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Can Stanford Win Big Game?

In a rivalry of the unpredictable, what can we predict?

NCAA Football: California at Stanford Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Big Game week. It’s the game that matters most every year. It’s the game that some find more important than any other, even a Rose Bowl. And yet, for another year, we will have two teams who are playing not for a conference championship, but for the rights to avoid the Toilet Bowl. Stanford is 4-6 and will head into a Big Game with a worse record than Cal for the first time since 2008; it’s also the worst record Stanford’s headed into a Big Game to since 2007. Cal at least had some hope this season after starting 4-0 and ranked. Then again, this is nothing out of the ordinary—Cal is a national championship team every September.

With two teams desperate for a rivalry win, what will happen in Big Game 2019? Who knows! Both teams upset Washington, both teams were embarrassed by USC, and both teams held Oregon (averaging 37.8 ppg) to 21 or fewer in “what could have been” games. Both teams were bit by the injury bug and both teams lost their quarterbacks earlier this season.

Big Game is wildly unpredictable. Remember, this is a series where “The Play” happened. “The Play” itself was improbable. But even more improbable is that it was allowed to happen in the first place! Replays revealed that the knee of Dwight Garner was down and that the play should’ve been whistled dead well before the famed collision with the Stanford trombonist. But though “The Play” should’ve never happened, it did happen. True to the nature of Big Game, what should never be somehow is.

Going into this game, it’s the first time in a long time that I am preparing myself to see Stanford lose the Axe. Coaching wise, nothing has changed. Sir David is no longer a coach with some sort of magic powers of winning. He looks lost and his fall from grace has been what our defense used to be: hard and fast. Since the moment he walked off as a Rose Bowl Champion on January 1st, 2016, things began to fail him. Now 2016 and 2017 were the distracting years as Stanford won 10 games in 2016 and lost in the conference championship in 2017—but things were changing: 2018 was hard and 2019 has been a travesty. The only positive right now is Shaw’s record against Cal. Shaw won’t make a change before Saturday and that’s what scares me most—because we’ve seen all season long what happens when Shaw goes about business as usual.

Defensively, I know injuries have been plentiful (Strength and Conditioning Coach?), but isn’t this why you recruit? Yes, Stanford has limits and I know how hard it is. “Rule 76: no excuses, play like a champion.” You might not be able to recruit 5 stars galore like Alabama or Ohio State, but I’d rather let a talented kid in with a 3.5 GPA than see four freaking wins in a season. And then you question if our coaches can even recruit? According to recruiting rankings, Stanford has top talent, so what gives? Are our coaches not coaching these young men up to their potential or were these kids overrated in the first place? If it’s the latter, don’t recruit them. And if the defense continues to let teams run all over it, it’s time to replace Lance Anderson as defensive coordinator.

For Stanford, I have bad news and I have good news about Big Game. The bad news is that Cal will have the best player on the field in Evan Weaver. The good news is that. Weaver doesn’t play offense.

And that’s the path if Stanford is to win this game: Cal’s offense is horrid, ranking 125th in FBS for yards/play. In fact, Cal is dead last in the Pac-12 for many major offensive stats: passing yards/attempt, rushing yards/attempt, points per game, etc. If Garbers can’t play, Stanford will have the better QB. And even with Weaver, Cal’s defense gave up a 15-yard pass or a 10-yard run on 1 out of every 5 plays last Saturday. Since Oregon, Cal has given up an average of 29 points per game (including a game when they gave up 41). But the scariest part for the Cal defense is that it gets almost no support from an offense that scores an average of only 18 points/game. Put simply: Cal probably won’t score more than 20 points (they’ve only accomplished this once in conference play). And as far as Big Games go, you have to go all the way back to 1986 to find a Cal win with 20 or fewer points.

On paper, there seems to be a clear path to a Stanford victory. But that’s paper—and this is Big Game. Even if Cal is unlikely to score more than 20, can we trust Stanford to get to three touchdowns? Who can know in Big Game? Here’s what we do know: if Cal loses, they're on a 10-Big Game losing streak and playing UCLA for bowl eligibility. And if Stanford loses—well, let’s just say I’ll have a twitch under my eye, the likes of which I haven’t experienced since Buddy Teevens.