California Golden Bears at Northwestern Wildcats
Ryan Field – Evanston, Illinois
Saturday, August 30, 2014, 3:30 pm Eastern, TV: ABC or ESPN2
Opening Line: Northwestern -13
Current Line: Northwestern -10
Opening Total: 61
Current Total: 62 1/2
Opening Money Line: Northwestern -465 / California +370
Current Money Line: Northwestern -400 / California +330
The Northwestern Wildcats host the California Golden Bears Saturday in the season opener for both teams. Northwestern leads the series 2-0 against California including 44-30 last season in Berkeley.
California went 1-11 last season in the first year under coach Sonny Dykes. The only win was against Portland State and aside from a 5 point loss to Arizona every loss by 14 points or more. Cal averaged 331 passing yards and 122 passing yards. On defense Cal allowed 341 passing yards and 189 rushing yards per game. The Golden Bears were outscored 46-23. Fifteen starters are back for the Golden Bears including 9 on offense.
Northwestern went 5-7 last year under coach Pat Fitzgerald now in his 9th season with the Wildcats. Northwestern started off the season 4-0 but then lost seven straight games to open Big Ten play. Only a narrow win over rival Illinois in the season finale prevented a winless Big Ten season. The Wildcats averaged 227 passing yards and 172 rushing yards. On defense, Northwestern 256 passing yards and 167 rushing yards. The Wildcats were outscored 27-26 last season. Seventeen starters are back including 9 on offense.
For a one win team, California was surprisingly good on offense The Bears had a top ten passing offense nationally, but it didn’t often translate to points on the scoreboard. Jared Goff had a good freshman year at quarterback last season. He threw for 3,508 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
The top two rushers are back for the Bears in Khalfani Muhammed and Brendan Bigelow. Neither showed much pop and each rushed for less than 500 yards. Highly touted recruit Tre Watson will also get some carries. Four starters are back on the offensive line so they should be able to open up more holes for the running backs. Although the running game is more of an after thought in Dykes’ offense.
Receivers Chris Harper (70 catches, 852 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Bryce Treggs (77 catches for 751 yards and a touchdown) form one of the top receiving duos in the nation. Kenny Lawler had 37 catches and 5 touchdowns last season.
Cal was awful on defense last season especially against the pass. Six starters are back on defense but it will be another long season if they don’t improve.
Last season, Trevor Siemian took the majority of the snaps at quarterback, but Kane Colter took a few snaps a game as well. Colter is now with the Minnesota Vikings as a wide receiver. Siemian had a great spring and is the unquestioned starter. Last year, he completed 59.7% of his passes for 2,149 yards with 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.
The Wildcats hope running back Venric Mark returns to the form he showed in 2012 when he rushed for over 1,300 yards. Mark played in only three games last season and rushed for only 97 yards. Treyvon Green replaced Mark last year and had 137 carries for 736 yards and 8 touchdowns, along with 10 catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. Green won’t get as many carries if Mark is healthy. Warren Long and Stephen Buckley will also get some carries.
Receivers Tony Jones and Christian Jones both return. Christian had 54 catches for 668 yards and four touchdowns. Tony had 55 catches for 630 yards and 4 touchdowns. Rutgers transfer Miles Schuler should be productive in the slot. Dan Vitale plays a superback/tight end for the Wildcats. He made 34 catches for 382 yards with 3 touchdowns last year. Kyle Prater looks to be more productive since he is healthy in 2014.
The offensive line struggled last year and it could be another disappointing season for Northwestern if they don’t improve in 2014. Only center Brandon Vitabile and tackle Paul Jorgensen were safe from position battles in the spring.
The defense should be improved with 8 starters back including linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo who had 106 tackles and 4 interceptions.
Cal is 4-1 ATS in August, 6-20 overall, 1-6 in road games and in non-conference games, and 1-11 on grass.
Northwestern is 4-0 ATS in August, 7-2 in non-conference games, 1-9 overall, 0-6 at home, and on grass.
Both of these teams return a lot of starters after disappointing seasons in 2013. Both teams went on losing streaks that combined totaled 17 games. I think Northwestern is clearly the better team and this should be a shootout. The line dropped from Northwestern -13 to -10 and I think that is good value on the Wildcats.
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