Is this the game where Arizona (0-8, 0-5 Pac-12) finally ends its 20-game losing streak? Cal (3-5, 2-3) has won two in a row, but the Wildcats haven’t lost to the Golden Bears since 2009 and have won five straight in the series in Tucson.
Cal is coming to Tucson short an unknown number of players after the school announced Thursday that “multiple players” were in COVID-19 protocols and weren’t making the trip.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Cal was as high a 12-point favorite but the line had been taken off the board due to the uncertainty around the Bears’ available players.
Who will win? Here’s what our staff thinks:
Kim Doss — Arizona wins 27-24
I said I wouldn’t pick Arizona to win until they had actually won a game. I obviously lied, but hear me out.
The Golden Bears have won their last two by a handy margin. Prior to that, their futility against Pac-12 competition (or any competition at all) was almost as bad as Arizona’s. Cal is 3-5 overall and 2-3 in conference play, so those two victories are almost the entirety of the games in the win column.
Another major concern for Cal is that those two conference wins came at home. In fact, all three of their wins have come at home. The Bears’ best showing on the road was a 31-24 overtime loss to Washington on Sept. 25.
The final hurdle for the visitors is the fact that several players are reportedly out for COVID-19 protocols. While it’s unclear which or how many players will miss the game, it adds one more pebble on the scale in Arizona’s favor. One report suggests that it’s as many as 50 players. If the Golden Bears aren’t forced to forfeit, their chances of a victory with that lack of depth are between slim and none, but even a smaller number of missing players could have a huge impact on this game.
Despite the losses that have piled up for the Wildcats since 2019, meetings with Cal tend to soothe the collective soul of Arizona. The Wildcats have won five in a row in the series dating back to 2010. Stretching back to 2006, Arizona is 7-2 against California. None of those teams had the kind of futility on the field that this Wildcat team is experiencing, but that seems to be waning, as well.
Arizona will eventually shake the monkey off its back. This is the best chance.
Ezra Amacher — Cal wins 38-20
Arizona will likely be a trendy pick to win Saturday and snap its 20 game losing streak. It’s homecoming weekend after all, and the Wildcats are coming off an inspiring outing against USC led by Will Plummer’s best performance of the season. While I sincerely hope Plummer can maintain his solid play against mediocre Cal defense and lead the ‘Cats to an upset win, I just don’t Arizona’s D being able to stop Bears QB Chase Garbers.
Garbers very well might be the best QB in the Pac-12 this season. Over his last three games (facing Oregon, Colorado and OSU), he’s thrown seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. Garbers also gets to work with a reliable RB in Damien Moore, who is coming off a 111-yard day against the Beavs. Much like USC last weekend, Cal will have little trouble finding the end zone in this game, and the Wildcats will be left staring another L.
Gabe Encinas — Cal wins 24-17
Ezra’s first two sentences are exactly how I feel. There is a shade of optimism, just as there was with Jordan McCloud taking charge against UCLA.
This team is trending in the right direction and Cal is a beatable team, the last one that Arizona faces as well. I think the outcome of the game won’t be decided until the final drive, whether that’s Oregon State running the clock out or Arizona having a chance to win.
The roster isn’t good, but if they can remain competitive against Cal and string three good games together I can live with that fight.
Sprinkle a little on the Cats money line.
Brandon Combs — Arizona wins 31-28
I’m going to poo poo a little on Ezra...sorry man. Arizona’s defense may have a rough last two games with the passing game, but overall they are very good. Top five in the conference in fact. Plus, they have been good at pressuring, and sacking, the quarterback. I’m not worried about Garbers’ arm as much as I am his legs. He has bee highly successful running the ball, averaging 4.9 YPC. That’s after being sacked 14 times.
With that I’m more interested to see how Arizona handles the run. Obviously, I want to see CRW and Isaiah Rutherford bounce back and I think they will. They will need help in the back end from the safeties, so that group has to step up.
Offensively, I think Arizona will be successful, but only if Will Plummer plays they way he did against USC. And I think he will. Once a QB gains confidence and gets established, that’s usually all that’s needed. We saw that with Jordan McCloud before he was injured.
With that, I think Arizona squeaks out their first win in a long time and breaks the streak.
Adam Green — Cal wins 23-13
Alright, I get it. Arizona was wonderfully competitive at USC and for as bad as the Trojans may be, they are certainly better than Cal. Right?
Arizona’s offense got going in Los Angeles because the quarterback play was much improved, but the fear here is that it had more to do with a soft USC defense than anything Will Plummer or the Cats did. That’s not to say Plummer hasn’t improved, nor that he can; just, I’m going to need more than 60 minutes of football to really believe it.
However, if Plummer’s improvement is for real then this team should absolutely be competitive against Cal, if not outright win the game. The Bears are not a particularly good team, though they have looked competent of late. Yet, late reports are they’ll be down a good chunk of players due to Covid, a bad break but one that Arizona need not apologize for.
All that said, I promised a few weeks back I would not pick Arizona to win a game until they go out and win a game. So, I cannot pick Arizona to win.
Please let me be wrong.
Ronnie Stoffle — Arizona wins 23-21
You read that right, folks. I’m predicting a victory here. Ever since the NAU disaster, I’ve had this game circled as the last game on the schedule that could result in a win.
My logic was it was at home and Cal can be erratic. I know that they just beat Oregon State (who is also erratic) but the Golden Bears are very unpredictable. Now factoring in that Arizona is desperately craving a victory, it feels like there’s a real chance.
I’ll give Jedd Fisch credit for not losing the team’s focus. It’s clear this team is still trying its hardest to get over the hump. It feels like the perfect storm with opponent and homecoming. The Wildcats squeeze it out and end the losing streak.
Brian J. Pedersen — Arizona wins 19-17
So much of what Jedd Fisch has done since getting the Arizona job has had a made-for-TV feel to it, from the extensive outreach to former players to the social media interactions and so on. There’s a little bit of Ted Lasso in how he’s gone about things, even though he’s said he hasn’t watched the show yet.
For those that haven’t seen the Emmy-winning Apple+ program, (SPOILER ALERT) Lasso’s AFC Richmond team gets relegated at the end of the first season. But before then it does have some memorable moments, and short of beating ASU in the Territorial Cup for his first win getting it on Homecoming seems like the perfect moment.
Cal being down players due to COVID protocols has the potential to tarnish a win here, while losing would look even worse. Arizona was going to win this game even if the Bears were at full strength, it was already in the script and it was too late for a re-write.