Cal Bears and Stanford Enter the Big Game with Different Goals


The Big Game. The oldest rivalry in the west. With the Stanford Axe on the line, the California Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal will meet for the 118th rendition of their annual rivalry game. The Axe isn’t all that these two teams will be playing for.

Stanford comes into Big Game week still in search of a win to clinch the Pac-12. They have had chances to do so in each of the past two weeks, but the chips haven’t fallen in their favor. When the Cardinal beat the Colorado Buffaloes two weeks ago, they needed the Cal Bears, their own rivals, to help them out with a win over Oregon to secure the Pac-12 North crown for the Cardinal. Instead, Oregon took care of business, beating the Bears handily to keep their conference hopes alive.

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Last week, Stanford had an opportunity to take matters into their own hands, as the Ducks traveled to the Farm for a matchup with the Cardinal. Despite some late-game heroics from senior quarterback Kevin Hogan, a rapid Cardinal comeback fell a hairsbreadth short, as a potentially game-tying two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful. Now, the Big Game has a little extra riding on it for Stanford, as a win still clinches the Pac-12 North, and would be even sweeter if it came during a rivalry game.

The Bears, on the other hand, are eliminated from the race in the North, but the Big Game will still have a lot of meaning for Cal. The Bears have the potential to play spoiler, keeping their rivals from clinching the North for another week. If Stanford loses, an Oregon win (now ranked 23rd after their win over previously seventh-ranked Stanford) against the 22nd-ranked USC Trojans, and a Washington State Cougars win over Colorado means there will be three teams alive in the race for the Pac-12 North in the season’s final week.

In the last week of the regular season, Stanford will be matched up with the fifth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and, in the event of a loss to Cal, will need a win to clinch. If they lose both games down the stretch, both Oregon and Wazzou will have a chance to win the the North.

If Cal wants to play spoiler against the Cardinal, they will need to win the Big Game for the first time since 2009. That year, sophomore running back Shane Vereen went wild, picking up 193 yards on 42 carries (a carry total he’s never come close to meeting again, even in the NFL), and scored three touchdowns to lead Cal to a 34-28 win. Since then, Stanford has won five straight games, including a 50-point victory in 2014, the second-largest deficit in rivalry history (Cal won 67-0 way back in 1918).

No player on the Cal roster has ever enjoyed the sweet taste of victory over the Cardinal. They’ll be trying their darnedest to change that. No player on the Stanford roster has ever felt the harsh sting of defeat to the Bears. They’ll be trying their darnedest to make sure that doesn’t change.

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Cal can start Stanford on a deep path of destruction with a win in the Big Game, maybe keeping them from the Pac-12 Championship Game. Stanford can celebrate on their home field, not just for their Big Game win, but for clinching the Pac-12 North crown in front of their rivals. Either way, one team will be picking up a huge win in the Big Game.