While it may lack the epic drama of two undefeated titans facing off with a national championship on the line, Saturday’s 110th staging of the Big Game between Cal and Stanford could have a surprisingly significant impact in the dynamics ofmajor college football in the Bay Area.
Led by the offensive wizardry of coach Jeff Tedford, Cal (6-5, 3-5 Pac-10 Conference) has been the toast of the town for the past half-decade, posting 43 victories over the previous five seasons — including five straight against Stanford.
Making the Bears’ success from 2002 to 2006 all the more remarkable was that it came on the heels of a five-year funk in which the Bears won just 12 games, including a miserable 1-10 season in 2001 that culminated in the canning of Tom Holmoe, and the subsequent hiring of Tedford.
Midway through the 2007 season, expectations were rosier than ever for Tedford’s squad, as Cal had marched out to a 5-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking.
A slew of injuries and five losses later, the Golden Bears look very mortal. A loss on Saturday to their bitter rival could keep them out a bowl game for the first time since 2002, Tedford’s first year on the job.
Meanwhile, Stanford (3-8, 2-6) won’t be playing for the postseason, but the atmosphere surrounding the Cardinal program is surprisingly upbeat. After winning just one game last season and often looking despondent for coach Walt Harris, Stanford has posted three wins in 2007, including a shocking victory over then-No. 1 Southern Cal in October.
Led by the fiery antics of new coach Jim Harbaugh — who hasn’t been afraid to ruffle the feathers of the Pac-10 coaching establishment — several Stanford players expressed motivation about a possible changing of the guard in the Bay Area college football scene.
"A win against Cal could be a huge momentum boost for us heading into next year," said Stanford junior running back Anthony Kimble, who leads the team with 509 rushing yards despite missing four games due to injury. "It could make a big difference for our recruiting and could really shift some of the focus back on our school."
Momentum swingsin the series have been common. Before Cal’s current five-game run in the Big Game series, Stanford captured seven straight contests against its rival.
For his part, Tedford hasn’t let the added intrigue of Harbaugh affect his outlook on the rivalry matchup.
"I always respect the importance of the Big Game," said Tedford, who has a 49-25 career record at Cal. "I haven’t noticed anything particularly different about this year. It’s always an extremely meaningful game for our school."
Tedford’s players, especially his seniors, see the Big Game as one last opportunity to cement their status as being part of the premier football program in the Bay Area.
"We want to go out on top against Stanford," said Cal senior safety Thomas DeCoud. "Our senior class wants to be remembered as the group that never lost to them."
Stanford (3-8, 2-6) vs. Cal (6-5, 3-5)
WHEN: Saturday, 4 p.m.
WHERE: Stanford Stadium
RADIO: KTCT (1050 AM), KGO (810 AM)