Kick-off for this game is set for 10:30 p.m. ET on August 31st at Memorial Stadium and can be seen on ESPN 2 TV.
Even very good teams can get off to sluggish starts and the question here is can the Bears pull off the upset at home with such little experience at key positions?
On the Mark!
The California defense will be primarily focused on stopping senior running back Venric Mark. The move from receiver to running back in his junior year was huge for Mark who rushed for a team high 1366 yards and 12 touchdowns. Mark should have no problem penetrating the California defense which allowed 33.1 points per game last season. Mark earned 2nd-team all- Big Ten Honors last season.
Mark will be backed up by senior back Mike Trumpy. Trumpy gives the Wildcats more size and power and is a good blend with Mark’s speed and elusiveness. Trumpy has battled many injuries, but will be ready to go in his final year of eligibility as the Wildcats are a legitimate contender to win the Big-Ten Title.
Two Quarterback System
Even though their numbers weren’t big last season, this system worked well for Northwestern between Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. Kolter is more of your Taylor Martinez type of quarterback that will run with the ball while Sieman is more of a pure passer. Kolter ran for 894 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Many people think that there’s room for Kolter at the next level due to his ability to make big plays and his versatility.
Aside from having just 2 returning starters on the offensive line, the Kolter should excel against a beaten-up Bears defense.
Players to look for on the defensive side of the ball are converted defensive end Tyler Scott (12.5 sacks) and linebacker Damien Proby (112 tackles).
Inexperience at QB
With the graduation of Zach Maynard, California will need on the job training as they have 3 freshman battling it out for the starting position. Redshirt freshman, Zach Kline, seems to be the best candidate for the job as he possesses a cannon for an arm and can throw on the run.
Not only do the Bears have to worry about the quarterback position, but they lose their 2 top running backs to the NFL. Junior Brendan Bigelow (431 yards, 9.8 yards per carry, 3 TD) returns with his surgically repaired knee and has major potential if he can stay healthy.
Even though the passing game will have to play out, receivers Chris Harper (544 yards, 2 TD) and Bryce Treggs (216 yards 1 TD) will be targeted often. This is a young Bears receiving core.
Switching Defensive Schemes
California decided to change up a 3-4 defense that wasn’t working . Linebackers Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett will be moving up front. Nose tackle, DeAndre Coleman, will be the leader of the Cal defense after deciding to bypass the pros. Coleman is a huge presence at 6 foot 5, 320 pounds and playing where he feels comfortable. Last season, he had 48 tackles and 3 sacks. Look for Coleman to provide lots of backfield pressure.
California is a team in transition and it will be a rude awakening when they meet a Northwestern team with major talent on both sides of the ball. Look for the Northwestern defense to dominate in an easy victory.
NCAA FB Pick: Bet Northwestern -5.5 at William Hill