Goodness, did the Cal athletic community need that victory.
The fans needed a reason to buy tickets and donate money.
The players needed a reason to feel good about themselves and their coaches.
Sonny Dykes and his staff needed tangible evidence that what they're preaching can work ... that it will work if given proper time and buy-in from the players.
Given everything that has gone wrong for Cal football in recent years ... from the belly-up ending to the Jeff Tedford era to the embarrassing academic performance ... from the alarming spate of injuries in 2012-13 to the total failure of Dykes' rookie season ... from the tragic passing of Ted Agu to his his family's wrongful death lawsuit against the UC ...
Given all that, it's difficult to recall an instance when a Bay Area college team, in any sport any year, needed a win as much as Cal needed that win.
A loss to Northwestern followed by a victory this week over Sacramento State would have offered no proof of positive change, no evidence that things were any different (despite all the offseason tinkering) before the Bears came face-to-face with a difficult conference opener at Arizona (Sept. 20).
Will the Week 1 victory translate to season-long success?
There's no way to know, of course, but skepticism is the prudent approach. Northwestern has the makings of a four-win team and the Bears could still finish 2-10 or 3-9.
But all that matters right now is they're 1-0, and after everything the players have endured, right now is all that matters.
Result: Won at Northwestern 31-24
Comment: First, an explanation of the grade: Why's it's not an A or A+ given the significance and Cal's pregame status as a substantial underdog on the road against a Power Five opponent.
The grades are based partly on outcome, partly on execution and partly on expectations ... my expectations.
I picked the Bears to win -- they have as much talent as Northwestern (if not more) and were by far the more desperate team -- so the outcome wasn't a surprise.
Take that component out of the equation, and you're left with a mostly-impressive, slightly-wobbly road win over an unranked Big Ten foe. That translates to a B+/A-, and I went with the higher grade because the coaching staff had Cal so well prepared.
The Bears forced two turnovers, allowed only one play longer than 25 yards and limited Northwestern to a third-down conversion rate of 38 percent.
Which is all another way of saying the Bears played defense at a major college level, unlike last year. Kaufman's debut was an undeniable success.
Then again, he had a low bar to clear.
The decision by Dykes and OC Tony Franklin to use backup quarterback Luke Rubenzer worked brilliantly.
The freshman provided a change-of-pace complement to pocket passer Jared Goff, gave Cal a physical presence in the running game and bamboozled Northwestern.
All that said ...
The Bears must generate a running game with their running backs -- yes, those guys -- in order to be successful in league play: 63 yards on 22 carries won't cut it.
Next up: vs. Sacramento State
The matchup: A tougher-than-it-looks test of Cal's leadership and maturity:
How quickly and thoroughly will the Bears focus on Sacramento State and get their minds off Northwestern?
The Hornets are more than capable of taking Cal to the wire if the home team takes a detour through Letdown City.
Sac State upset Oregon State in Corvallis three years ago and last season beat Portland State ... yes, the same Portland State team that nearly beat Cal in Week 2.
If the Bears play with a sense of urgency, they should take care of business in time for backups to get much-needed experience.
If the Bears aren't focused, they'll risk losing not only the game but all the momentum they gained at Northwestern.