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California football vs. North Carolina: Time, TV schedule, game preview, score

Golden Bears host Tarheels in season opener

Daniel Lasco #2 of the California Golden Bears runs with the ball against the Colorado Buffaloes at California Memorial Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

BERKELEY, Calif. – California opened the Justin Wilcox era last year on a high note by going to North Carolina and recording a surprising come-from-behind 35-30 victory. Cal’s second-year coach looks for a similar result Saturday when the Bears host the depleted Tar Heels, who will be without 13 suspended players and standout defensive lineman Aaron Crawford (knee injury) in the season opener for both teams.

TV: 4 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: California -7

North Carolina is taking the longest trip in school history to face an improving Cal team that has made just one bowl game in the past six seasons and was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 North Division.

The Bears are hoping to build on the promising signs from last season, when former walk-on Patrick Laird rushed for 1,127 yards – including an average of 145.4 yards over the final five games. Laird returns for his senior season and figures to receive a heavy workload against North Carolina, which finished 88th in the nation in points allowed in last year’s injury-plagued season but hopes to bounce back behind a veteran defensive line.

The Tar Heels will look to pressure Cal quarterback Ross Bowers, who completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,039 yards and 18 touchdowns against 12 interceptions last season.

ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA (3-9 in 2017)

Dual-threat quarterback Nathan Elliott started the final three games last season and will get the nod Saturday over Chazz Surratt, who is suspended for the first four contests. Coach Larry Fedora plans to rotate Jordon Brown, Antonio Williams and true freshman Javonte Williams at running back, while wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams looks to build on a strong sophomore campaign.

The Tar Heels boast a formidable defensive line and two impressive linebackers in Cole Holcomb and Jonathan Smith, but the secondary could be vulnerable against Cal’s aerial attack.

ABOUT CAL (5-7 in 2017)

In search of their first bowl appearance since 2015, the Bears need continued growth from a defensive unit led by linebackers Cameron Goode and Jordan Kunaszyk, who had a team-high 74 tackles last season. Cal fell from third to 10th in the conference in scoring offense last year and needs a quick start from Bowers, who will be operating behind a veteran offensive line.

There are question marks at the wide receiver position after three key wideouts left the program, but Kanawai Noa and Vic Wharton III return after combining for 123 catches last season.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Cal has won its last four consecutive season openers and is 12-4 in its first game since 2002.

2. Saturday’s contest marks North Carolina’s first trip to the West Coast since a 37-34 loss at Stanford in 1998.

3. Cal was 4-2 at home last season with its two losses coming by a combined 11 points to USC and Arizona.

PREDICTION: Cal 27, North Carolina 17

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