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Oregon State vs. California Football Prediction and Preview

B.J. Baylor, Oregon State Beavers Football

B.J. Baylor and the Beavers look to maintain at least a share of the Pac-12 North lead when they take on the Golden Bears in Berkeley

The Oregon State Beavers are set to take on the California Golden Bears on Saturday in a Pac-12 showdown in Berkeley. Oregon State improved to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in Pac-12 play following a 42-34 victory over Utah last week. The Beavers share the Pac-12 North lead with archrival Oregon and therefore control their destiny for a bid to the conference championship game. Cal is 2-5 overall and 1-3 in the league, which puts the Bears in last place in the division. However, Cal comes in with some momentum after beating Colorado 26-3 a week ago.

Oregon State at California

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Oregon State -1.5

When Oregon State Has the Ball

Chance Nolan took over as the starting quarterback late in 2020 following an injury to Tristan Gebbia but watched as Colorado transfer Sam Noyer won the opportunity to start against Purdue in the 2021 season opener. However, Nolan impressed in relief during the 30-21 loss and moved to the top of the depth chart ahead of the Week 2 matchup against Hawaii.

Nolan hasn't been perfect; he completed just 18 of 40 passes (45 percent) for 206 yards (5.15 per pass attempt), zero touchdowns, and three interceptions in back-to-back starts against Washington and Washington State in recent weeks. But he's been great otherwise, completing 72.5 percent of his throws for an average of 211.0 yards per game with an 11:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and an average of 10.3 yards per pass attempt. That includes going 14-for-19 for 208 yards (10.9 ypa) and two touchdowns last week in a bounce-back performance against Utah. For context, only two FBS starting quarterbacks have averaged more than 10.0 yards per pass this season: Coastal Carolina's Grayson McCall (13.4) and Ohio State's C.J. Stroud (10.6). Nolan ranks 19th nationally and second in the Pac-12 at 8.9.

Nolan's success has come without a consistent go-to playmaker at receiver. Trevon Bradford leads the Beavers with 21 receptions and 278 yards, but he has just one touchdown. Fellow wideout Tyjon Lindsey (11 rec., 198 yds., 3 TDs) and tight end Teagan Quitoriano (11, 129, 2) are the only Oregon State players with multiple touchdown grabs, and Tre'Shaun Harrison (13, 201, TD) has come on in recent weeks. However, the Beavers have been difficult to stop largely because running back B.J. Baylor has emerged as the unexpected Pac-12 rushing leader. Baylor has 829 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns — both tops in the conference — on 118 carries this season. His 118.4 rushing yards per game rank sixth nationally.

When California Has the Ball

Cal quarterback Chase Garbers hasn't had to fight for his job in a while. Garbers made his 30th career start last week against Colorado and set the school rushing record for the position in the process. His career-high 96 rushing yards against the Buffaloes pushed him to 1,025 over his four years but, most importantly, helped lead the Bears into the win column for the first time in Pac-12 play this season. Garbers has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 1,717 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions this year, averaging 7.1 yards per pass. He ranks third in the league in passing (245.3 ypg), just 101 total yards and 14.4 per contest behind the leader, USC's Kedon Slovis. Garbers also has gained 312 yards and scored twice on the ground.

Rushing production from the quarterback has been necessary because Cal's talented running back combination of Damien Moore and Christopher Brooks has been inconsistent. Moore leads the team with 392 yards and five touchdowns on 81 carries, but he hasn't scored since conference play began and hasn't had more than 12 attempts or 46 yards in a game in October. Brooks has carried the ball a combined 26 times for 129 yards over the last two weeks, giving him double-digit touches for the first time since 2019. Both have chipped in as receivers as well with Moore's 12 receptions for 87 yards and one touchdown and Brooks' 67 yards on 12 catches.

Nikko Remigio leads the team with 26 catches but ranks fifth with 148 yards. Remigio is one of four Cal receivers to catch two touchdown passes this season, along with wide receiver Trevon Clark (21 rec., 379 yds.) and tight ends Jake Tonges (15, 180) and Gavin Reinwald (3, 42). Jeremiah Hunter (19, 331, TD) and Kekoa Crawford (21, 321) offer big-play ability as well.

Final Analysis

Their records may be very different, but Oregon State and Cal are evenly matched teams, and Saturday's contest will pit strength versus strength. The Beavers lead the Pac-12 in scoring (35.1 ppg) and total offense (445.4 ypg), and the unit ranks second in the conference and No. 19 nationally in raw yards per play (6.72). Cal has held opponents to 23.6 points per game overall, which ranks fifth in the league, but Pac-12 opponents have scored just 19.8 on average against the Bears, which tops the standings. In conference play, the Bears have allowed just 302.5 yards per game and 4.90 yards per play, good for first and second in the Pac-12, respectively. Oregon State ranks last in total defense (423.8 ypg) in Pac-12 games and has surrendered 6.08 yards per snap against its conference rivals, which ranks ninth.

As a result, first-place Oregon State and last-place Cal should be a close game, and winning on the road won't be easy for the Beavers. The Bears also are backed up against a wall, needing two wins in their final five games to reach bowl eligibility. Nevertheless, Oregon State should be plenty motivated and would secure a spot in the postseason with a victory while also keeping pace with Oregon in the Pac-12 North.

Prediction: Oregon State 27, California 25

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— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and managing editor of CFBWinningEdge. Follow him on Twitter @CFBWinningEdge.