By Tim Chapman Writer/Analyst


Kansas State Pass vs. Cal Pass Defense
Edge: Kansas State

The KSU run game will be the biggest catalyst in the success of the pass game. Ell Roberson completed 52 percent of his passes a year ago, but only had four games where he had to throw the ball more than 20 times. When Ell throws the ball well, the Wildcats are unstoppable. In his two losses, though, "ER" completed less than 39 percent of the throws he made. WR James Terry is a legit deep threat, who should garner much of the attention from the Cal secondary. This will leave the middle and sidelines available for TE Thomas Hill, who I expect to have a big game. I also expect to see Sproles and Alsup to turn in a few big YAC gainers out of the backfield. Cal will be breaking in new defensive personnel and will have to contend against all that KSU speed. With the Bears paying too much attention to the line of scrimmage, Kansas State will cash in on the passing game when they need to.

Cal Pass vs. Kansas State Pass Defense
Slight Edge: Kansas State

Though the Bears are breaking in a new starter, Tedford has been quite the architect in molding solid QBs over the years. The Bears averaged 248 yards per game via the pass and the "air apparent" looks to follow up with similar numbers. Right now, Aaron Rodgers seems to have the inside track over Reggie Robertson to take snaps. It will be extremely important for Cal to spread out this quick KSU defense to set up some sort of a run game. You can expect a 200-yard performance from Rodgers, but it will come as a result of putting the ball in the air 35+ times in search of some sort of offensive progress. The K-State defense will cause too much confusion and wear on the Cal front and in the end, Rodgers will get beat up.

Kansas State Run vs. Cal Run Defense
Edge: Kansas State

Cal faired pretty well against the run last year, giving up only 114 ypg. This year though, they return only one starter in the front seven and will be going against a KSU offense that averaged 264 ypg on the ground. Yikes. This is the area of major focus in this contest. If Cal can somehow slow down the rushing attack and force Roberson to put the ball in the air, the Bears have a shot at pulling the upset. It'd be real nice, wouldn't it Cal fans? Roberson and Sproles should combine for over 200 yards and pad the tackle stats for the Cal safeties. Both should start their own Heisman campaigns in scintillating fashion against a virgin defense that needs time to grow.

Cal Run vs. Kansas State Run Defense
Edge: Kansas State

Ace Echemandu was penciled as the starting tailback going into last season before tearing his ACL He returns to 2003 as the starter and brings with him some heavy expectations, especially with the inexperience at QB. Cal was not impressive running the football last year and can use that as their element of surprise if they put forth a concentrated effort to the ground game. Even so, KSU allowed just 78 yards per game rushing last year and bring a strong front seven. Surprise or not, Cal will find it very difficult to get past this defense. KSU's LBs all move very well to the football, so it will be pivotal for the Bears to spread them around by throwing the football and giving them reason to make false steps (back) and give ground to the line of scrimmage. I don't expect much of any flash on the ground for Cal. KSU will put the lights out on the Golden Bears' running attack early and set the defensive tone for this game.

Special Teams
Edge: Kansas State

KSU brings more firepower in this area, as Cal must replace three of their four specialists. The Wildcats are naturally an aggressive player in the special teams game and Darren Sproles gives KSU an explosive return man. This phase of the game should produce something, well, special that night. Special Teams are always the most vulnerable facet of an opening game because teams spend the least amount of time working on this area. I expect to see either a big return for a TD or a block returned for the same for one of the two teams- bank on it being the Wildcats.

Final Thoughts

KSU has won 20 of their last 22 non-conference grudges, with both losses coming in bowl games. Sure, their competition hasn't been real top heavy, but included are wins against Arizona State, USC (twice), Tennessee, and Iowa. The Wildcats once again carry a load of talent and expectations for the upcoming season. They have been itching to get back on the field ever since the thrilling Holiday Bowl victory against Arizona State last December and now get that opportunity against an unusually confident Cal team. They have one of the more explosive offenses in the country and a defense that will prove punishing by game's end. Cal won't put up much of a fight against the Wildcats as the lack of a run game and the effects of a thin, inexperienced defense will have them pinned against the ropes all night. Snyder will get it done in yet another opener and Cal fans will see the beginning of what might be a "step down" year.

Chappy's Pick: Kansas State 31 Cal 13