California enjoyed a more successful debut to the 2016 season than most Pac-12 teams did. Now back in their home state, the Bears will get a much more serious test than what Hawaii offered.
San Diego State will put the nation's second-longest active winning streak on the line when it hosts California on Saturday. The Aztecs have won six straight at home and are 15-2 in their last 17 at Qualcomm Stadium overall. San Diego State has won 11 consecutive games dating back to last season — the longest winning streak since the Aztecs won 21 in a row under Don Coryell from 1968-70.
This is the eighth meeting between California and San Diego State. The Bears lead the series 4-3 after beating the Aztecs 35-7 in Berkley a year ago.
California at San Diego State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept 10 at 10:30 pm ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: San Diego State -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Can California stop Donnel Pumphrey?
The Bears did not inspire any confidence they can withstand a good rushing offense after Hawaii ran for 248 yards and three touchdowns against Cal in the season opener. Pumphrey, the active FBS career rushing leader, certainly offers a tough test.
The Aztec senior has 4,370 career yards rushing. In his last 15 home games, Pumphrey has racked up 2,057 yards and 21 touchdowns — an average of 137.1 yards per game. He totaled 98 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in the season opener against New Hampshire.
Making Pumphrey more dangerous is the presence of sophomore quarterback Christian Chapman. He threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-25 passing against the Wildcats. Chapman's mobility and accuracy will keep Cal from simply loading the box to stop Pumphrey.
If San Diego State gets going on the ground, that could be bad news for the Bears. The Aztecs have won 23 consecutive games when reaching 200 rushing yards. They are 31-2 overall under head coach Rocky Long when rushing for at least 200 yards.
2. Strength vs. Strength
California has averaged 630.2 yards of total offense and 46.0 points per game in its last five games dating back to the final four contests of the 2015 season. The Bears totaled 630 yards on offense against Hawaii. Davis Webb had a particularly effective debut, throwing for 441 yards and four touchdowns on 38-of-54 passing. His performance was good enough to place him 10th in school history for yards passing in a single game.
If there is any team equipped to slow down California's offensive machine, the Aztecs might be up to the task. San Diego State has held 12 consecutive opponents to 400 yards of total offense or less. Over their last six games dating back to last season, the Aztecs have allowed just 247.3 yards and 10.3 points per game.
During their current 11-game winning streak, San Diego State has outscored opponents 389-121. Only one of those games was decided by fewer than 14 points.
3. Who will win the turnover battle?
Both California and San Diego State have a knack for forcing opponents into making tons of mistakes.
San Diego State sports a plus-23 turnover margin over its last 10 games. The Aztecs have owned an edge over their opponents in that category in nine of those games. Last season, San Diego State ranked second among FBS teams both in turnovers gained (34) and interceptions (23).
In 2015, California tied for 11th among FBS teams in fumbles recovered (12) and tied for 13th in total turnovers gained (27). The Bears also tied for23rd in interceptions (15). California is already tied for second nationally in turnover margin (+3) and is eighth in turnovers gained this season after recovering a pair of fumbles and intercepting a pass against Hawaii.
California is 0-4 in games following a bye week under head coach Sonny Dykes. The odds aren't favorable for the Bears to finally end that streak this time around. San Diego State offers an imposing defense and a balanced offense that can attack Cal's weak run defense. Davis Webb has an ability to move the chains quickly, but he might not be able to do enough against an Aztecs team that is fired up to prove itself against an in-state Pac-12 rival.
Prediction: San Diego State 31, California 28
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.