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California (0-0) at Northwestern (0-0)



The Sports Network

DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 30, 3:30 p.m. (ET)

FACTS & STATS: Site: Ryan Field (47,130) -- Evanston, Illinois. Television: ABC. Home Record: California 0-0, Northwestern 0-0. Away Record: California 0-0, Northwestern 0-0. Neutral Record: California 0-0, Northwestern 0-0. Conference Record: California 0-0, Northwestern 0-0. Series Record: Northwestern leads, 2-0.

GAME NOTES: Less than a month after losing star running back Venric Mark, the Northwestern Wildcats will begin the 2014 season with a non-conference matchup against the California Golden Bears at Ryan Field.

Mark left the team in mid-August, days after being suspended for two games due to a violation of team policy. He has since transferred to West Texas A&M. It is quite a loss for the Wildcats, who were expecting the same back that tallied 1,366 yards in 2012, but missed most of last year due to injury. His injury along with that of starting quarterback Kain Colter kept the Wildcats from reaching the high expectations set for them, as they finished 5-7 overall and just 1-7 in Big Ten Conference play.

California had an even worse run through the 2013 campaign, finishing at 1-11 in its first season under head coach Sonny Dykes. The only win they managed came in a 37-30 final against FCS foe Portland State. The Golden Bears have now had a losing record in three of the last four seasons following a streak of seven straight bowl appearances.

One of the 11 losses suffered by the Golden Bears came against Northwestern, with these teams also meeting in the first week of the season (44-30). As a result, the Wildcats are 2-0 in the all-time series.

With Colter and Mark sidelined last season, Northwestern leaned on the work of Trevor Siemian and Treyvon Green. Now both have the starting roles all to themselves.

Siemian lined up under center and performed well, throwing for 2,149 yards and 11 touchdowns on just under 60 percent completions. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has to be encouraged by Siemian's last time on the field, as he threw for 414 yards and four touchdowns on 31-of-44 passing in a 37-34 win over Illinois in the season finale.

As for Green, he was able to make up for the loss of Mark at least partially. He tallied 736 yards and eight touchdowns, including a 129-yard, two-score effort against Cal. It was one of three 100-yard showings he managed on the campaign.

The receiving corps is extremely dynamic, with Christian Jones (54 receptions, 68 yards, four TDs) and Tony Jones (55 receptions, 630 yards, four TDs) both capable of putting together big games, while Dan Vitale (34 receptions, 382 yards, three TDs) is actually listed as a slotback.

If everything comes together, the Wildcats could have a potent unit on their hands or at least one that improves upon the offensive effort of last season (399.6 ypg).

Of course that won't matter if they can't find a way to stop the opposition. Last season they were one of the worst teams in the Big Ten in total defense (423.5 ypg). With nine returning starters, there is a good chance that the unit will be more effective.

Senior linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo (106 tackles, four INTs) is a playmaker in the middle of the field, and Collin Ellis (78 tackles, three INTs) is a capable defender against the pass.

While Dykes did not earn many wins in his first season with California, he certainly changed the offensive culture. The Golden Bears went from the ninth- best passing team in the Pac-12 in 2012 (208.3 ypg) to third (329.8 ypg) as he instilled the high-octane air attack he utilized at Louisiana Tech.

At the center of the offensive rebuild was freshman quarterback Jared Goff. Goff struggled at times, but in general had a very strong start to what looks like a promising college career. He finished with 3,508 yards, breaking a school record, and he completed 60.3 percent of his passes. Consistency will be the key this year.

Goff has a ton of weapons to work with in the passing game. Chris Harper (70 receptions, 852 yards, five TDs) and Bryce Treggs (77 receptions, 751 yards, TD) are an explosive pair of wideouts. Kenny Lawler (37 receptions, 347 yards, five TDs) will also see plenty of opportunities in Dykes' system.

Running the ball is not a big priority for California, but Khalfani Muhammad (445 yards, four TDs) and Daniel Lasco (317 yards, two TDs) are the guys who will likely get the call when Dykes wants a change of pace.

Dykes' work on the offense was remarkable, but because of the focus he put there the defense really suffered. The Golden Bears ranked at the bottom of the Pac-12 in both total defense (529.6 ypg) and scoring defense (45.9 ppg). Players to watch on the unit, which desperately needs to get better, are linebackers Michael Barton (64 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and Jalen Jefferson (64 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks), along with safety Michael Lowe (67 tackles).

This game should not lack offense, even with Northwestern missing Mark. The difference will likely come on defense. The Wildcats have shown the ability to capitalize on mistakes through the air, so Goff will need to be flawless because the Golden Bears' defense has yet to prove it can play well enough to carry the team to victory.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northwestern 35, California 28

08/29 15:15:18 ET

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