The 121st Big Game between Stanford and Cal is getting relatively less publicity. I can’t argue because rivalries such as Michigan-Ohio State or Texas-Oklahoma could be a play-in to a conference or national championship. Throw in the fact that this weekend is conference championship week, and Big Game is overshadowed by some team from Alabama.
On the other hand, Stanford and Cal playing each other in a season with both teams going bowling is rare and stands in stark contrast to previous seasons. Since 2010, Cal has come into Big Game with bowl eligibility twice (this will be the 3rd year), and even when they did have bowl eligibility, it was the “bear” minimum of 6 wins. The decade prior was not kind to the Cardinal; Stanford only came into the Big Game with bowl eligible twice. Without dreading into my statistical nerdism and diving into 121 meetings, let’s just say the last time Stanford and Cal were anything close to being considered nationally relevant was 1991 when Cal came into the game 9-1 and Stanford was 7-3. The point is, Stanford and Cal are both 7-4 and while neither one will win the conference or go to a great bowl, the combined wins between both teams is on rare ground and we should enjoy it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this isn’t just “Big Game”; it’s “THE BIG GAME.”
So, what should we expect in this rare, even-kilt matchup? Well for starters, it is actually a switch on play styles from recent years; Stanford has a defensive unit that sometimes makes you want to puke, but an offense that is scoring at will—when Shaw allows it. Cal, on the other hand, has beefed up on its defense, and while there hasn’t been any offensive firework shows, even a Cal fan can acknowledge that it’s better to put up 24 and win than 50 and lose. Cal has only given up 20 points five times, with one of those in garbage time. Cal also held Washington and Washington State to a combined 29 points. Stanford only has two games without scoring at least 20, and has scored at least 30 on six different outings. Quite the switch from the last few meetings!
The two most important stats, though? Turnovers and rushing yards. Stanford is 7-4 this year. In all seven wins, they forced a turnover. In all four losses, they posted a big goose egg in turnovers. Also, during Stanford’s eight-game win streak against Cal, Stanford has always topped Cal in rushing yards. The last time Stanford lost? When Cal topped Stanford in rushing yards. This year should prove no exception; Cal’s defensive strength is against the pass. To beat Cal, Stanford needs to find a way to get Bryce Love going.
This game might not be relevant in anyone’s mind east of Nevada, but those who are true diehards need to come out and enjoy this game. There are two good head coaches battling it out. Both teams easily got bowl eligible this year. There will also be a Stanford legend in Bryce Love playing his final Big Game. This Big Game may not hold special meaning nationwide, but if Stanford wins, you might just remember this as one of your favorite Big Games of all time.