Nickerson locks down the middle after finishing third on the team in tackles last fall. The last starting spot may go to Jake Kearney, who played in 10 games last season, or Jalen Jefferson may get a look after finishing last season fourth on the team in tackles. It would also not be unheard of to see these guys rotating at times. Linebacker may be Cal’s strongest position on the defense this season, and these guys will be expected to keep things as steady as possible.
Cal was on the wrong end of some close calls last season, but if the players highlighted here step up and make some big plays and avoid making mistakes just a little bit more, then Cal should be will on its way to a possible bowl game at the end of the season.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.