Spring is about rebirth and renewal, but for members of the California football program, it's going to include more dissecting of an ugly corpse than the Bears would like. The players and coaches are going to be asked about the 2013 season over and over again by reporters and fans. The redundant interview process will start off as painful, become boring and then transform into an annoyance.
Fortunately, the Pac-12 blog was Cal quarterback Jared Goff's first interview in advance of spring practices, which start March 31.
"I'm not too worried about [the questions]," Goff said. "Obviously, I don't want to answer them but I'm going to have to. It's something we did. Cal football did that last year. We're moving on from that, but it's something we did, and we're going to have to use it as motivation. We're going to get a lot better from it."
What Cal "did" last year was stink up the joint. The Bears finished 1-11 and produced their worst defense in program history. It was further deflating that the woeful campaign sapped fan enthusiasm that surrounded the hiring of Sonny Dykes, as well as curtailed the positive momentum produced by the program's shiny renovated stadium and upgraded facilities.
While the defense inspired the most forehead slapping last fall -- and cost coordinator Andy Buh and two other defensive coaches their jobs -- the offense, Dykes' specialty, wasn't exactly collecting accolades either. While Goff piled up passing numbers, ranking third in the Pac-12 with 331.4 yards per game, little else went well.
The Bears ranked last in the Pac-12 and 97th in the nation with just 23 points per game. While the total yardage numbers looked solid -- 453.6 yards per game -- they were deceiving. The Bears ranked last in the Pac-12 and 98th in the nation in yards per play (5.2 ypp). The Bears were last in the conference third-down conversion percentage and last in redzone offense.
Goff himself ranked 11th in the conference in passing efficiency and last in the conference in ESPN.com's Total Quarterback Rating.
Of course, completing 60 percent of your passes for 3,508 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions doesn't look as bad when you recall Goff was a true freshman playing behind a makeshift offensive line that offered up five different starting lineups over the course of the season.
Goff called the lost 2013 campaign "extremely disappointing." While it seemed that Cal, at least competitive early in the season, lost its confidence and motivation as the season went on, Goff said his confidence never flagged, and he approached every game believing the Bears were just a few plays from breaking through.
"I wouldn't say worn down," he said. "Obviously, we were tired of losing. We wanted to start winning. But as the season went on we never got over the hump, never broke through and made that play that could change the outcome of the game."
Let's also not forget the Bears suffered through epidemic injuries on both sides of the ball, the impact being compounded by many of those sidelined guys being the team's best players.
Citing injuries can be called an excuse. But, well, come on. Cal had 13 projected starters miss multiple games or suffer season-ending injuries, most falling into the latter category. The starting lineup for the season-finale against Stanford featured nine freshmen, seven sophomores and just two seniors.
Yes, it's an excuse, but it's a pretty good one.
"I tend to forget about that because you don't like to make that an excuse but that's a good point," Goff said." We had the worst luck. I hate to make that excuse but that just happens some times where the wrong guys get injured."
From a cynical perspective -- who us? -- Cal is almost certain to be better in 2014 because it can't be much worse. But from a not unreasonable optimistic perspective, Cal is almost certain to be better because it's got potential, despite several unexpected offseason defections to early-entry in the NFL draft or transfer.
For one, Goff is a second-year starter. He knows the speed of the game and has a year of seasoning with Dykes' scheme. Further, he has a strong and deep crew of receivers coming back. His top two receivers, Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper, a potentially A-list tandem, return after combining for 147 receptions last fall, and two other returning wideouts caught more than 25 passes in 2013. If Goff gets time to throw, the passing numbers will be there, and they should be attained with more efficiency.
"We're so deep across the board [at receiver]," Goff said. "Everyone is going to be contributing this year. It's ridiculous how deep we are at receiver. I feel we have three good players at every position."
Goff said he's put on "five or 10 pounds" onto his 6-foot-4 frame, though he also said he's tipping the scale at just 200 pounds, five below his listed weight in 2013. He said he feels stronger mentally and physically, both as a player and a leader. What transpired last fall feels like a distant memory.
"It feels like it was so long ago when we were playing," he said. "I watch film of myself, and that feels like years ago."
He said the offseason message from Dykes has been simple: Work hard. Get better. Improve. We have the players who can win.
Finding offseason motivation hasn't been difficult. Just recalling what happened last season is enough. And if anyone has pushed it out of his mind, interviews in advance of and during spring practices will provide regular reminders.
Goff sees a bright side.
"In the long run," he said, "when we do what we want to do, it's going to feel that much better, knowing where we came from."