These are our annual Pac-12 triplet rankings. We’ve selected a trio of players from each team in the conference.
The rules: Each player comes from a different position group, so the defensive version of this series features a defensive lineman, a linebacker and a defensive back. Each program’s troika is ranked against the others in the Pac-12, and we’ll be unveiling and writing about each in reverse-countdown order.
We continue our defensive rankings with No. 7 California.
DL James Looney: Many considered him to be the Golden Bears' defensive MVP last season. Yes, the struggles on this side of the ball were real for Cal -- the Bears gave up 42.6 points per game, worst in the Pac-12 -- but Looney's personal stat line was solid, especially since he drew double-teams from his tackle position. Looney registered eight tackles for loss, including Cal's goal-line stuff that saved a victory over Utah at the final gun.
LB Devante Downs: This 6-foot-3, 250-pounder led the Bears with 84 tackles. Cal desperately needs better quality depth at this position, especially since new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has switched to a 3-4 scheme, which demands more linebackers to operate. The Bears hope the move helps them fill run gaps more effectively, as Cal allowed 6.2 yards per rush in 2016, the worst figure in the nation. Downs did his part to slow the bleeding, but this fix is not a one-man job.
CB Darius Allensworth: Injury limited him to only six games in 2016, but Allensworth is a veteran cornerback with solid footwork and good ball skills. He also broke up four passes in limited action. Allensworth will be a fifth-year senior in 2017, and he's fully healthy entering this final campaign. The Bears expect a rejuvenated player to anchor the secondary of their new-look defense. Allensworth certainly has the talent to be one of the bricks in that rebuilding process.
Verdict: There's no beating around the bush: The Bears were terrible defensively in 2016. But they do feature a trio of players that's competitive when compared to the Pac-12's other troikas. Looney is a versatile body up front who's tough to block, Downs is an athletic tackler at linebacker, and Allensworth can be a true weapon in the secondary when healthy. DeRuyter's success at Cal will hinge on his ability to develop talent, depth and sound fundamental play around this trio, because that's what the Bears have sorely lacked in recent years.