Old guard, fresh talent: Cal evaluates upcoming season at Pac-12 football media day

As Cal football’s two representatives at Pac-12 football media day Friday, Cal head coach Justin Wilcox was accompanied by two sixth-year seniors, Matthew Cindric and Jackson Sirmon. Aside from the two seniors being essential members of the blue and gold, the duo’s presence at media day signified a big trend for Cal this year — veteran Bears leading the way for a plethora of new transfers and recruits.
“(Cindric has) got a ton of experience, so being the glue to that unit up front, also a leader of the offense and the team, (I) really couldn’t ask for more,” Wilcox said at his press conference. “When he and Jackson (Sirmon) both decided to come back for their sixth years, (those were) two of the biggest recruits we could have gotten.”
Sirmon and Cindric have been vital to the Bears during their time in Berkeley. In 2022, Cindric started the first seven games of the season before suffering a season-ending injury at Colorado. His 403 snaps mark the sixth-highest among the offensive line, despite playing in just seven games.
Sirmon made a splash in 2022, his first season at Cal after transferring from the University of Washington. He led the team in tackles with 104, which ranked him third in the conference. The senior made Cal history with a fumble recovery touchdown in the 2022 Big Game, also marking his first career touchdown.
“Those guys, I know they’re great for our team culture, and they set the example for some of these younger guys who have come into our program looking for some guidance from a player,” Wilcox said.
The “younger guys” Wilcox mentioned are actually a small army in and of themselves. This past offseason, Cal added a grand total of 20 players from the portal, including 14 on offense and six on defense. Supplemented by the 12 players on scholarship from the class of 2023 recruits and JUCO transfers, a lot of fresh faces will be donning the blue and gold this year.
Alongside a new offensive line coach in Mike Bloesch and offensive coordinator in Jake Spavital, Cal’s new-look offense has the potential to make waves in the conference this year. What’s more, six of Cal’s transfers this past offseason have come from six different Pac-12 programs, notably including receiver Taj Davis from Washington to supplement Cal’s receiver core and Oregon’s Byron Cardwell to add to the Bears’ running back room.
“If you told me in the winter that we were going to have half the roster be new guys, I would have been worried, (but) how it’s played out, the guys … have done a fantastic job of buying into the culture,” Sirmon said. “It’s really been as seamless as you can have it for having 50 new guys. Fall camp is going to help us gel even more, and I’m excited for it.”
Team culture aside, implementing so many new players and skill sets to the depth chart also brings tough decisions, and no decision is as important as who to start at the quarterback position. Cal lost its first- and second-string quarterbacks in Jack Plummer and Kai Millner to the portal in the winter, leaving redshirt freshman Fernando Mendoza to battle it out for the starting role with TCU transfer Sam Jackson V and NC State transfer Ben Finley.
None of the three have significant experience: Mendoza sat last season out as a redshirt, Jackson V played in seven games over two years while backing up Max Duggan at TCU and Finley, perhaps the most experienced of the group, saw action in just a handful of games over the past three seasons.
The starting job is far from determined, just over five weeks from the season opener at North Texas.
“Sam (Jackson V) is a dynamic athlete. He is a very, very athletic guy,” Wilcox said. “He doesn’t have a ton of experience. He’s still a young player. Our goal, my goal is for him and all the quarterbacks — there’s some other guys in that room that we think have (the) ability to be Pac-12 players as well — to create these game-like situations … We need to continue to see him and the other quarterbacks continue to grow throughout the season.”
Whoever will start for the blue and gold will have a tall task ahead. After going 4-8 in 2022, the pressure is on for Wilcox, the Bears’ reliable veteran core and the transfer class that ranked 24th in Power 5 programs by On3 to turn things around.

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