College football rivalries are some of the best in the sports world, pushing two schools, two histories, two bitter enemies, into the same building annually for another year of dominance or misery awarded to one fanbase.
Some of the best moments of the college football realm are gifted to us with the help of rivalry games:
4th and inches - Ohio State vs. Michigan
Kick Six - Alabama vs. Auburn
Bush Push - USC vs. Notre Dame
The punt fail - Michigan vs. Michigan State
The Play - Cal vs Stanford
These and so many more make up the framework of the college rivalries that inspire so much love, devotion and hatred. The older the rivalry, the richer the deep-seated disdain, the sweeter the prospect of rubbing victory in the nose of the defeated.
When there is an established culture of spite spanning generations, it is almost impossible to kill the animosity between two fanbases. But the way wins are accomplished hold nearly as much clout as the triumph itself.
The potential death of a rivalry is a sad thing. The slow suffocation of one team’s hope, every year getting worked over, pushing any contention for the crown to a seemingly unreachable distance. Like the Wisconsin Badgers working the Minnesota Gophers over 14 seasons, some rivalries enter a new relationship of abuse, lacking competition or excitement, the outcome seemingly pre-written.
Such is the fate of the Big Game, a once storied rivalry between the Stanford Cardinal and California Golden Bears. A game whose history stretches back to 1892, containing 111 meetings. A rivalry Stanford head coach David Shaw has killed.
A bold claim, no? How can 125 years of football suddenly become redefined by the most recent seven?
How Shaw Killed A Rivalry
Can we be honest about something, the idea of this being a rivalry was already a bit romanticized. Before Shaw came along, the Cardinal led Cal all-time 51-43-10, beating the Golden Bears by margins of 41, 35, 28 and 21 points in their 51 knockouts. The past 100 years have contained win streaks of five, six and seven games, with a very recent five-game winning streak from Cal (2002-2006) disguising this clash as even. True, Cal has gotten in wins over the 125-year duel, but it has been far more of Stanford trouncing Cal than anything else.
Then Shaw came along. Shaw took the reins from Jim Harbaugh, winning each of his seven meetings with Cal, helping them get to the rivalry best eight-game streak. To make matters worse, the majority of these have not been nail biters.
Shaw has been smoking Cal for seven years. Under him, Stanford has posted 298 points, averaging 37.3 points per game to the Golden Bears’ 17.8.
Not only have the Cardinal averaged a comfortable 20-point margin, but they have also had some disgusting single game outings. In 2013, the Cardinal won 63-13. That is a decimating 50-point win! The largest margin of victory for either side and one that highlights a dominant streak including conquests of 21 and 18 points.
In this, the Big Game, the outlier has been Cal keeping things competitive, the norm Stanford working this “rivalry” like a speed bag. Home or away, Stanford has made themselves quite comfortable decimating this squad, making this little more than a warm-up for UCLA.
But there is hope for a revival (of course I’m rooting for the rivalry to live again, college football is better for it!).
Cal boasts the best squad it has had in years, allowing just 21.1 points and 319 yards per game. Cal has managed to hold USC, Washington State and Washington to under 20 points this season, all teams that average over 25. Behind their new defense, Cal has gone 6-4, the first winning season since 2015.
The Golden Bears’ substantial growth on defense, a unit that surrendered 28.4 in 2017 and 42.6 in 2016, paired with a Stanford offense that has been bipolar all season, could give Cal opportunity.
Make no mistake; Shaw has owned this Cal team for seven years, effectively finishing off whatever remnants of a rivalry to which the Golden Bears’ faithful clung.
There is a chance for this upper-class laden defense to try and revive this smoldering wreck of a rivalry, bringing it back from the dead by finding success this season and instilling a culture of victory for the next class and their Big Game. Anything is possible...
But not likely. Stanford is very comfortable rolling over Cal yet again because this is not a rivalry. It does not require a unique name or award. It is not a Big Game, just a game. A game Stanford very often wins.