Dykes, Goff eras at Cal open with tough test

Since new California coach Sonny Dykes named true freshman Jared Goff his starting quarterback, Goff has taken on the role of, well, Jared Goff. He's pretty much acted a lot like he did before.

That's a good thing.

"He seems really relaxed," Dykes said. "He hasn't changed. That's been the great thing about Jared. He hasn't changed since he got here in the spring."

Other, Dykes said, than get better.

Unfortunately for Dykes, Goff doesn't get an FCS team with which to get his college football feet wet. He doesn't get a preseason sort of game to see how fast things move and what it's like to play in front of 63,000 fans. He gets No. 22 Northwestern, a team with legitimate aspirations to win the Big Ten.

The way Dykes continues to talk about Goff, however, makes it seem as if he believes his young QB has the proverbial "It Factor." It's hard to describe exactly what "It" is but you know it when you see it in a QB because he seems to be smiling with his teammates after the game more often than not.

"It all begins with, how does this guy handle the team? Do they believe in him?" Dykes said. "The good thing about Jared is he has inspired confidence in our players and our football team. He does a lot of the little things well."

The Wildcats aren't really known for their defense, though they certainly were respectable on that side of the ball last year during a 10-3 season. They offer up an offense that looks more like something you'd see in the Pac-12 than the Big Ten. They ranked third in the Big Ten in scoring with 31.7 points per game in 2012 and 19th in the nation with 225.5 yards rushing per game. Quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark combined for over 2,200 yards rushing last year.

The good news is new Cal defensive coordinator Andy Buh has seen plenty of Northwestern on film because he coached at Wisconsin last year. The bad news is the Badgers didn't play the Wildcats.

Still, said Dykes, "He's familiar with their style of play to an extent."

Buh's defense is going to be hamstrung by a couple of injuries. Middle linebacker and vocal leader Nick Forbes is doubtful, and defensive end Brennan Scarlett is questionable. It appears that strong safety Avery Sebastian, who had a scary moment during preseason camp when he was hauled off the field and then hospitalized, is going to play.

The worst thing that could happen to Cal is Northwestern jumping to an early lead. That would take the crowd out of the game and put pressure on Goff. While Goff is reputed to be a cool dude, this isn't like his opener last fall for Marin Catholic at Miramonte. The stage is just a bit bigger.

Yet an ability to focus on what matters is part of what appeals to Dykes about Goff. He's a details guy.

Cal is not only breaking in two new schemes on offense and defense, both of which are significantly different than what the Bears ran a year ago, it will also start 10 sophomores or freshmen. While the talent is promising, this is a young team that could experience some growing pains on Saturday.

"I think there will be some, some growing pains, some kinks we have to work out," Dykes said. "A part of that is not only a new scheme, but we're just so young."

Dykes named Goff his starter early in preseason camp because he wanted his offense to have "clarity." He says Goff has embraced his role, mostly by continuing to do the things that won him the job in the first place.

Said Dykes, "He's done nothing but get better and better every week."