Bears, Wildcats to kick off Pac-12 seasonPosted: Updated:
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Sonny Dykes knew his first season as California's coach would be a struggle. The Bears had a new system, new coaches and would be starting a freshman at quarterback.
Despite all that was working against his team, even he was surprised when Cal finished 1-11 last season.
But when a team wins just one game, there's no other direction to go but up and Dykes had a feeling it wasn't just going to be a small leap this season.
"We came into (this) year feeling like this team had a chance to be very much improved," Dykes said. "The real reason was not because of the talent or any of that kind of thing as much as it was just the work ethic and commitment, the grit that the guys had shown through adversity. If you can get that from a team, then that's going to give you a chance to be successful."
So far, so good.
Cal (2-0) turned a few heads by opening the season with a road victory over Northwestern. The Bears backed that up with a rout of Sacramento State, which, for a team that had to hold on to beat Portland State last season, was another positive step.
Their win total doubled from a year ago, the Bears get a real litmus test Saturday night.
That's when Cal will face Arizona, another undefeated team that has one of the best and most balanced offenses in the country.
"We're going to have our hands full," Cal linebacker Hardy Nickerson said.
The Wildcats will be facing their first real test, too.
Arizona opened the season by crushing UNLV, pulled out a road win over Texas-San Antonio and outlasted Nevada last week. That puts the Wildcats at 3-0 for the third straight season under coach Rich Rodriguez, the first time that's happened since Jim Young did it from 1973-75.
But Cal, despite its struggles last season, figures to be a step up in competition in the first Pac-12 game for both teams.
Here's a few more things to look for in Saturday's game:
OFFENSIVE SHOW: From an offensive standpoint, this should be a fun game to watch. Arizona is eighth nationally, averaging 582.7 yards per game and is one of four FBS teams with at least 800 yards rushing and 800 passing. Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin had the nation's highest-scoring offense at Louisiana Tech and the Bears were able to move the ball in the up-tempo system even as they struggled last season. Behind QB Jared Goff, Cal is again explosive offensively, averaging nearly 500 yards per game.
CLOSE GAMES: The games between Cal and Arizona tend to be close. In the series' 31 games, 21 have been decided by eight points or less, including 10 by a field goal or less. Despite winning just one game last season, the Bears gave the Wildcats all kinds of trouble in Berkeley. Arizona won it 33-28, surviving by recovering an onside kick after Cal scored with 1:42 left.
SOLOMON'S MATURATION: Anu Solomon won a four-way battle to become Arizona's starting quarterback this season. The redshirt freshman seems to be a solid choice so far, leading all FBS freshmen with 934 yards passing, with eight touchdowns and an interception. Solomon has made a few mistakes, including an interception while in the grasp of a defender against Nevada last week, but has been a quick learner.
NUMBERS: Arizona WR Austin Hill has a catch in 20 straight games. ... Cal is 1-5 in its past six conference openers. ... Arizona has had a 100-yard rusher in 20 straight games, tied with Nebraska (1999-2000) for longest in the FBS since 1996. ... The Bears have outscored opponents 42-0 in the first quarter this season.
GOFF'S RISE: Goff went through a few growing pains last season as the Bears struggled, but still managed to set numerous single-season records, including passing yards (3,508) and total offense (3,446). He's shown no ill effects from offseason shoulder surgery, appearing even stronger heading into his sophomore season. Goff is seventh nationally in passing efficiency at 182.0 and is 20th nationally with seven TD passes even though he's played two games while some other QBs have played three.
"He has an NFL arm, he sees the field well and he's a tough competitor," Rodriguez said. "He looks even bigger and stronger now, and he's throwing the ball even better than he did last year."