When Grambling State and California collide on Saturday at Memorial Stadium two very proud programs, both finally trending in the right direction, will take the field with high hopes on the 2015 college football season.
Grambling State became an iconic school for several reasons, but on the gridiron the program became known due to Eddie Robinson. Robinson's spirit still looms over the collective mind of college football fans even though he has been off the sidelines since 1997. But when the curtain was pulled back on the sad state of affairs the Tigers’ program had come to be mired in behind the scenes, the legacy that Robinson had built seemed long gone. The Tigers forfeited a Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) game in protest but still finished the season 7-5.
The Golden Bears were the cardiac kids in 2014 finishing 5-7 but very easily could have been an eight- or nine-win team after close losses to Arizona, UCLA, USC and BYU. Now in his third year, head coach Sonny Dykes is seeking Cal’s first bowl appearance since the 2011 season.
Grambling State at California
Kickoff: 5 p.m. ET
Network: Pac-12 Networks
Three Things to Watch
1. The Golden Bears' passing attack vs. the Tigers' defense
No matter who lines up against Cal in 2015 stopping its prolific offense led by junior quarterback Jared Goff will be the key. Goff has key targets Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler back as well as 1,100-yard rusher Daniel Lasco.
The Bears went into camp with three starters returning up front leading many to believe this unit will again be one of the top offenses in the nation after finishing No. 13 last season after averaging 495 yards a game.
2. The Golden Bears' defense
This is not so much a matchup per say but more of a question mark as to what Cal fans can expect this season. Statistically Cal was one of the worst teams in the nation, thus all the close losses, allowing 512 yards a game while giving up 40 points a game. Cal’s up-tempo offense was amazing but not amazing enough, averaging 38 points a game, which is one of the reasons the Bears missed out on a bowl game.
3. Grambling quarterback Johnathan Williams
Williams had 18 passing touchdowns last season with 2,454 yards and also led the Tigers in rushing yards with 484 and eight scores. For the Tigers to have a shot at winning, or competing, he will have to have a career day but someone else has to step up to take some of the pressure off Williams.
The Tigers have not fared well against FBS opponents. Since 2000 Grambling State has posted a win-loss record of 0-13 against FBS teams and have been outscored a collective 544-95. The last FBS win for Grambling was in 1985 when they took down the Oregon Ducks.
Cal has a tough Pac-12 and non-conference slate with San Diego State and Texas still to play. Don't be surprised if offensive coordinator Tony Franklin tries to build a sizeable cushion on the scoreboard to give defensive coordinator Art Kauffman the opportunity to break in a few new players in key positions across the field.
Prediction: Cal 56, Grambling State 13
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.