There is a considerable amount of intrigue for Northwestern's opener on Saturday night at Cal.
The Bears are coming off of a 3-9 season, but with a new coach (former Lousiana Tech head man Sonny Dykes), a new quarterback (true freshman Jared Goff) and a new system (the wide open BearRaid) in place, there is quite a bit of mystery surrounding this team. Plus, Big Ten teams traditionally do not fare well in night games in the Pacific time zone, so the 9:30 p.m. Central time kickoff time has given Northwestern fans angst.
Will a week of 9 p.m. practices pay dividends for the Wildcats? Did they get enough Cat naps before game time? Will the secondary hold up against an up-tempo attack that wants to snap the ball every eight seconds and throw the ball all over the stadium?
WildcatReport's intrepid staff has the answers right here.
Aric "Hey There" DiLalla
Northwestern wins if… it can limit Cal's big plays. The Wildcats are the better team, and they should dominate time of possession. The only way the Bears can keep up is if Brendan Bigelow breaks a few big runs. Shut him down, and the Cats will be fine.
Northwestern loses if… they don't adjust early. There's a lot of uncertainty about how the Cal offense will look, but Northwestern must quickly adapt to whatever looks it is given. Falling behind by a couple scores early would mean trouble for the Cats.
The bottom line… Northwestern will struggle on its first few possessions and Cal will bust a big play for an early lead. This won't last, however, as Northwestern's consistent ground attack will prove too much for the Bears' D, and Goff will throw a couple killer interceptions. Northwestern should pull away in the second half.
Prediction Northwestern 38 Cal 20
Danny "Portlandia" Moran
Northwestern wins if…they convert at a high clip on third down in the first half. They will wear down the Golden Bears in the second half if they establish drives into Cal territory early on.
Northwestern loses if… Goff protects the ball. Northwestern remarkably forced 1.4 more turnovers per game on the road last season -- and they were absolutely necessary in each win at those hostile environments.
The bottom line: Cal is transitioning to a no-huddle offense with a true freshman quarterback at the helm. NU's D has seen plenty of up-tempo offense from their own experienced quarterback duo and will stifle Dykes' spread.
Prediction: Northwestern 30 Cal 16
"Cool Hand" Luke Srodulski
Northwestern wins if… they can expose the Cal line and get to Goff. They don't necessarily need to get a certain number of sacks, but they need to make him uncomfortable.
Northwestern loses if… the defense allows big plays. It's been an emphasis of the secondary to prevent them, and this will be a major test.
The bottom line: The Northwestern offense is too potent. Even if the fast-paced Cal offense pleasantly surprises its fans, Venric Mark & Co. will be too much for them to handle.
Prediction Northwestern 34 Cal 18
Alex "House of" Wayne
Northwestern wins if… the defense keeps Cal from getting its act together on offense.
The bottom line: It's really all about Northwestern getting re-acclimated to regular-season games. Cal tries to get used to a new coach and find some sort of comfort with his plans.
Prediction Northwestern 38 Cal 14
Louie "C.K." Vaccher
Northwestern wins if… it plays its game. The Cats are simply the better team in this matchup and should take care of business on both sides of the ball.
Northwestern loses if… the secondary allows Goff to hit some big plays over the top and it turns into a Wild West Shootout.
The bottom line: The Bears have talent, but with a new coach and a true freshman QB, facing a Northwestern team coming off of a 10-win season is a tough draw for the opener -- even if it is in Berkeley. The late kickoff can't help them that much against a team that has made adjusting to a time change an art form.
Prediction: Northwestern 34 Cal 23