Every week, InsideNU's cast of writers will be making predictions for that week's game. Here goes round one, where we all overwhelmingly agree on the winner, and the score predictions are pretty close, as well.
Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
People have looked at this game throughout the offseason, and described it as a “trap game.” For good reason: Cal is installing a new coach, famous for a high-powered, up-tempo offense, that could, conceivably, put the Wildcats’ shaky pass defense under a whole lot of pressure. That is the best possible scenario for the Golden Bears -- a chaotic, scoreboard-flipping shootout that ends somewhere up in the 40s. But in Sonny Dykes’ first season at the helm, with a true freshman quarterback running the offense, it’s a stretch to believe the Bear Raid will be firing on all cylinders from the get-go.
I don’t doubt the Golden Bears will score points, but Nortwhwestern will, um, score more. The secondary will play above itself, Tyler Scott and Dean Lowry will give make first-year QB Jared Goff uncomfortable all game, Kain Colter and co. will shred Cal’s mediocre-to-leaky defense and Pat Fitzgerald will push his undefeated record in season-openers to 8-0. The Wildcats will take their first, and ostensibly most challenging, nonconference game and move on to a comparably easier three-week stretch.
Northwestern 31, Cal 21
Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
It's kind of weird how many different predictions I've heard about this game. Some say NU is going to be burned by the BearRaid, while others say the game will show off the Wildcats' new and improved defense. Some expect Cal to score, but most expect NU to score. Some see quarterback Jared Goff exploding in his first ever college game, but that seems a tough thing to expect from a freshman. Maybe I'm crazy, but I'm expecting a relatively uneventful game.
I won't be surprised if Cal keeps it close early on, but NU's running game will wear the Golden Bears out and the Wildcats will pull away down the stretch. More importantly, NU will show it has the defensive depth along the front seven to hang right with the quick Cal offense. It won't be a blowout, but it won't be all that close, either. I think we'll see some nice things from Goff, and after the game a lot of people will be saying, "Wow, that kid is impressive. He has the potential to be good down the road." That's basically Cal's team in a nutshell. NU, however, should be good now, rather than down the road.
Northwestern 34, Cal 21
Callie Counsellor (@CCounsellor)
Cal is starting a true freshman in Jared Goff. He’s obviously good, given he won the starting job over redshirt freshman Zach Kline, and I’m sure he had a great fall camp. But practice is not the same as a real, live division 1 college football game, especially against a team on the rise from the Big Ten. Maybe the pressure will cause him to step up and prove why he was chosen for the job. More likely, he’ll make a few big rookie mistakes that Northwestern will need to capitalize on.
The Wildcats’ offense is in its second year of the two-quarterback system so they won’t need much of an adjustment period and will thrive from the get-go. The Golden Bears, on the other hand, have a new quarterback and a new coach with a new system; there will be some growing pains and it will be obvious in this match.
Northwestern 31, Cal 21
Josh Rosenblat (@JMRosenblat)
Cal could hang with Northwestern early in the contest but the Wildcats’ defense should eventually cause problems for the Golden Bears’ freshman quarterback Jared Goff. Although talented, Goff’s inexperience could haunt Cal as they go up against a talented group of linebackers and defensive backs. This could turn into a shootout, but Northwestern’s defense should be able to force Goff into a few mistakes that Kain Colter, Venric Mark and the rest of the offense should have no trouble taking advantage of. The ‘Cats can make a statement in their opener if they take care of business against a quality opponent.
Northwestern 34, Cal 23
Nate Williams (@BigEasyCat44)
On the first of two hopeful trips to California this season, the Cats take on the Cal Golden Bears. Even with all the factors against NU accounted for, I just do not see this one going Cal's way. I expect Fitz/McCall to also come out early with a fast, up-tempo, no huddle offense to challenge the Cal D’s conditioning and “mental toughness." The Cal D flops and the Cats put long drives together with success both on the ground and in the air on a defense that returns only six starters from last year, two of whom likely will not see action. Colter and Mark account for 2 touchdowns each on the ground while the two-headed QB monster accounts for two more in the air.
Cal daringly punts to Venric Mark and he has at least one big return, but doesnt reach the endzone. Budzien isn’t needed for anything but PATs and goes 6-6 on those.
Cal's first drive or two will likely be scripted. So I see Cal getting a couple early scores as NU will get beat on a few big plays by Bigelow and maybe a deep ball or two. This will create a bit of concern for viewers. However, without any game tape, NU’s defense knows they have to go in and make proper adjustments for the remainder of the game once Dykes tips his hand the first couple drives.
In the end, Dykes’ “Bear Raid” offense turns, well... Bearish. The Offense, led by freshie Jared Goff and center Chris Adcock — the Center is responsible for all checks and blocking schemes in Dykes offense — doesn’t pan out as Cal hoped. Struggles with checks in blocking schemes under 3 new offensive linemen and a new center and QB combo allows for 3rd and 4+ to be a nightmare for Cal, as the NU defensive line puts up big stats (4 sacks). The DL gives the secondary great pressure to make plays and create turnovers. I’m calling for 3 interceptions. Cal scores off one of their first couple drives, a big play, and a measly FG. The cat nap works and the Cats win.
Northwestern 42, Cal 17
Jon Davis (@NUHighlights)
Year one. This is the theme for four of Northwestern's first six opponents. Bill Conelly, in his latest book, refers to this as "year zero." History hasn't been particularly kind to coaches taking over even the most storied programs. Remember Saban's 21-14 loss at home to ULM towards the end of his first year? It'll be interesting to see how Dykes and his team progress throughout the year since they open up the 2014 season in Evanston. But he will need time, not just to implement his system, but to get the right guys on campus. Northwestern, on the other hand, is primed for a special season. Practice reports have been glowing and expectations for the offense, defense, and special teams units individually have never been this high under Pat Fitzgerald. It also seems like the team is in the right place mentally. I'm not expecting a masterpiece, but I think we'll see something close to what we were hoping for in the 4th quarter last year at Syracuse.
Northwestern 34, Cal 17
Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
Pat Fitzgerald's 7-0 record in season-openers is being tossed around a little too liberally for my taste — quite a few of those seven wins weren't so pretty. I remain a little bearish on the Wildcats' secondary, but still with a true freshman starting at quarterback for the Golden Bears, I'm feeling an Ibraheim Campbell interception or two. Cal's injuries on the defensive side of the ball turn this game in Northwestern's favor. The more experienced team will secure victory in this one, though the fast-paced offense will give the Wildcats plenty of fits along the way.
Northwestern 38, Cal 28
Gordon Voit (@GordonVoit)
Cal’s defense gets no love and I’m not sure why. Sonny Dykes has a true sleeping giant on his hands, particularly in the front seven. Northwestern is lucky in that Cal’s ace, 320-pound DeAndre Coleman, will line up across from anchor Brandon Vitabile. The real test will come on the edges, where Cal’s lightning-and-thunder combo of Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett will test Jack Konopka and Paul Jorgensen. Konopka especially has made a name for himself as a foot speed guy, and his test comes Saturday. Northwestern dodges another bullet in that junior linebacker Nick Forbes is doubtful. He and Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt are a scary, scary combo on the weak side.
Optimism in the Northwestern passing attack is as high as it’s been since C.J. Bacher was under center. It’s far from the primary identity of this offense, but I have a feeling Northwestern will be throwing the ball even more than the heightened expectations on Saturday. That’s where the soft spots are on the Cal defense – the outside. Look for lots of routes over the middle, particularly to the strong side where Forbes’ absence will open up seams. But fewer fireworks overall than Vegas is predicting.
Northwestern 21, Cal 16