On Saturday afternoon, the Stanford Cardinal will take on the California Golden Bears in an important Pac-12 contest. Stanford enters the game with a 7-3 record while California enters the game with a 4-6 record. What are some keys to victory for Stanford, and how could it impact their bowl prospects?
Four weeks ago, Stanford lost 10-5 to Colorado. Since that game, the Cardinal have won three games in a row and have scored 112 points in those games. On the flip side, the Golden Bears have given up an average of just over 50 points a game during a three-game losing streak. To keep the offense on schedule, it will take a strong game from Christian McCaffrey who has amassed 1115 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns.
California likes to get the run game established by first establishing the pass. Their top receiver is Chad Hansen who has 979 yards on 75 catches and nine scores this season. If they can keep him under check, it will be hard for the Golden Bears to get their offense rolling. Seeing as California's defense has given up over 46 points per game on average this year, the game could get out of hand quickly if Stanford comes up with just a couple of early stops.
With seven wins, Stanford is already assured of getting a spot in a bowl game. The question is in which game that they will play. It is mathematically impossible for the Cardinal to win the Pac-12 and their automatic spot in the Rose Bowl as Washington State has seven conference wins while Stanford can finish with six at best. Currently, they are projected to play in the Sun Bowl against Wake Forest, but that could change as bowl invites for lesser games aren't directly tied to standings.
If California were to win out, they could finish 6-6 and go to a bowl game. The most likely landing spot would be the Cactus Bowl as a replacement for Northern Illinois, which is currently filling the slot because there is no eligible Pac-12 team available.
Stanford fans should feel pretty good about winning this weekend as California has failed to offer much competition over the past few weeks. However, since this is Big Game, on the road, against a team fighting for its postseason life, nothing can be taken for granted.
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