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Northwestern at Cal: Sonny Dykes and Jared Goff make debut on big stage

The Bears have a great upset opportunity in their opening game.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

Northwestern at Cal - Saturday, August 31 7:30 p.m. p.t. - ESPN2

What's the story? The debut of new head coach Sonny Dykes, and his Bear Raid offense against one the Big Ten's best.

Sonny Dykes, his Bear Raid attack offense, and his true freshman starting quarterback, Jared Goff will make their debut on a national stage against what is expected to be one of the Big Ten's better teams in Northwestern. There have been a lot of expectations about the Bears' offense under Dykes and just how effective it will be against a good defense will probably be discovered in their very first game of the season.

What's at stake for Cal? The Bears have generated some excitement about moving forward with a new offense after years of being stagnant on offense, particularly in the passing game, without Jeff Tedford, but if they fail to do much through the air against the Wildcats, much of that excitement will be put on hold.

What's at stake for the Pac-12? Cal isn't expected to win this game, but the Pac-12 has regularly snuck up on the Big Ten in games exactly like this one in recent years, so it might look like the Big Ten has gained some ground on the conference if the Wildcats can easily win this game.

Enemies (Northwestern players to watch)

RB Venric Mark

Mark is a small back at 5'8 175 that has deceptive strength, but obvious speed and quickness that he used to rush for more than 1,300 yards in 2012 and become one of the Big Ten's best backs. Also look out for him in the return game if the Wildcats use him there as he returned two punts all the way back in 2012.

DE Tyler Scott

Scott will likely be Goff's biggest fear Saturday as he is the Wildcats' best pass rusher, finishing 2012 with nine sacks. The Bears' relatively inexperienced offensive line will have to reign him in if they hope to have a comfortable passing game.

Cal players on the spot

QB Jared Goff

The true freshman will be making his first start on a national stage so he'll have to get a hold of his nerves right away. The game could get ugly very quick if Goff isn't ready for the big stage.

RB Brendan Bigelow

Bigelow had a breakout game against Ohio State last year and kept the Bears in the game late almost all by himself with his long touchdown runs. Bigelow's big play ability was limited over the course of the year though because of fumbling and blocking problems - two attributes he will need to handle well to support his freshman quarterback.

Why watch? This is the Pac-12's only match-up against another BCS conference team this week and it's against a good, but very beatable opponent that should be a very interesting test for coach Sonny Dykes in his very first game.