BERKELEY -- By the end of a recent game, Cal was down to four healthy players from among the 11 who were projected to start on defense this season.

There is little mystery to the Bears' 1-5 record under first-year coach Sonny Dykes. It's a young team, trying to learn new offensive and defensive schemes and playing one of the nation's toughest schedules. On top of that is an injury epidemic nobody could have predicted.

"Never seen anything like it," said Dykes, in his 19th season as a college coach.

Through six games, the Bears have lost 30 starts by players expected to be on the first unit. With five players out for the season, the number of starts lost to injury will be at least 60.

How extreme is that?

A year ago, according to statistics compiled by Phil Steele Publications, Colorado State led the nation with 53 starts missed to injury. In 2011, Maryland was tops with 59.

The Bears thought they had injury problems last season when they lost 33 starts to injury. But that's nothing compared with this season's carnage.

Defensive end Brennan Scarlett's hand has never fully healed after January surgery. Defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil had surgery this week for a knee problem that preceded camp. Safety Avery Sebastian tore his Achilles tendon in the season opener. Center Chris Adcock tore knee ligaments in practice two weeks ago. Cornerback Stefan McClure did the same thing days later against Washington State.


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Those five are done for the season, but, wait, there's more: Linebacker Nick Forbes, expected to be one of the team's best defensive players, hardly has played because of a nagging back injury. Starting guard Matt Cochran, who had ankle surgery last month, figures to miss two or three more games. No. 2 running back Daniel Lasco injured his shoulder last week and is out a minimum of two weeks.

At least 10 Cal players have sustained some sort of head injury, five of them missing games as a result. Team physician Dr. Casey Batten said prevention and treatment of concussions has improved but added, "It would be difficult to decrease the risk of head injury in contact sports to zero."

Said Dykes: "You look at the big picture, and you say, 'What's caused this stuff?' It's been everything. I don't know that you can draw a lot of conclusions from the injuries."

Dykes doesn't believe the Matrix Turf, installed during the Memorial Stadium remodel in 2012, is a factor. But he said everything is being considered.

Damon Harrington, Cal's first-year head strength and conditioning coach, said, "Absolutely, we will look at the types of injuries, where the injuries are, whether they were contact-related or noncontact-related, and re-evaluate what we've done in the past to improve future training programs."

Under the best of circumstances, youth and depth figured to be issues for Cal this season. The Bears have only nine scholarship seniors, fewer than all but two of the 125 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The safety position was thin even before Sebastian went out, and Cal has yet to field the same starting secondary for two consecutive games.

The situation was dire enough a couple weeks ago that Dykes had receivers Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper take practice reps at cornerback in case of a game-day emergency.

The good news is that all of Cal's injured players are on course to return next season, and some already are making their way back. Cornerback Kam Jackson returned last week. Linebacker Jalen Jefferson is expected to make his return Saturday night against Oregon State.

Phil Steele's database suggests that teams hit hard by injuries routinely improve a year later. There's even a local example: San Jose State lost 78 starts to injury on the way to a 1-12 record in 2010. The next season, the Spartans went 5-7.

For Cal's players, the ones still standing anyway, the sole focus is the present. As it should be, says Rick Neuheisel, a former coach and now a TV analyst.

"In the midst of all that," Neuheisel said of the Bears' woes, "they still have to find some big-time pride and play better on defense."

For more on Cal sports, see the Bear Talk blog at ibabuzz.com/beartalk. Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at twitter.com/JeffFaraudo.

SATURDAY'S GAME
Oregon State (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) at Cal (1-5, 0-3), 7:30 p.m. ESPN2