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It can’t be easy to do what Cal had to do to begin the college football season. The Golden Bears kicked off the college football campaign on August 26 in Sydney, Australia. Since then, all they’ve done is practice, because they had a bye week while everyone else began the season. They’ll take the short flight from Berkeley to San Diego to take on the San Diego State Aztecs, the pride of the Mountain West Conference’s West Division. The Group of 5 home team is the one laying the 7.5 points here in a rematch of last year’s lopsided Cal triumph.

California vs. San Diego State College Football Preview

Date/Time: Saturday September 10, 10:30 p.m. ET

TV: CBS Sports Network

College Football Betting Odds from MyBookie

College Football Betting Favorite: San Diego State -7.5

Total: 63

Sonny Dykes improved to 14-24 as the head man for the Cal Golden Bears with that win over Hawaii, but he did fall to just 15-23 against the spread, depending on the number you got. It was a similar situation for Rocky Long and the Aztecs. They won easily, but the number really mattered against the spread. Those that got it under 31 won and those that got it over 31 lost. The Aztecs pitched a shutout to push Long’s SDSU mark to 44-23. If we assume the consensus number was 31, Long is 35-30-2 ATS. These are two teams with extremely different styles, so this should be a fun one if you can cram in enough Red Bull to stay up late.

Cal Golden Bears:

It certainly took time for the Bear Raid offense to kick in. By the time it did, Sonny Dykes was sending the first overall pick off to the NFL. Jared Goff was just one of a handful of guys that Cal needed to replace on offense. The game against Hawaii probably wasn’t a good Bear-ometer (see what I did there?!) for the new personnel, but it was nice to see somebody step up in the absence of last season’s top six receivers. Chad Hansen was the one that shined. He caught 14 of Davis Webb’s 38 completions and accumulated 160 of Webb’s 441 yards. He also caught two touchdowns. Webb was obviously a great fit for this scheme, as he slung it along the yard 54 times and threw for four touchdown passes. He also ran one in. Khalfani Muhammad and Vic Enwere combined for 169 yards on 20 carries. But, again, it was Hawaii.

That’s why the defensive performance is so disappointing. Hawaii ran for 248 yards in Nick Rolovich’s debut on this Cal defense. Cal gave up 210 yards and 4.8 yards per carry last season and it appears that things really haven’t changed. The venue was obviously unique, but it’s still football and the Cal defense was still bad at it. The sheer number of missed tackles for Cal was embarrassing and they’d have given up even more points of Ikaika Woolsey actually zipped some passes into the windows that he had. Cal’s defense did lose five of its top six tacklers from last season, so maybe they deserve a little bit of extra leash, but anybody who watched that game knows how ugly it was.

San Diego State Aztecs:

You can bet that Donnel Pumphrey watched that game and you can bet that he’s thinking about setting records. Pumphrey got off to a slow start with 21 carries for 98 yards, but that’s fine because the Aztecs needed to figure their passing game out anyway. Christian Chapman looked good. New Hampshire won’t get a lot of respect and they did have a monumental travel for this game that they certainly aren’t used to, but this is a team with 12 straight FCS postseason appearances. Chapman was 16-of-25 for some big plays with 288 yards and a couple of scores. Explosive plays in the passing game made up most of SDSU’s passing yardage last season, so their 17.1 yards per catch was not a big surprise. Teams load the box against the Aztecs and they throw over it. If Chapman can do that with success, the sky is the limit for this team.

It will be fun to watch the unique Rocky Long 3-3-5 defense at work against Cal. Last season, the Golden Bears picked up 485 yards on only 61 offensive snaps, so expect Long to make some significant adjustments in this one. The Aztecs were a 13.5-point dog on the closing number last year, so this is an enormous adjustment. It’s quite possibly too much of an adjustment. The defense is the key for SDSU because they’ll move the football. This could be a chance for Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year Damontae Kazee to shine with a lot of watchful eyes against this Bear Raid. It will also be interesting to see how Davis Webb fares with blitzes coming in every direction, as Long is known to do.

College Football Free Pick: Cal Golden Bears +7.5

There has been almost a three-touchdown adjustment in this line from last year’s meeting to this year’s. From an X’s and O’s standpoint, there’s not much in Cal’s favor here. They can’t stop the run and Donnel Pumphrey is an elite runner. San Diego State’s strength is almost always defense and the 3-3-5 is, in theory, a good matchup against a pass-happy offense because there are eight defensive players against four or five wide receivers and a running back. Cal did have time to iron out some issues and Davis Webb fits this offense well, so the road team seems to have a little bit of value getting more than a touchdown.

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