Aug 26, 2013
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EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern's 126th season of intercollegiate football begins in primetime (9:30 p.m. CT, ESPN2) Saturday with a visit to Pac-12 country and the University of California. The 'Cats, coming off a memorable 10-3 campaign in 2012, are making their first-ever visit to Berkeley as the two teams meet for the first time since squaring off in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1949.
Northwestern's 10-win season and Gator Bowl victory over Mississippi State on New Year's Day caught the attention of the college football world, enough to earn NU a No. 22 preseason ranking in both the Associated Press and USA Today/Coaches poll this month. Northwestern is one of five Big Ten teams to appear in both polls.
The Wildcats are facing a BCS-conference opponent on the road in a season-opener for a fourth consecutive season and have gone 3-0 in such games over the previous three seasons. If history is any indication, Saturday's opener is likely to be an exciting one; NU's victories in its last three season-openers have come by a combined seven points, with the Wildcats coming up with a game-ending defensive stand to clinch each win. Northwestern defeated Vanderbilt in the 2010 opener, 23-21, before holding off Boston College in 2011 (21-17) and rallying to win at Syracuse, 42-41, in 2012. NU is 23-12 in games decided by seven points or less in head coach Pat Fitzgerald's tenure.
Wildcats Unveil New Look for 2013 Opener
On Thursday, Aug. 22, Northwestern announced that it would usher in the 2013 campaign with a change in headgear, sporting white helmets in its season-opener at California. Northwestern last donned white lids in 1980, before moving permanently to its standard purple helmet. The Wildcats are in their second season with Under Armour as their official apparel provider, which has outfitted the 'Cats in uniforms emphasizing the distinctive 'Northwestern Stripe.'
Expect the Unexpected
Considering Northwestern's early-season opponents, offseason scouting may yield little in the way of applicable information for Pat Fitzgerald and his coaching staff. NU's first three opponents in 2013 (Cal, Syracuse and Western Michigan) all are entering their first season under their respective head coaches. Factor in Ohio State and Wisconsin to open the Big Ten schedule, and the first five FBS opponents Northwestern will face this year boast a combined one season under their current head coaches.
At the other end of the spectrum is Northwestern's current coaching staff, which is one of only two FBS programs to carry the same head coach and nine full-time assistants into a third consecutive season in 2013 (Minnesota is the other). Northwestern is one of five FBS programs whose offensive and defensive coordinators each are in at least their sixth season at the school. The others: Navy, Oregon State, SMU, TCU and Wake Forest. All but one of Fitzgerald's assistants are in at least their fifth season with the Wildcats.
Going Back to Cali
California is the third-most represented state on Northwestern's roster -- behind only Illinois and Ohio -- with 11 Golden State natives populating the NU locker room this season. DT Sean McEvilly (Yorba Linda), S Davion Fleming (Upland), S Terrance Brown (Los Alamitos) and WR Mike Jensen (Rancho Santa Fe) are the Californians in Northwestern's two-deep roster looking forward to playing their first collegiate game in their home state Saturday.
Northwestern and California are meeting on the gridiron for only the second time in their programs' histories and the first since clashing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1949. The Wildcats, who were making their first-ever bowl appearance that day under head coach Bob Voigts, scored a touchdown with 2:59 remaining and intercepted a pass inside their own 5-yard line in the final minute to earn a 20-14 win, capping an 8-2 season.
Northwestern has not played a game in the state of California since facing Southern Cal in the 1996 Rose Bowl at the end of its magical 1995 Big Ten championship season.
The Wildcats' most recent trip to the Bay Area was in 1992 for a visit to Stanford, a team that Northwestern is slated to renew acquaintances with in both 2015 (in Evanston) and 2016 (at Stanford).
The last time NU squared off with a team from the Pac-12 was when it met UCLA in the 2005 Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas), a 50-38 win for the Bruins.
For Northwestern's depth chart and complete packet of Week One game notes, download the PDF linked at the top of this release.
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