Northwestern went 10-3 last year, and brings damn near everybody back. Cal went 3-9, fired their head coach, replaced him with a guy installing a complex new offensive system, and will be starting a true freshman quarterback. All this lines up for Northwestern to be miles ahead of Cal in Week 1, even if the Golden Bears manage relevance in the Pac-12 in their first year under Sonny Dykes.
However, quirks about this game give the Golden Bears some distinct, unique advantages that give the more of an opportunity to win than your typical bad-team-last-year-with-new-head-coach-and-fresh-outta-high-school-QB would have in Week 1.
Here, ask Pat Fitzgerald!
Fitz calls Cal "one of the more difficult challenges of any BCS team." Says he'll know more about his team than other B1G coachs after wk 1.— Inside Northwestern (@insidenu) August 26, 2013
Luckily, it doesn't seem like the Wildcats are taking chances.
Things that are screwing things up:
1. WTF time zones
Normally, when Northwestern plays football games, it goes east. NU hasn't played a game on Pacific time since heading to Nevada in 2006, and hasn't played in California since the 1996 Rose Bowl.
But not only are they playing on the West Coast, this is the last game on the first college football Saturday of the year: 10:30 p.m. Eastern, 7:30 p.m. local.
Pat Fitzgerald has made it clear he thinks being the right amount of rested is important -- remember last year's cat nap against Nebraska? -- and that's an issue with a weird gametime.
For starters, Northwestern has been practicing at night instead of running their usual crack-of-dawn practices (Trib link). Monday night was their first practice under the lights:
No decals yet!
They're using Lakeside Field since I don't believe the normal practice field has artificial lights. (Neither does Ryan Field, for that matter.)
They're also taking sleep into account.
NU has very structured routines/sleep habits this week. "We've taken the nap to a whole new level this year."— Inside Northwestern (@insidenu) August 26, 2013
Because NU isn't in school, Fitz says they can make the changes to their practice schedule. Most schools are in session right now.— Inside Northwestern (@insidenu) August 26, 2013
At press conf, self-proclaimed nerd Brandon Vitabile says he (& all #B1GCats) making the effort to stay up later than usual to prep for PT.— Northwestern Sports (@NU_Sports) August 26, 2013
I recently just shift from sometimes having to wake up in the morning to working from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., so we will see if I need to adapt similar napping strategies. Also, napping sounds more official when you call it a "napping strategy."
2. This Sonny Dykes dude does crazy things
I think that Cal got themselves a dang coach in Sonny Dykes. He runs a
complex (ed. note: as pointed out in the comments, this is just bad word choice.) passing system that worked like gangbusters at Louisiana Tech, and to make things more complicated, Northwestern doesn't have the luxury of studying game tape: Nobody besides Dykes and his team know what it looks like at Cal.
The Wildcats have spent more time studying Louisiana Tech game film, along with tape from Cal’s spring game, than any footage of Golden Bears’ games from last season. Even the defense, which will switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 this season under new coordinator Andy Buh, features little relevant game tape from 2012 beyond the benefits of studying individual personnel tendencies.
Senior defensive end Tyler Scott sees consistency between what Dykes ran at Louisiana Tech and the various schemes and formations utilized in Cal’s spring game.
"We don’t have much film other than the spring game," Scott said. "So far I think they’re pretty consistent with what they did at Louisiana Tech, as far as offensive-wise."
So NU's normal game prep is thrown off, and they're just going to have to hope there aren't new wrinkles with a new team.
It doesn't help that the things Dykes asks his team to do are tough to prepare for in just one week. It's one of the most up-tempo offenses in college football and spreads the ball from sideline to sideline. It doesn't seem like Cal has a Colby Cameron -- Jared Goff may be a well-regarded recruit, but he's just a freshman -- but it's still a trip to get used to a playing style completely different from any other system Northwestern will play in just a few days of studying.
On the plus side, it definitely seems like they're studying. Between Spring Game film, whatever can be gleaned from that, and tape from the Bulldogs, NU is getting up on what Dykes does.
Like I said earlier, these are unique challenges that Northwestern has to prepare for. But it seems like Fitz and the Wildcats had ample time to identify the mindset they needed to take rather than get into trouble.
Cal will still be a worthy adversary, but it'll be for the right reasons, not the little things that can trip a team up.
More from Sippin' On Purple:
- Venric Mark, Northwestern Wildcats football, No. 5
- Your Northwestern Wildcats football 2013 primer
- Northwestern football: Wildcats open season vs. Cal
- Northwestern depth chart: Collin Ellis, Chance Carter starters vs. Cal
- MONDAY OF GAME WEEK SIPS, ft. Northwestern's captains and an update from me
- 'Only at Northwestern:' An Excerpt from John U. Bacon's 'Fourth and Long'