Week 1 - Northwestern at California

Posted Aug 26, 2013

Week 1 Fearless Prediction - Northwestern at California

Week 1
- Northwestern at California
- Boise State at Washington
- Nevada at UCLA
- Rest of the Pac-12, Part 1
- Rest of the Pac-12, Part 2

Northwestern (0-0) at California (0-0) Aug. 31, 10:00, Pac-12 Network

Why You Should Give A Hoot: Cal sure isn't dipping its toe into the start of the Sonny Dykes era in Strawberry Canyon. The Bears are diving in with a visit from a very good Northwestern team.

The Bears needed to make a change after Jeff Tedford had reached a plateau, replacing their long-time head coach with Dykes, whose success at Louisiana Tech earned him a well-deserved promotion to the Pac-12. He inherits a team that has plenty raw talent on both sides of the ball, yet lacks direction and a cohesive strategy for success. In the early going, Cal will be facing a steep learning curve as the Bear Raid gets installed on offense and the defense shifts back to a 4-3 set.

Northwestern is no longer a cutesy upstart or plucky purple-clad scrapper. The Wildcats are for real, participating in five consecutive bowl games, capped by last year's first postseason victory since 1949. Fresh off that 10-win campaign, Pat Fitzgerald's crew will begin 2013 ranked No. 22 in the AP and the Coaches Polls. The Big Ten sleeper can earn another jolt of confidence with its first Pac-12 road win since 1966.

Why Northwestern Might Win: The Wildcats boast the eighth-year head coach, the proven quarterbacks and the experienced team. The Bears have the first-year staff, the true freshman quarterback and the team trying to shake a losing attitude. Road trip aside, this could be a mismatch tilting in the visitor's favor. Northwestern welcomes back most of its starters from last year's 10-win team, including dynamite RB Venric Mark and quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian.
Why Cal Might Win: The arrival of Dykes has created plenty of excitement around Berkeley. His Bears house the receivers to air it out with success this year. Bryce Treggs is a budding superstar, and he'll get plenty of support from teammates Chris Harper, Kenny Lawler and Richard Rodgers. On defense, Cal plans to attack a Northwestern O-line employing three new starters. The quartet of Deandre Coleman, Mustafa Jalil, Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett is capable of flushing the pocket on a frequent basis.
Who To Watch Out For: Northwestern has Mark, but Cal has Brendan Bigelow, one of the most incendiary running backs few outside of Northern California know about.

- O-line is a major concern for Cal. Northwestern DE Tyler Scott is going to make sure that the Bears can't escape their pass protection worries Saturday night.

- There'll be a Lou Groza Award alert Saturday night. Cal's Vincenzo D'Amato and Northwestern's Jeff Budzien are two of the better kickers in their respective leagues.

- Not only is Cal beginning a new chapter on the sidelines, but also in the huddle. Rookie QB Jared Goff has earned the start less than a year after he was performing for Marin Catholic (Calif.) High School.

- The Cal secondary is highly vulnerable, but can the run-first Colter take advantage? Don't be surprised if Siemian, the better passer of the duo, gets an equal number of snaps in Berkeley.

What Will Happen: The crowd will be fired up, the Bears will roar out of the tunnel … and then reality will set in. Northwestern is just a better all-around football team on both sides of the ball. Cal still has plenty to digest as the new systems are installed. The Wildcats, on the other hand, are poised to pick up where they left off in 2012. The edge at quarterback and head coach, in particular, will lead to a relatively easy win for the road team.
Prediction: Northwestern 34 … Cal 23
Line: Northwestern -6
Must See Rating: (5 Hard Knocks – 1 ‘N Sync at VMAs) … 3.5