Monday, June 20, 2011

California Football: Leaning Heavily on the Legs of Zach Maynard

Although the ship isn’t necessarily sinking out in Berkeley, fans aboard the S.S. Golden Bear have reasons to fear the outcome of their current journey. Last season, Cal suffered its first sub-.500 record in nine years and uncertainty on both sides of the ball raises some warranted off-season concerns. 

Earlier this spring, Head Coach Jeff Tedford tried to put some of these worries to rest by announcing that Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard would be the Bears’ opening day starter at quarterback. 

For years, Cal’s string of highly touted quarterbacks and running backs were the crux that held their fans’ heads high.  However, this season, the amount of productivity that the Bears will get from the otherwise unknown Maynard and their untested backfield is highly questionable.

Maynard, a two-star recruit out of high school, is touted mainly for his dual-threat abilities.  Although he saw some time as a true freshman at Buffalo, he earned the starting job in his sophomore year with various results.

In his final year as a member of the MAC, Maynard completed 57.5-percent of his passes, collecting 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns.  He also gained 300 yards on the ground.

Maynard’s arm isn’t exactly powerful and his accuracy is not going to wow you.  However, his ability to move the pocket and to take off and run provides the Bears with a speedy weapon at quarterback that they have not seen in a while.

In order for Cal to be successful in 2011, the Bears might want to run an offense that mimics Oregon’s fast-pace. 

If the Bears’ offense has anything going for them this season, it is speed.  Wide receivers Keenan Allan and Marvin Jones can burn trails and with Maynard running the offense, ground velocity will be at Tedford’s disposal.  However, using this speed properly will be essential to Cal’s success.

Like Oregon (if Tedford decides to go this route), Cal will have to deceive defenses with options and take advantage of any mistakes with their speed.   But, changing to this type of offense is not exactly an easy transition, especially since the Bears have another huge concern at running back.

The days of Javid Best and Shane Vareen are gone and there isn’t a name that will quickly replace those recent campus stars.  Unfortunately, in order for Cal to take advantage of Maynard’s abilities, a reliable running back needs to step up to add even more pressure on pinching linebackers.

While Isi Sofele is slated to start at running back, there could be a juggling of players until a true star emerges.  If Cal can find a running back to fill the enormous shoes left by his predecessors, then the Bears might have a decent make up to stay competitive this season. 

That is a huge MIGHT though.  Maynard has yet to face the quickness and power that every team in the Pac-12 possesses.  His experience is limited and how he performs on his first real game day will be telling.  While Tedford seemed impresses with him this spring, it was mainly because his other choices were not that pretty.

Without a steady quarterback the Bears could be in a world of hurt for most of the season.  Being competitive in the Pac-12 means being able to consistently put up points.  With the current makeup of Cal’s offense, it’s hard to determine if that is possible. 

It also does not help that Cal lost a chunk of their stars on defense.  If this offense is force to play from behind every game, it could quickly take its toll on both sides of the ball. 

Overall, Cal will need Maynard to prove to the Bay Area that he is capable of handling a full BCS schedule.  Without a potent offense, the Bears could be traveling up the worst type of creek possible without a paddle. 

Cal 2011 Record Prediction:  5-7