No. 10 Stanford, Cal a Big Game mismatch
Stanford, Calif. • Weird things have happened in the Stanford-California rivalry before. There's no greater proof of that than The Play.
For Cal to beat Stanford this year, though, it might take something as equally wild as that memorable five-lateral kickoff return that gave the Golden Bears a victory in the 1982 Big Game.
Cal (1-10, 0-8 Pac-12) has lost nine straight entering Saturday's game at No. 10 Stanford (8-2, 6-2) and is facing what is believed to be the largest odds in the 116th meeting of the Bay Area schools. The Bears, who have dropped 13 straight conference games and are the only team winless in Pac-12 play this season, are 31Â½-point underdogs.
"Way crazier things have happened," Cal fifth-year senior receiver Jackson Bouza said.
That's the message the Bears are bringing across San Francisco Bay this week. That might be the only message left to bring at the end of a miserable debut for coach Sonny Dykes in Berkeley.
The fight for The Stanford Axe seems to be as much of a mismatch as Las Vegas bookmakers believe.
The Bears' only win this season came against Portland State of the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision. The Cardinal have won 14 straight at home.
The Bears are terrible at running the ball and even worse at stopping the run. The Cardinal pride themselves on stopping the run and are among the country's best rushing teams.
The Bears are last in the Pac-12 at protecting the quarterback. The Cardinal are one of the best at sacking the quarterback.
The Bears have nothing to play for but pride. The Cardinal, who are coming off a loss at Southern California, need to beat Cal and hope Oregon loses one of its final two games to Arizona or Oregon State to represent the Pac-12 North in the conference championship game.
Talent, experience and coaching and just about everything else seems to favor a Stanford team that has made a BCS bowl each of the last three years. Cardinal coach David Shaw, whose program hasn't lost consecutive games since 2009, is still cautioning his team not to take the Bears lightly.
"You're looking at a team with athletes. They have really good skill positions. Say what you want about their record, they've got good receivers, they've got good backs, they've got speed and athleticism," Shaw said. "They can put points up if you're not ready for them."
While Stanford has won the last three Big Games, the rivalry has been as close as any in the country.
The game has been decided by a touchdown or less 52 times, and only 70 points separate Stanford (1,899) and Cal (1,829) in a series that often goes off script.
"It doesn't matter whose record is what, or who's done what, or who's won to who, or who's lost to who," Cal fifth-year senior defensive end Dan Camporeale said. "It's a hard-nosed football game that everybody gets very excited for, and I can't wait."
Here are five things to watch in the 116th Big Game:
RUSHING GAP: The disparity between Stanford's offensive line and opponents' defensive line is pretty big most games. This week it's monumental. The Cardinal's power running game, led by Tyler Gaffney, is averaging 205.5 yards per game. Cal, depleted by injuries to half of its defensive starters, has the second-worst rushing defense (188.8 yards rushing per game) and the worst scoring defense (44.4 points) in the Pac-12.
QB PROTECTION: Whether starter Jared Goff or backup Zach Kline is playing, Cal's depleted offensive line hasn't fared well against anybody in protecting the quarterback. The Bears, who have given up a league-most 33 sacks, will be thoroughly tested this week. The Cardinal defense ranks second in the Pac-12 with 32 sacks.
BEAR RAID: The Bear Raid offense might have to get in a shootout with Stanford to keep the game respectable, and speedy wide receivers such as Cal's Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs have given the Cardinal fits lately. Harper has 70 catches for 852 yards and five touchdowns, and Treggs has 76 catches for 713 yards and a TD.
CARDINAL PASSING: Stanford's passing game has been average, at best, against most Pac-12 opponents and is hoping to rebound from a mistake-filled performance at USC. Kevin Hogan completed 14 of 25 passes for 127 yards and two fourth-quarter interceptions against the Trojans. And Ty Montgomery had two costly drops, finishing with four catches for 23 yards.
BIG-PLAY BIGELOW? Brendan Bigelow broke loose late in Cal's loss at Colorado last week, running for 107 yards and his first two touchdowns this season. It also was Cal's first 100-yard rushing game. The junior is averaging 4.4 yards per carry this year after averaging 9.8 yards per carry last season. Dykes said Bigelow finally seems to be recovered from a knee injury that sidelined him for spring practice and delayed his progress this fall.