BERKELEY, Calif. – With a freshman quarterback, a new coaching staff and overhauled systems on both offense and defense, California comes into its season opener against No. 22 Northwestern on Saturday night with the element of surprise on its side.
Whether that will be enough for the Golden Bears to get off to a fast start in the first year under new coach Sonny Dykes after a disastrous 3-9 campaign under Jeff Tedford a year ago remains to be seen.
Here are five things to watch in the season opener between Northwestern and Cal:
1. Difficult debut: Jared Goff will become the first true freshman ever to start his first game at Cal.
He won't get much of a chance to ease into the new role going up against a nationally ranked opponent that has seven returning starters. Goff won the job by showing great poise and accuracy in spring and fall practice that showed he's not a typical freshman.
2. Two is better than one: While Cal settled on its starting quarterback midway through fall camp, Northwestern plans once again to use two signal callers. Kain Colter is back as the starter, providing a rare triple threat as a runner, passer and receiver. Colter threw for 872 yards and eight touchdowns last season, added 894 yards rushing and 12 scores on the ground, and even caught 16 passes for 169 yards.
Trevor Siemian comes off the bench as the more natural passer in the duo, and led game-winning fourth-quarter drives against Syracuse, Michigan State and Mississippi State last season.
3. Big-play Bigelow: Cal fans are hoping to see a lot more of running back Brendan Bigelow than they did a year ago.
Bigelow was spectacular when he played, averaging 9.8 yards per carry with electrifying runs of 59 and 81 yards on his four carries at Ohio State.
But Bigelow got only 44 carries and caught seven passes all season as he struggled to grasp Tedford's intricate offense.
4. Staying up late: Cal could get an advantage with the late start at 7:30 p.m. PDT, which will feel even 2 hours later for the Wildcats.
Northwestern typically practices in the morning, but Fitzgerald moved that to the late afternoon in fall camp.
This week, the Wildcats have been practicing until about 11 p.m. in preparation for the late kickoff.
5. White out: The Wildcats will have a new look – literally – when they take the field against the Bears. Northwestern will wear white helmets for the first time since 1980 to complement the team's new white uniforms.