Stanford Cardinal at California Golden Bears
This has probably been a rather disappointing season for the Cal Bears considering the start they had. They went 2-0 to start the season, iNCluding a 38-31 win over a highly reGArded Michigan St team. And then they were 2 TD favorites and ranked traveling to Maryland to take on the ACC Terrapins. Only problem is that under-rated Maryland was ready for them and the Bears got whooped on pretty good. They were able to recover from that disappointment though as they came back to win the next 4 out of 5 Games to get to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the PAC-10, with a shot to actually win the conference. But consecutive losses to USC and Oregon St have ended those aspirations as they are now sitting at just 6-4 overall, and 4-3 in the conference. They have this weeks home Game vs Stanford, followed by a bye week, before finishing up on Dec 6 with a home Game vs Washington. Even though they are already bowl-eligible, an 8-4 final season record is well within reach and would likely ensure a better bowl match-up for them. And it would also be a big improvement on last years disappointing 6-6 record which was only good enough to earn them a spot in the Armed Forces Bowl at Ft. Worth, TX against Air Force.
With the consecutive losses, the Bears seem to be headed for what has recently become their annual late season collapse. In 2005, coming off of a 10-1 season, they started out a strong 5-0, only to lose 4 of their last 6 Games to end up in the Las Vegas Bowl. In 2006 they started out 8-1 and were looking at a major BCS berth, before losing 2 of their last 3 Games and settling for Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl. In 2007 they again started out a strong 5-0 before totally falling apart and losing 5 of their last 6 Games and settling for the lowly Armed Forces Bowl. So here they are now in 2008, starting out 4-1 and, again, slipping to lose 3 out of their last 5 Games, and 2 in a row leading up to this Game.
They have really battled on defense the last 2 Games, but have just not been able to generate much offensively. In the loss to the USC Trojans two weeks ago, Cal managed a measly 165 yds of total offense and just 3 points. They ran 57 plays and only managed to get 13 FDs. Last week at Oregon St, although they did get 21 points by virtue of a couple big plays, they were again stymied on offense, being held to just 232 yds of total offense and just 11 FDs. The offensive funk is a little perplexing considering the weapons the Bears possess. QBs Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley have combined for over 2000 passing yds, 19 TDs and just 9 INTs, with 8 different players having double-digit receptions and at least 196 yds receiving. RB Jahvid Best is ranked at #1 in the Conference in all-purpose running with an average of 163 yds per Game rushing, receiving and returns, and is ranked 2nd behind Oregon St.s Jacquizz Rodgers with an average of 98 yds rushing per Game.
On defense, over their last 5 Games, UCLA is the only team that hasnt torched them on the ground though. In the 10 pt win over Oregon and the 3 losses to Arizona, USC and Oregon St, the Bears have given up over 750 yds on the ground, for an average of 188 ypg rushing, and 7 rushing TDs.
The Stanford Cardinal have to feel pretty good about how things have gone for them so far as they have certainly been much more competitive this year. Coming off of a 1-11 season in 2006 and a 4-8 season last year, they are currently sitting at 5-6 overall and 4-4 in the conference. One more win would make them bowl eligible for the first time since 2001. And a win here would be even sweeter because this is the annual rivalry Game against the cross-town Cal Bears in which the winner is awarded the coveted Stanford Axe, a trophy whose origins go back over 100 years to1899. Stanford currently has possession of the prized trophy by virtue of a 20-13 upset of Cal last year, and I can assure you they are not ready to give it up just yet.
The Cardinal are just 4-4 in their last 8 Games, but they have been very competitive. They were able to hang with Notre Dame on the road in a 28-21 loss. Then the week after defeating a very good Arizona team, they lost by just 3 in another road Game at UCLA on a last second Bruin TD. They then thumped a hapless Washington St team 58-0, before falling in consecutive Games to PAC-10 powers Oregon and USC. The loss to Oregon was another road Game where they competed very well though, as the Game was tied at 28 until the Ducks scored with just 6 seconds left to pull out the 7 pt win. And last weeks 45-23 loss to USC might look like it was a rout, but the Game was tied 17-17 at HT, and the Trojans only led by 7 going into the 4th Q. Stanford was able to generate 367 yds of total offense, iNCluding 202 on the ground, and had the same number of FDs as USC at 21.
The Stanford offense, which is led by Junior QB Tavita Pritchard, boasts a power running Game featuring 2 premiere RBs in Toby Gerhart and Anthony Kimble, who have combined for over 1700 rushing yds and 20 TDs. Take away their 58-0 thrashing of Washington St., and the Cardinal are still averaging 26 pts per Game in PAC-10 Games, as compared to 29.7 for the Cal Bears.
These 2 teams are not that far apart from each other in most PAC-10 offensive categories. Cal is the better passing team, but Stanford has the much better rushing stats. Cal has the better passing defense, but they are pretty close on rushing defense. Stanfords strength is in the running Game anyway, and with the way Cals defense has been giving up yards on the ground, Stanford should be able to move the chains and control the clock to some degree. Another thing to consider is the trend the Bears have been following the past few years with the late season collapses. And throw in the importaNCe of this Game as far as the rivalry aspect, and Stanfords shot at a bowl Game, and I think it all boils down to a very close, competitive Game. This may not be one of the more widely known or publicized rivalries, but trust me ..it is a huge rivalry. And you can usually throw out the teams records when they meet. Even in Stanfords 1-11 2006 season when they traveled across the Bay to play the 9-3 Bears, it was a 6 pt Game with under a minute left before Cal kicked a FG with 58 seconds left for the 26-17 victory. Which is basically where the line has been for this Game, at between 8 ½ – 9 pts, depending on where you look. Either way, thats a lot of points to give to a team that could easily pull the upset. To show you how even this match-up has been, since 1996, Stanford is 7-5 SU and 6-5-1 ATS against the Bears. Stanford is 2-0 ATS and 1-1 SU the past 2 years, winning by 7 last year as a 14 pt home underdog, and losing by 9 the previous year as 29 ½ pt road dogs.
The weather calls for sunny skies and temps in the high 60s, so weather should not be an issue. Ill look for Cal to continue to give up big yards on the ground allowing for the Cardinal to keep the Game within reach, and potentially being in a position to pull off the upset. Stanford Cardinal +8 ½ or 9, whichever you can find.
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