Maryland (0-0) at California (0-0), 10:00 EST, ESPN2, Saturday, September 5
Why to watch: Is this the year Cal finishes the year where it starts it? The Bears begin the season on the top 10 ledge and have a legit Heisman contender in RB Jahvid Best, yet have been a disappointment in this spot in recent years. If the program is to fulfill expectations and remain one of the top contenders to USC’s Pac-10 throne, a fast start, especially from beleaguered QB Kevin Riley, is an absolute must. After taking the ACC by storm earlier in the decade, Maryland has been traveling in neutral for the past five seasons. While the Terps never deliver a clunker under Ralph Friedgen, they’ve also failed to seize openings that have existed in the conference or the division. A cross-country trip to Strawberry Canyon affords the school an opportunity to make a splash and reverse the recent trend of mediocrity.
Why Maryland might win: Beating Cal requires an ample supply of team speed. The Terps are blessed with it on both sides of the ball. On offense, they’ve got All-ACC RB Da’Rel Scott, who’ll be a handful for a Bear D playing its first game with three new starting linebackers. Plus, in quarterback Chris Turner, they’ve got a fifth-year veteran to quiet the hostile home crowd. On defense, Maryland always moves well laterally, particularly linebackers Alex Wujciak, Adrian Moten, and Demetrius Hartsfield.
Why Cal might win: How about this for a twist in Berkeley? The Bears could be fueled by the defense for much of the 2009 season. That takes nothing away from Best, arguably the nation’s most dynamic long ball hitter, but this D will surprise plenty of people this fall. Yeah, the linebackers will need a few weeks to mesh, but the first and last lines of defense are fantastic. Up front, look for ends Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan to have their way with a rebuilt Terp line. And in the secondary, corners Syd’Quan Thompson and Darian Hagan are going to take an inexperienced group of receivers to school.
Who to watch: Riley is the key to the season for Cal. Period. If the program is going to reach its 2009 goals, it needs more consistency from the passing game than the past few seasons. Maryland is inconsistent in pass defense, which has to be evident once this night is over or else hands will again be wringing in Berkeley..
What will happen: This is a real bad spot for Maryland. It has to travel clear across the map with an average squad to play a talented team with a chip on its shoulder. Best will whip an already juiced up crowd into a frenzy, taking a couple of carries deep into the Terrapin secondary, while the defense will flex its muscles and focus on containing Scott. If the Bears are going to miss their target in 2009, it won’t happen on this night.
CFN Prediction: California 38 … Maryland 16
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