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Northwestern vs. Cal: week 1 gameday study guide

BERKELEY, Calif. -- The long months of nervous angst are over. College football is back, and Northwestern plays its first game of the season today at Cal. Since the Wildcats walked off EverBank Field with a Gator Bowl Victory on New Year's Day, we’ve brought you a surfeit of recruiting news, speculative analysis and a few other *bright* ideas we cooked up as semi-repetitive excuses to talk about Northwestern football. It’s a good thing we can finally start discussing actual games now, because the offseason look-ahead article well was nearly dried up. Below you will find a compendium of all the preview coverage we’ve churned out throughout the week. For more big-picture, season preview material, click here.

There’s probably not much left to say. It’s Saturday during college football season, and your favorite team, coming off a 10-win season, is playing its very first game – and it should be an interesting one. Whether you’re in Berkeley or firmly planted on your living room recliner, the idea of Wildcats football, even if the time zone isn’t as convenient as most Midwest residents might like, should excite you.

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A selection of InsideNU writers submitted picks with scores and explanations. The consensus, as one might expect, is a Northwestern victory, and – but for one particularly confident former Wildcat – there was little deviation in the point margin.

A compilation of practice and press conference notes from the past week: Monday press conference notes, Tuesday practice notes, Wednesday press conference notes, Wednesday practice notes.

There is a growing unease among Wildcats fans about the possibility that Cal’s offense, the Air Raid (or “Bear Raid”) system Sonny Dykes transplanted from Louisiana Tech, is going to make things awful difficult for NU’s secondary. Harder still is the fact coach Pat Fitzgerald and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz don’t have much of any relevant Cal game film to work with. Instead, they studied the Golden Bears spring game, and parsed tape from a few of last season’s LA Tech games.

Both major polls ranked Northwestern 22nd to start the season. We debate whether it belongs higher or lower, or whether its national perception feels appropriate.

The mystery of redshirt freshman Stephen Buckley: how will he be used this season? I don’t know, and neither does he. Based off everything I’ve seen in practice, it seems Buckley will get plenty of touches. This will be one of the more interesting developments to track early in the season.

Three of Northwestern’s players were ruled out for today’s game. Find out who and how it could impact the Wildcats.

Recent history tells us Northwestern, even in victory, will find a way to make today’s game uncomfortably tight for Wildcats fans.

Every football game can be broken down into three discrete phases: offense, defense and special teams. How does Northwestern match up against Cal in each phase?

A handful of helpful links to get you up to speed on all things Golden Bears. We also analyzed the nuts and bolts of Cal’s Bear Raid, new coordinator Andy Buh’s 4-3 defense and more in our Know Your Opponent feature.