The first day of September means the first day of college football—and even though this opener might not feature a much-anticipated Pac-12 matchup, getting a win in the first game of the season will be crucial for the California Bears.
Last season, Cal finished in fourth place in the Pac-12 North at 4-5 in conference play, 7-6 overall. With Oregon and an Andrew Luck-less Stanford both gunning to make a run at the top of the division once again, every game is crucial for Cal.
A win over Nevada on Saturday will set the tone—but it might not be easy.
In 2011, the Wolf Pack tied for second in the WAC, and it managed to forge the nation's eighth-best rushing attack. But last year, when it opened up its season against a Pac-12 superpower, Nevada was in for a rude reality check, suffering an embarrassing 69-20 loss to Oregon.
Here's where and when to catch Saturday's action.
Where: Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif.
When: Saturday, September 1 at 3 p.m. ET
Watch: Pac-12 Networks
Live Stream: ESPN3
Listen: KGO 810 AM in Northern California, ESPN Radio 94.5 FM in Nevada
Betting Line (via RGJ.com): Cal favored by 10.5 points
Nevada Injury Report (via USA Today)
- Running back Anthony Knight is questionable for Saturday's game against Cal because of a sore right shoulder.
California Injury Report (via USA Today)
- Defensive lineman Mustafa Jalil is out indefinitely after sustaining a knee injury.
- Linebacker Khairi Fortt is out indefinitely as he continues to recover from right knee surgery.
- Linebacker Jason Gibson is out until mid-November after breaking his right foot.
- Offensive lineman Mark Brazinski is out indefinitely after tearing his ACL last April, and a timetable for his return has not yet been set.
- Offensive lineman Dominic Galas is out indefinitely after tearing a pectoral muscle while lifting weights in the offseason.
- Defensive back Stefan McClure is out indefinitely as he continues to recover from ACL, MCL and meniscus surgery, stemming from an injury in last year's regular-season finale.
AP/ USA Today Top-25 Poll Implications
There aren't many for either of these teams—except for the fact that if Cal wins, and it continues to win over the course of the next few weeks, it will be able to work itself into the polls. An opening-game loss to Nevada, however, would be a tough blow to recover from.
Meanwhile, Nevada is looking to improve upon a decent 2011 season, and if it kicks off its campaign with a victory over a Pac-12 opponent—especially if it's a decisive victory—it could turn some voters' heads.
What They're Saying
The biggest story with regards to Cal has nothing to do with the players on the field and everything to do with the fact that the Bears are getting their home back.
After undergoing $321 million worth of renovations, according to Jeff Faraudo of the Mercury News, Memorial Stadium will welcome the Bears back for the first time in 21 months. And with a new and improved home comes a sense of urgency to start doing it proud and winning some games.
As wide receiver Keenan Allen told Faraudo:
We kind of got the picture that there's a catch with the stadium being built—we have to win games. No more excuses. We have everything in place for us. That's definitely OK.
Competing this year will be a challenge for Cal: The Bears haven't won more than seven games in each of the last two seasons.
In fact, the only person more excited about Memorial Stadium reopening than the Cal players is Nevada's Lenny Jones, a Wolf Pack redshirt freshman from just south of Berkeley, according to RGJ.com's Chris Murray.
Per Murray's report, Jones is expecting no fewer than "a couple hundred fans" for the game, which will be his first since 2010—and head coach Chris Ault expects his future defensive star to deal with the transition to college ball very seamlessly. Ault told Murray:
There’s no question he’s an improved football player. He’s obviously gotten better, but he has four days to get even better in a hurry. You have a kid going into his first ball game and seeing him in a venue like this, at Cal, you’re going to learn a lot about the kid.
Hopefully, it will be mostly positives.
Cal Player to Watch
Freshman wide receiver Bryce Treggs was named a starter by head coach Jeff Tedford in anticipation of the season opener against Nevada, and now that the excitement has worn off, it will be all about showing that he deserves it.
Tedford told the Mercury News:
We knew going in a few of the freshmen [receivers] were going to have to contribute. [Treggs has] just gotten more comfortable day in and day out.
According to the Mercury News, Treggs—the son of former Cal star Brian Treggs—won the starting job over four other freshman wideouts, though two others will play at least some role this season.
Nevada Player to Watch
Since Nevada's revamped offense will be without last year's top two rushers and top two receivers, according to the Idaho Press' Dave Southorn, it will be up to quarterback Cody Fajardo to help this offense pick up right where it left off in 2011. And given all of the personnel changes, it won't be easy.
Last season, Fajardo threw for 1,707 yards and six touchdowns—but he also threw six picks and was sacked 12 times. If he can keep the turnovers down, and if his offensive line can hold up, he has the potential to lead this team to glory.
For each of these teams, momentum will be key in the early going, just like it was last year—for better or worse. Last season, both Cal and Nevada were victimized by losing streaks: Cal's came midway through the season, just as Pac-12 play was starting up, and Nevada's came at the worst possible time: at the tail end of the season, when it dropped three of four.
A win in the first week is going to go a long way for whichever team manages to rise above. For Nevada, it would signify a statement win over a major-conference opponent; for the Bears, it would signify that they are ready to engineer a new course of history in their new stadium.
Prediction: Cal Wins
Nevada's offensive inexperience is really going to hurt, especially as Fajardo attempts to find his way with a new core of stars. Meanwhile, Cal senior quarterback Zach Maynard has experience that will translate into consistency—and a strong early showing—for the Bears.
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