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California Golden Bears vs. Washington State Cougars Preview and Prediction

Author:
Luke Falk

Luke Falk

Points will not be in short supply when Washington State and California clash this weekend. The scoreboard always seems to get an intense workout whenever these two explosive offenses share the same field.

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The No. 23 Cougars (7-2, 6-0 Pac-12) are off to their best start in conference play since 2002 behind an offense that averages a healthy 43.0 points per game. Washington State leads the Pac-12 in passing offense (383.9 yards per game) and first downs (251). Aiding the Cougars is a defense that yields just 24.7 points and 373.3 yards per contest.

California, on the other hand, is experiencing struggles because its defense can't keep up with the offense. The Bears (4-5, 2-4) lead the Pac-12 in total offense (517.1 ypg) and rank third in scoring offense (39.7 ppg). But California is 11th in total defense (527.9 ypg) and last scoring defense (44.4 ppg).

California leads the all-time series 46-26-5 and has won 10 of the last 11 games in the series. Washington State is looking to break a five-game home losing streak to the Bears. The Cougars' last win in Pullman was a 51-20 result in 2001.

California at Washington State

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 10:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Washington State -14.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Falk vs. Webb
Who is the best passer in the Pac-12? An intriguing head-to-head matchup between Luke Falk and Davis Webb may settle this question. Both quarterbacks have engaged in a spirited battle to lead the conference in several offensive categories this season.

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Falk currently has the edge in passing yards and total offense. The junior has racked up 3,237 passing yards and 3,183 total yards through nine games. He leads the Pac-12 in both categories while ranking second nationally in passing yards and fifth nationally in total offense. Falk also owns the nation's best completion percentage, connecting on 74.1 percent of his passes.

Webb is within striking distance of Falk in all of these categories. The senior has churned out 3,176 passing yards and 3,085 total yards this season. He ranks second in the Pac-12 in both categories. Webb ranks third nationally in passing yardage and seventh nationally in total offense.

These two quarterbacks make it tough to slow down Washington State and California on offense. Both teams rank in the top 20 nationally in total offense and scoring offense.

2. California's dynamic freshman duo
Chad Hansen gets a ton of headlines for his stellar play at wide receiver. Still, Hansen isn't alone on an island when it comes to moving California down field. The Bears have two freshmen who are stars in the making.

Demetris Robertson and Melquise Stovall rank as the most dangerous freshman receiver duo in team history. Stovall ranks second on the team in receptions (40) and is third in receiving yards (406). Robertson is second for the Bears in receiving yards (461) and third in receptions (38). Both players are within striking distance of several freshman receiving records at California.

They offer a perfect complement to Hansen, who is the Bears' top receiver. Hansen leads the Pac-12 in receptions per game (9.1), receiving yards per game (120.0), receptions (64) and receiving yards (840).

3. Can the Cougars make history?
A victory over California would mean so much more to Washington State than simply snapping a two-game losing streak against the Bears. It would give Wazzu a 7-0 start in conference play for the first time in school history. The Cougars have not won eight straight games since 1930, when they won nine in a row before losing to Alabama in the Rose Bowl.

Good defensive play is as much a reason for this sustained success as an explosive offense. Washington State ranks third in the Pac-12 and 17th in the FBS with 19 forced turnovers. The Cougars have forced 13 turnovers in their last six games. In the team's last two home games against UCLA and Arizona, Washington State has forced seven total turnovers. The Cougars are currently second overall in the Pac-12 in turnover margin (+10).

Final Analysis

Washington State has not had much recent success against California. Things seem favorable for that to change this season. The Bears' defense gives up points as fast as its offense scores them and that's a bad formula going up against a team like the Cougars. Both teams should reach the end zone early and often, but Washington State will ultimately get just enough stops to pull away in the fourth quarter.

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Prediction: Washington State 45, California 35

— 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.