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Toughest stretch: California Golden Bears

All fans can look at their teams’ schedules and identify the stretches that will likely determine whether the season will be a success.

That’s our objective as we examine the schedules of all Pac-12 teams and attempt to identify the toughest two-to-four-game stretches of 2016 for each club.

Up next: California Golden Bears

Toughest stretch: Oct. 21-Nov. 12

The schedule works out nicely for Cal in the sense that they “technically” only have five road games. Their neutral game just happens to be in Australia ... so that’s kind of an away game ... but they get more than two weeks to recover.

But smack dab in the middle they get Oregon, at USC, home to Washington and then at Washington State. Count on at least three of those teams being in the top 25, with a very strong possibility of all four being ranked.

Cal hasn’t beaten Oregon since 2008 or USC since the 3-OT thriller of ’03 (yay, Tyler Fredrickson!). They swept the Washington schools last season in consecutive weeks, with both wins coming by six points. Winning those games will be tougher this time around, as Cal is working with a new quarterback. If it’s Davis Webb (we assume it will be) he’s at least an experienced quarterback. But he’s still new to the league and he’s working with a lot of untested receivers.

Washington and Washington State are both surging, and history says the Bears are going to struggle with Oregon and USC. If Cal wants to make the postseason for the second consecutive season, it cannot be blanked during this stretch. Because after those four games, the Golden Bears close out the season with Stanford and UCLA -- two other teams that they’ve struggled with in recent years. That’s a tough six weeks.

Depending on how the first half of the schedule goes (at San Diego State is going to be a tougher game this time around, Texas isn’t a gimme, etc.) the Bears will need all the first-half wins they can get to set up a second straight bowl run. The chances of the Bears closing out the season 0-6 are slim, but so are the chances of starting 6-0. They are going to have to win a couple of those 50-50 games early and late if they want to go bowling again.