This Saturday the California Golden Bears will host the North Carolina Tar Heels in opening week of the 2018 season. Kickoff is set for 4:00 EST at Memorial Stadium in Berkley and will be televised nationally on FOX.

Oddsmakers currently have the Golden Bears listed as a 7-point home favorite with the total set at 61 points. Click here for a full Week 1 betting schedule and for more links to our individual game previews.

Vegas Betting Preview & Game Odds: North Carolina vs California

The Golden Bears missed out on making a bowl game with a 5-7 record, but it was considered a successful first season in Berkley for first year head coach Justin Wilcox. Considering Cal was one of the least experienced teams in the country and undergoing some big scheme changes on both sides of the ball, many had them picked for the basement in the Pac-12, which is saying something given how bad Oregon State had been.

While there’s not a ton of hype surrounding the Golden Bears going into 2018, Cal could end up being a major player in the Pac-12 this year, as they have 18 starters back and are now one of the most experienced teams in the country.

The Tar Heels had won no fewer than 6 games in each of Larry Fedora’s first 5 years with the program, which included a trip to the ACC title game in 2015. Needless to say, things completely fell apart in 2017, as UNC managed to win just 3 games and were 1-7 in ACC play. Injuries played a role in how bad things ended up, but most were expecting the Tar Heels to be down.

The big question is whether or not UNC can bounce back in what will be year number 7 under Fedora. While they only bring back 13 starters (5 offense, 8 defense), a lot of players gained some valuable experience last season. With that said, the depth of the Tar Heels will be tested early, as they have several players suspended.

College Football Free Pick & Betting Predictions: Cal -7

It’s pretty amazing how the script has changed, as these two teams opened up last year at North Carolina with the Tar Heels a hefty 12-point favorite. Cal ended up winning that game outright 35-30 and are now laying a touchdown in the rematch. With that said, I would have to lean towards laying the points with the Golden Bears at home.

While all the suspended players for UNC are definitely a factor in my decision to back Cal here, I do want to point out that I would likely have played the Golden Bears even if the Tar Heels had their full roster.

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I know Cal only won 5 games in Wilcox’s first season, but I couldn’t have been more impressed with what he got out of the talent he had to work with. Keep in mind they had 3 losses by 3-points or less and only lost by 10 at home to USC.

I think that with those 18 starters coming back and everyone being much more comfortable in year two of the new schemes that were installed, Cal is a legit wild card in the Pac-12. The only reason people aren’t talking more about them, is they play in the same division as Washington, Oregon and Stanford.

For those that don’t know, Wilcox made a name for himself as a defensive coordinator and made a great hire in Tim DeRuyter to be the defensive coordinator. Those two helped Cal go from giving up 42.6 ppg and 518 ypg in 2016 to only allowing 28.4 ppg and 430 ypg. With 8 starters back, more improvements should be on the way and this could end up being one of the better defenses in the Pac-12.

I think that defense is going to make life miserable for a Tar Heels offense that only has 5 starters back from a unit that didn’t produce anywhere close to what was expected in 2017. I just don’t see a ton of improvement with 4 of the 5 starters needing replaced on the offensive line and projected starting quarterback Chazz Surratt suspended for the first for games.

You also can’t underestimate how difficult it is to win in Berkley for opposing teams, especially for a team like the Tar Heels who basically have travel across the country for this contest. I think Cal wins this one by double-digits rather easily and wouldn’t be shocked if they turned into a blowout.