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Cal vs. Northwestern Preview & Depth Chart Analysis

After a long offseason and a spirited fall camp (HT Nam@CGB), football returns to California Memorial Stadium this Saturday, August 31.  The season opener features the debut of new Cal Coach Sonny Dykes and the high-tempo Bear Raid.  The sturdy Golden Bears – who may have the toughest schedule in the country – match up against the 22nd [in both the AP & USA Today polls] ranked Northwestern Wildcats.

Cal starts true freshman QB Jared Goff, while Northwestern will have the dual-QB tandem of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian.  We should expect a fairly high scoring affair, as both teams will showcase explosive playmakers on offense – including RB Brendan Bigelow (Cal) and RB/KR Venric Mark (Northwestern).  With kickoff set for 7:30pm Pacific, everyone should look forward to an exciting night game!

Northwestern Week 1

Our friends at California Golden Blogs have put together detailed scouting reports on Northwestern:

offense and defense

Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald leads an experienced team coming off a 10-win season, while the Cal two-deep is littered with underclassmen:

Cal is not only breaking in two new schemes on offense and defense, both of which are significantly different than what the Bears ran a year ago, it will also start 10 sophomores or freshmen. While the talent is promising, this is a young team that could experience some growing pains on Saturday.

Ted Miller’s Pac-12 Blog

True freshman signal caller Jared Goff will direct the Bear Raid, but Cal will be missing veteran LB Nick Forbes, who is doubtful to play due to a lingering back injury.  RS freshman LB Hardy Nickerson will start in his place.  Leading returning WR Chris Harper, who had hurt his shoulder earlier in the week, will also start – as will SS Avery Sebastian, who had suffered a scary concussion a week into fall camp.  DE Brennan Scarlett will dress, but is questionable as he was limited all camp – as a result of a slow recovery from a broken hand that he suffered last season.

Cal’s offense will feature multiple running backs out of various sets – including the “regular” spread look, as well as the diamond & pistol formations.  Brendan Bigelow will start, but Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad are expected to receive a decent number of snaps.  Offensive Coordinator Tony Franklin has been on record stating that at least 10 receivers (outside & inside) will play during a given game.  This means that in addition to starters Chris Harper & Bryce Treggs (Z & X – outside) and Richard Rodgers & Jackson Bouza (Y & H – inside), reserves such as Kenny Lawler & Maurice Harris (outside) and Maximo Espitia & Darius Powe (inside) will receive significant playing time.

The offensive line is led by returning starter C Chris Adcock, who is responsible for the cadence (snap count) and line calls (protections) in the Dykes/Franklin system.  Freddie Tagaloa & Jordan Rigsbee anchor the left side of the line, while rookies Matt Cochran & Steve Moore – both redshirt freshmen, and thus a potential weak point up front – are slated to hold down the right side.  Look for senior Bill Tyndall and walk-on Brian Farley to come in as the first subs off the bench.

Defensive Coordinator Andy Buh runs a base 4-3, and we should expect to see heavy rotation in the front-7 to keep the D fresh – especially if the Bear Raid runs at the 8-second-between-plays tempo that is Franklin’s reported goal.  Deandre Coleman & Vei Moala will start at DT, but Mustafa Jalil & Gabe King should get plenty of snaps.  Similarly, Chris McCain & Dan Camporeale will start at DE, but Kyle Kragen & Todd Barr should play as well.  Puka Lopa & Brennan Scarlett may even get into the rotation at some point.

Jalen Jefferson & Khairi Fortt will be the “everydown” LB’s in the 4-2-5 set – which we should see often as a counter to Northwestern multiple/spread-option attack.  Hardy Nickerson will be the MLB in the base defense, while fellow RS freshman Mike Barton should rotate in when Jefferson or Fortt need a breather.

The secondary is the most vulnerable part of the Cal defense.  Beyond starters Stefan McClure & Kam Jackson (at CB) and Avery Sebastian & Mike Lowe (at SS/FS), there is very little depth.  Buh will need youngsters such as S Damariay Drew & NB Issac Lapite to play well in nickel and dime packages.  Former WR Joel Willis, who converted to DB in the last week of camp, may get playing time in nickel/dime looks as well.

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Pac-12 Predictions Week 1

Utah State @ Utah: Utah plays two in-state games against underrated “Mid-major” and “Independent” teams. Utah State almost beat Wisconsin and Auburn on the road the past two years. I believe Utah pulls this off at home. Utah State 21– Utah 27

USC @ Hawaii: USC sure loves playing Hawaii on the islands (remember you see get to schedule an extra game). This is the 3rd time in 10 years USC has opened against the Rainbow Warriors. USC 35 – Hawaii 21

Northern Arizona @ Arizona: In case anyone is wondering, there’s a clause Arizona documents that forces ASU or Arizona to play Nothern Arizona every year. Northern Arizona 13 – Arizona 42

Nicholls State @ Oregon: Some walk ons might get on the field. Nicholls St 10 – Oregon 63

Eastern Washington @ Oregon State: Colin Cowherd’s alma matter. Eastern Washington 3 – Oregon State 55

Washington State @ Auburn: Interesting that Jeff Tuel is starting for the Bills in week one in the NFL yet was challenged by Connor Holliday on a weekly basis last year. Go figure. Would love to see the Cougs pull of a win here but I think the O-Line of Auburn will be too strong. Both teams finished 3-9 last year. Washington State 27 – Auburn 31

Nevada @ UCLA: I’m so sick of California losing to Nevada (Packers/Niners). Nevada 13 – UCLA 35

Boise State @ Washington: Washington won last time back in 2007. Would be a big win for the Pac-12. Washington 24 – Boise State 21

Colorado @ Colorado State: Colorado has been absolutely atrocious ever since joining the Pac-12 but a new coach and season along with the return of Paul Richardson should energize the Buffalos. Colorado 21 – Colorado State 10

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Pac-12 Predictions Week 1

Let’s Go Pac-12!  The most exciting games this week are Boise@Wash, WSU@Auburn, and of course NWU@Cal. Though I would keep an eye on Nevada@UCLA, they might just pull off what they did last year against us. This year I have decided NOT to predict Cal games because of my incredible bias (been drinking a lot of kool-aid lately).

Utah State @ Utah: These Utah rivals gets to kickoff the college football season on the West Coast. Utah is hungry for revenge after last year’s overtime loss. This time they will face their in-state rival at home. I say Utah wins a tough battle to the end. Utah State 13 – Utah 17

USC @ Hawaii: Hawaii was pretty terrible last season but still managed to get as many wins as Cal (sigh).  USC is gonna have a nice vacation over in Hawaii. I think the most interesting part of this game is who is Lane Kiffin going to play at QB. USC 42 – Hawaii 13

Northern Arizona @ Arizona: Last year, ASU destroyed Northern Arizona, but Northern Arizona got much better as the season progressed. However, I don’t think the Wildcats will have much trouble here. Northern Arizona 10 – Arizona 49

Nicholls State @ Oregon: Come on. This isn’t even fair. Nicholls St 6 – Oregon 72

Eastern Washington @ Oregon State: Eastern Washington isn’t that bad…outside of D1AA. Eastern Washington 3 – Oregon State 52

Washington State @ Auburn: It would be AMAZING if WSU can beat an SEC team at their own home even if they are a lower tier one. I think this will be a close one until the 4th quarter. Washington State 17 – Auburn 42

Nevada @ UCLA: I just don’t think that Nevada’s new coach will have the same magic that Chris Ault did, but they will have some fight that will catch UCLA off guard. Nevada 17 – UCLA 35

Boise State @ Washington: They had quite a battle during their bowl game matchup this past season. I think Chris Peterson will bring that black magic of his over to Seattle to spoil Washington’s opener in their newly renovated stadium. Boise State 34 – Washington 24

Colorado @ Colorado State: I really think MacIntyre can turn around this program like he did at San Jose State, and even though this is an in-state rivalry game I think Colorado comes out strong to win it. Colorado 35 – Colorado State 10

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Tuesday Flashback Video: Cal v Tennessee 2007

Every Tuesday I’ll be posting a game from the past according to the week or opponent that Cal will be facing.

This week, I’ve decided to choose one of the most memorable Week 1 games that I could personally remember. First game of the season, Cal was looking for revenge against a very formidable Tennessee team. Everyone knew it was going to be a tough battle and sure enough we had one great game. In the end, it was the playmaking ability of DeSean Jackson, the reliable Justin Forsett, and the incredible speed of then freshman Jahvid Best that made it happen. And of course, our Cal defense’s Bend But Don’t Break mentality came through with a solid performance from Syd’Quan Thompson (who was lit up the year before against Tennessee).

I want to give full credit to CalBearsArchive for providing this video.

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2012 Stats – Cal vs NWU

Team Statistics
California Opponents
Scoring: Points/Game 23.0 33.1
First Downs: Total 239 298
First Downs: Rushing – Passing – By Penalty 102 – 112 – 25 114 – 147 – 37
Rushing: Yards / Attempt 4.87 4.26
Rushing: Attempts – Yards – TD 451 – 2196 – 18 477 – 2032 – 18
Passing: Rating 119.90 140.11
Passing: Yards 2499 3263
Total Offense: Yards / Play 5.75 5.66
Total Offense: Plays – Yards 817 – 4695 935 – 5295
Time of Possession / Game 27:48.92 32:11.08
3rd Down Conversions: Conversion % 34.78% 45.3%
Red Zone: Success % 78.95% 80.7%
Northwestern Opponents
Scoring: Points/Game 31.7 22.5
First Downs: Total 289 275
First Downs: Rushing – Passing – By Penalty 161 – 111 – 17 97 – 158 – 20
Rushing: Yards / Attempt 4.93 3.77
Rushing: Attempts – Yards – TD 595 – 2932 – 31 440 – 1659 – 16
Passing: Rating 121.37 119.92
Passing: Yards 2198 3257
Passing: Attempts – Completions – Interceptions – TD 369 – 231 – 7 – 14 497 – 289 – 13 – 18
Total Offense: Yards / Play 5.32 5.25
Total Offense: Plays – Yards 964 – 5130 937 – 4916
Time of Possession / Game 30:14.77 29:45.23
3rd Down Conversions: Conversion % 45.92% 40.64%
Red Zone: Success % 87.72% 79.59%

Let’s take a look at a few key statistics from 2012 Cal vs 2012 NWU:


Northwestern is a running team. About 2/3 of their plays and touchdowns come from rushing plays. NWU has both their starting and backup RBs returning along with 4/5 of their offensive line. That’s pretty daunting considering the numbers they were able to put up on the ground.  This means Cal’s front seven will have a very tough Saturday ahead of them. However, with our new 4-3 defense and returning players on the DLine, ideally, we should be able to hit every gap every play. If our defense is to succeed our defensive line must out play NWU’s veteran line. Cal is definitely the underdog in this area of competition but we have the talent and potential to pull it off.


Northwestern has a solid secondary, holding opposing quarterbacks to 119.92 rating which was around Cal’s QB rating last year (so you know NWU has held down other QBs). However, they aren’t that great either. Last year they allowed 250.0 yards/game in the air, which ranks in the lower half of FBS teams.  This will be a great opportunity for Cal’s new Bear Raid. Cal will need to get off to a fast fast fast start against NWU to put them on their heals. In Goff We Trust?

For Cal’s secondary, they are facing a senior QB in Kain Colter. The good thing is that we shouldn’t expect anything new out of him and anything particularly amazing. His 121.37 QB rating ranked only 89/124 in the nation, while Cal last year was 92nd. No wonder they prefer the run. However, if when Colter steps back to pass, McCain will need to bring his A+ game to get behind that veteran OLine forcing Colter to make a bad decision and hopefully into the hands of our secondary.


NWU 87.72% Conversion ranked 19th in the nation last year. What does that mean for Cal? It means ANY 3 and Outs and Turnovers against Cal is VERY VERY BAD for our defense. They know how to utilize good field position and have shown the ability to capitalize on any opportunity.  For Cal’s offense, it was quite a different story last season, ranking 83rd overall in redzone conversions. However, Dyke’s LaTech ranked 37th and it could have been higher if they had a better kicker. Whomever can get the stops in the Red Zone will win the game.