Can you smell it, Cal fans?
The Top Dogs are grilling, the Matrix Turf is in full bloom, and the porta-potties on the East Rim are sparkling clean. It's the smell of a new season, the smell of hope, and...am I getting a hint of roses as well?
We're well inside of 100 days to kickoff, which means it's time to get a good whiff of our first opponent. So let's check the schedule and find out who's going to challenge the Bears in a thrilling early-season matchup. Get excited folks, because your California Golden Bears open up the season at home against the mighty Grambling State Tigers!
Erm. Okay, so FCS-dwelling Grambling State isn't of the same caliber as recent season-opening foes Tennessee, Northwestern, or even Nevada (although that might be for the best). But stay with me, because I've got five reasons why you should still be so hyped for Cal vs. Grambling State on September 5th.
1. We're not so different, you and I
The Tigers and Bears don't have much in common at first glance: Grambling State is a small university from Louisiana that finished in the top half of the Southwestern Athletic conference last year (7-5, 7-2). Cal, as you may know, is a large university from California that finished at the bottom of the Pac-12. But beyond the base level, there are some eerie similarities that should make this game more enticing.
Grambling State is a program on the rise, as second year coach Broderick Fobbs tries to continue rebuilding a program that went 1-11 in 2013. Does that record sound vaguely familiar? The team returns 10 offensive starters, including QB Johnathan Williams, who led the SWAC in passing efficiency and offensive production in his junior season (say, that reminds me of someone). Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the Tigers will look to find consistency in their running game and on defense, two units which ranked towards the bottom of the conference last year. The Tigers averaged just 3.2 yards per carry on offense, though power back Jestin Kelly should be able to pick up the slack as he takes on a starting role. The defense was especially vulnerable against the pass, and has something to prove as it looks to replace leading tackler Aaron Breed at linebacker as well as two safeties. Coach Fobbs and his staff brought in a slew of transfers this offseason to fill in those holes. See what I mean? Eerie!
2. Battle of the bands
It remains to be seen how well they can spell out the script Cal, but the Grambling State band has some pretty impressive credentials of its own. The World Famed Tiger Marching Band, as it's officially known, has performed at three Super Bowls, four inaugural parades, and in one award-winning Denzel Washington film. Between these guys and the Ohio State band, I think I've figured out how the AD selects our nonconference opponents.
Anybody think they'd be willing to loan us a drum major?
3. Just what I needed
Grambling State is pretty clearly the cupcake of Cal's schedule, the first warmup on the way to a showdown with Texas in week three before conference play starts. Cal has never lost to an FCS/I-AA team, and Grambling State is 3-15 all time against Division I-A (last beating Oregon State in 1985). Although there is no reason to expect those trends to change this time around, the Tigers do provide an interesting matchup for Cal's strengths and weaknesses.
The Tigers offense, the one that led the SWAC in passing, returns not just Williams for his first full season as a starter, but also his three top WR targets: Chester Rogers, Chad Williams, and Verlon Hunter. The Cal defense, the one that got shredded through the air last season, could benefit from a good challenge before facing Texas, and this crew hopes to provide just that. On the flip side, Grambling State's vulnerable defense should allow Jared Goff and the Bear Raid to start finding their groove without giving away too many secrets. At the same time, the Tigers defense led the FCS in sacks in 2014 with 3.75 per game, so Cal's new offensive line coach Brandon Jones should expect his unit to be tested early on.
4. Life's great questions
Is Grambling State really a state? Why are their colors black and gold if they call themselves the Tigers? Why do they sometimes play in red pants? All these questions and more will be answered on September 5th. I am hyped to know the answers.
There are also some unanswered questions about the Tigers' on-field performance. The lack of highlight film on the internet keeps them shrouded in mystery for now. Is Sonny Dykes' staff better at scouring the web for grainy YouTube videos than I am? We'll soon find out!
5. Okay, maybe not that exciting...
I know I promised to hype you up for the big game against Grambling State, but we do need to pace ourselves. It's a long season, you know. Without making any predictions (the football gods read CGB, you know!), there's every reason to believe that the cannon operators will be in midseason form by the end of this game. The point of this matchup is that Grambling goes home with some spending money, Cal goes home with a win, Jared Goff goes home in the third quarter with all his limbs intact, and Cal fans go home with a warm fuzzy feeling about what year three of the Sonny Dykes regime might hold. But maybe that's enough to be excited about for this one. There will be football! There will be Top Dog! The weather will be nice! It will probably be relaxing, as much as Cal football can be relaxing!
I'm hyped, are you hyped? Go Bears! Beat Grambling State!