Cal has a lot of questions heading into the 2011 season, and those questions may get answered Saturday when the Golden Bears meet Fresno State at Candlestick Park.
Cal has won six of its past seven season openers, including a 52-3 romp over UC Davis at Memorial Stadium last season.
But the team is coming off its first losing season under coach Jeff Tedford and the lowest finish in the Pac-10 standings since his arrival.
The development of junior quarterback Zach Maynard remains one of the biggest storylines for Cal.
Tedford named Maynard the starting quarterback in late May and said Maynard gives the Cal offense something it hasn’t had in a while.
“He understands the playbook, understands what needs to get done,” Tedford said. “His ability to throw any ball on the field; he has an escape element that we haven’t had in a while. [His] maturity is head and shoulders ahead of where it was.”
Maynard, who transferred from Buffalo after the 2009 season, finished his sophomore season with more than 2,600 yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Tedford also highlighted the inexperience of the running back position with the early departure of Shane Vereen as something Cal will focus on.
Junior Isi Sofele will try to fill the vacancy left by Vereen.
“[Sofele]’s had a really solid camp, getting a good feel for the game,” Tedford said. “He packs a punch.”
Cal has had a 1,000-yard rusher eight of the past nine years.
The Bears began preparing for a Fresno State team last Wednesday that returns a strong running game, led by junior Robbie Rouse.
“[They’re] always physical, always athletic,” Tedford said of the Fresno State running backs. “They can step by tackles and make plays.”
Rouse ran for more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Fresno State finished in the middle of the pack in the Western Athletic Conference last season, but did garner an appearance in the Humanitarian Bowl, where it lost to Northern Illinois.
The two teams have not met since Tedford, a former Fresno State quarterback, took the reins in Berkeley in 2002.
Tedford spent six years with the Bulldogs as an assistant coach before coming to Cal.
“Fresno was kind of a second home,” Tedford said. “I have a lot of good friends there.”
Cal is 0-2 in the only two meetings between the schools, the last one a 17-3 Fresno State win in 2000.
BAY AREA MATCHUPS
WHEN: Saturday, 4 p.m.
WHERE: Candlestick Park
RADIO: KGO (810 AM)
WHEN: Saturday, 2 p.m.
WHERE: Stanford Stadium
RADIO: KTCT (1050 AM)