And NU (remember it’s NU, STOP saying NW) vs Cal is one of the best games of this college football weekend. The spread is between 5 and 6 points, depending on who you talk to. Or don’t talk to. This is a family show here! The point is, most Big Ten and Pac 12 teams are loading up on cupcakes in week one, while Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern are playing a likely bowl bound Cal Golden Bears squad. Iowa vs. Northern Illinois will be a good game too. Penn State vs Syracuse might be decent. But for the most part, MSU, OSU, Michigan et al are playing nobodies.
NU v Cal Golden Bears is one of your weekend viewing picks! And it starts late. 9:30 CDT on ESPN2. Party time. Stay up late!
Northwestern has won all seven season-openers it has played under Fitzgerald, including four vs. BCS conference opponents. They’ve won eight openers in a row, and 11/13. The talk of this team having “higher expectations” and “the bar being raised” for NU football…
…Why because they won 10 games and took the Gator Bowl?? They won 9 in 2008.
Because they’re ranked #22 in both preseason polls?? They’ve been ranked here and there the past few years. Northwestern has been good for awhile, this is not anything new. And being ranked #22 and expected to go 9-3 or 10-2…the Wildcats have been at this level for some time. They’ve been a very solid program the past five years, I don’t see any added pressure with this season. They’ve been good and will be good. Added expectations? No one has said they’re going to meet, and then destroy Alabama in the national title game or anything.
That said, with 16/22 starters returning, and a Big Ten that was very down last year, getting to the league title game is a very realistic expectation. And it should be.
Venric Mark leads a very dynamic offense, one of the leading ground attacks in the nation. And he can catch the ball too in addition to rushing it.
“He’s a very tough guy, who plays physical even though his stature is not that of a 230 or 240 pound tailback. For two years, his primary role was as a wide receiver so you can see that in his pass-catching ability,” Fitzgerald said.
Mark turned in Northwestern’s first 1,000-yard rushing season in six years (1,366 yards), 14 total touchdowns and the second-most all-purpose
yards in a single-season in school history (2,166). The diminutive Mark burned opponents for eight 100-yard rushing games—including a career-best 182 in a win at Minnesota.
Cal Golden Bears analysis:
Northwestern and California are meeting for only the second time in their programs’ histories and the first since the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1949. The Wildcats, who were making their first-ever bowl appearance that day under head coach Bob Voigts, scored a touchdown with 2:59 remaining and intercepted a pass inside their own 5-yard line in the final minute to earn a 20-14 win, capping an 8-2 season.
Today, Coaches Tony Franklin and and Sonny Dykes bring “The System” from the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs to Cal. “The System” got La Tech a conference championship in 2011 and put up 51.5 points and 350.8 passing yards per game in 2012. The System man! The System! “we’re going to put the system on trial!”
“They put a ton of stress on every defense they faced, and scored points at a feverish pace,” Fitzgerald said of the system at LTU.
Now with the Cal Golden Bears, The System will be as up tempo as any offense in the nation. The offense is unquestionably up-tempo; Louisiana Tech’s 88.6 snaps per game in 2012 was second nationally, nearly six snaps ahead of Oregon and Arizona. The speed between plays, and the inability of the defense to properly substitute, is what made much of the Bulldogs’ attack so effective.
“We have not faced this offense, and we do some similarities in tempo from teams we have played in the past, but it’s just compounded in the opener, having no preseason games to work through some things and it’s the first time out there,” Fitzgerald said.
Brutally honest prediction: Northwestern 35, Cal Golden Bears 31. Expect a shoot-out, and a really fun game to watch. Cal is Air Raid, but they run it out of the system quite often too. Look for the Cal Golden Bears to have a balanced attack. And be sure to check out those cool new white NU helmets too!
Brutally honest record: 41-20
Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. An analyst for 95.7 The Fan, he also writes on Chicago sports media for Chicago Now. President Obama follows him on Twitter (@paulmbanks)