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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 1, 3:00 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Memorial Stadium (63,000) -- Berkeley, California. Television: Pac-12 Network. Home Record: Nevada 0-0, Cal 0-0. Away Record: Nevada 0-0, Cal 0-0. Neutral Record: Nevada 0-0, Cal 0-0. Conference Record: Nevada 0-0, Cal 0-0. Series Record: California leads, 22-2-1.
GAME NOTES: A revamped Memorial Stadium in Berkeley re-opens for business on Saturday afternoon, as the California Golden Bears clash with the Nevada Wolf Pack in non-conference action.
California, which was forced to play its home games at AT&T Park in San Francisco last season, is coming off a campaign in which it finished 7-5 during the regular season, winning three of the last four outings, before stumbling against Texas, 21-10, in the Holiday Bowl down the road at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
The Golden Bears opened the 2011 season with three straight wins, although those victories came against non-threatening opponents such as Fresno State, Colorado and Presbyterian. The squad delivered four wins in nine tries versus Pac-12 opponents for head coach Jeff Tedford who enters his 11th season at the helm and is already the winningest coach in program history (79-48).
As for the Wolf Pack, led by hall of fame head coach Chris Ault, like so many other schools from the Western Athletic Conference, they've made the move to the Mountain West beginning this season. In their final year in the WAC the Pack saw its share of highs and lows as it dropped three of four to both begin and end 2011. In between the squad rattled off five straight victories in order to end up 7-6 overall and 5-2 in league play, but in the end the team bowed to Southern Miss in the postseason, 24-17, to finish on a sour note.
Cal holds a commanding 22-2-1 advantage in the all-time series between these two squads, but it was Nevada which blew away the Bears in the most recent matchup in 2010 by a score of 52-31.
A look at the depth chart for the Wolf Pack shows that they have one of the youngest sets of quarterbacks in the nation entering 2012, but the good news is that sophomore Cody Fajardo has already been battle tested. Fajardo was the WAC Freshman of the Year after completing close to 69 percent of his passes for 1,707 yards and 6 touchdowns. But like so many signal-callers in the Pistol Offense, Fajardo also made huge gains on the ground with 694 rushing yards and a team-best 11 scores.
Stefphon Jefferson has been identified as the primary ball carrier for Nevada, aside from Fajardo of course. Now a junior, Jefferson averaged better than six yards per carry a year ago and landed in the end zone five times.
Making a return for the Pack at wide receiver is Brandon Wimberly who missed all of 2011. Like Fajardo, Wimberly was also named the WAC Freshman of the Year at one time, so his presence will be a welcomed addition when it comes to stretching the field.
The scoring defense, at least on paper, appeared to be rather decent for the Pack in 2011, but taking into account the team holding New Mexico, UNLV and Idaho to a combined 10 points shouldn't hold too much weight. The squad lost a couple of linebackers to the NFL Draft, but still the group in the middle of the field should be rather strong in 2012 thanks to Albert Rosette moving back to his natural linebacker position after spending last season as a defensive end.
Considered two of the best players at their positions in the conference, safeties Duke Williams and Marlon Johnson were keys reasons why the group ranked first in the WAC and 22nd nationally in pass efficiency defense with a rating of 115.14.
A starter in all 13 games a season ago for the Golden Bears, Zach Maynard is ready to assert himself as one of the quarterbacks to watch in the Pac-12 this time around. Maynard completed 57 percent of his attempts for close to 3,000 yards, tossing 17 TDs against 12 interceptions. When not throwing the ball, the signal-caller also ran for another 4 touchdowns which was third-best on the unit.
Senior tailback Isi Sofele was fifth in the league and 22nd nationally with better than 100 ypg on the ground, his 5.2 yards per attempt and 10 rushing scores helping to take some of the pressure off Maynard.
The other key figure on offense again this season is junior wideout Keenan Allen, who was one of the top receivers in all of football last year with 98 catches for 1,343 yards, but the end result was just 6touchdowns, a number that needs to increase this year for sure.
The defense for Cal has lost several key contributors from a year ago when the team ranked first in the conference and 25th nationally in total defense with 332.9 ypg allowed. The squad was also first in the Pac-12 and seventh in the country in tackles for loss per game (7.69), a number that figures to take a hit while new players establish themselves.
In the secondary the Bears have Marc Anthony and Steve Williams who combined for 23 of the unit's 50 passes defended, so at least the group in solid in that department.
The excitement of bringing football back to Memorial Stadium should give the Golden Bears a solid jolt on the field, but the Wolf Pack isn't about to back down.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: California 31, Nevada 20
08/31 10:28:37 ET
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