In a battle of the Pac-12's final two undefeated teams, California visits Utah on Saturday at 7 p.m. PT. Here's a rundown of what to watch:
1. So really, how good is Jared Goff?
We think he's really good, and the numbers support that claim: Goff has completed over 70 percent of his passes for a Pac-12 best 1,630 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. He's averaging 9.2 yards per attempt, delivering timely plays with his legs, and hitting the deep ball with chilling precision.
Not surprisingly, Cal is 5-0 behind Goff's excellent play. But this trip to Utah represents an entirely new challenge. The Utes' balanced roster has made them the class of the conference so far this season. Their defensive front seven is rugged, their secondary has made marked improvements already, and their offense will surely put pressure on Goff to score consistently on the other end. This will be a challenge in the teeth of the Rice-Eccles Stadium crowd, one that'll show us if Goff -- a big-time talent -- is truly ready to walk into hostile territory, put a team on his back, and notch a major victory.
2. A true test for an improved Cal defense
The Bears allowed 7.1 yards per play in 2013 and 6.3 yards per play in 2014. That average has reduced to 5.5 so far this year. The pass defense has also progressively improved -- from 9.4 to 8.1 to 7.3 opposing yards per attempt. So definite signs of life are present on this side of the ball in Berkeley, but this next test at Utah presents a massive coming-of-age opportunity for a growing Cal defense.
Between dual-threat quarterback Travis Wilson, running back Devontae Booker, and some well-placed weapons in the receiving corps, the Utes have demonstrated exceptional balance so far this season. The difference in this game may well be Cal's improved pass rush: Whereas the Bears finished 113th nationally with only 16 sacks all of last season, they've already racked up more sacks (18) this year to rank 6th in the country. Similar pressure would seem to be Cal's ticket to slow Utah's offense.
3. Utah's pass rush
Quarterback pressure may even be more important on the other side of the ball, where the Utes will be tasked with finding a way to force Goff out of his rhythm. Utah led the nation in sacks last year, but their pass rush got off to a slow start in 2015. The Utes finally exploded into the backfield during their 62-20 whooping over Oregon, tallying five sacks. Now, that was the fierce, deep Utah front seven that we were expecting heading into the season.
If Cal can keep Goff clean long enough to challenge a Utah secondary that hasn't been great, the Bears will have a shot to win this one. If not, expect the Utes to administer a physically punishing victory.
4. The special-teams effect
Well, our Chantel Jennings wrote that Utah's specialists comprise the most interesting unit in college football this week, so we have to keep an eye on them, right? The Bears' Trevor Davis is a talented return man, though he has yet to break free this season. Assuming Goff is good enough to keep Cal in a blow-for-blow battle with a favored Utah team, what happens in this phase of the game may prove to be the difference -- at least according to our close predicted scores for this game.
Cal has forced 18 turnovers this year, the best figure in the Pac-12. Utah has 11 takeaways to their name, ranking them second. Both teams will be hungry to get after the quarterback and wreak havoc defensively again this Saturday. The side that plays clean, mistake-free football in the midst of potentially sloppy chaos will have an edge. That battle begins with Goff and Wilson, the two quarterbacks.