Thanks to the arrival of Coach Jim Harbaugh, Stanford Football has been able to rebuild itself during his three-year tenure. Already, he has attained a respectable 6-3 in a competitive PAC-10 division which, as of yet, has no definitive winner or runaway favorite. Though Stanford had an impressive and meaningful victory in a tough fought shootout with the nationally ranked Oregon Ducks, number 8 at the time, the biggest game of the year is still, without a doubt, against divisional and Bay Area rival California Golden Bears.
The Stanford and Cal rivalry always brings with it great anticipation. “I am very excited to be a part of such an awesome tradition,” said starting freshman quarterback Andrew Luck ‘13, “it means a lot to continue such a great rivalry.” Cal has won six of the last seven Big Games, but the teams this year are much more even.
Both teams have accumulated a 6-3 record for the year, but their paths have been very different. Cal started the year off strong, torching opponents with an almost unstoppable running game headed by Jahvid Best. But as impressive as those first few initial victories were, the Bears have had other teams, namely USC and Oregon, completely rout them in back to back weeks. Despite rebounding in the next three weeks with victories, California once again slipped up at home, unexpectedly losing to Oregon State.
The California Bears have certainly demonstrated a potent offense but can potentially run into a slew of problems. Jahvid Best has been the most significant contributor to the Cal offense, though when he is unable to run the ball effectively, their offense is anemic at best. The injury to Best during the Oregon State makes his presence at the 112th Big Game uncertain. If Best is unable to play, Cal will lose its most dynamic player and will have to find other ways to move the ball.
The Cardinal, similarly, started off the year well, winning their first three conference games in impressive fashion. However, Stanford has had significant problems winning on the road this year. Though competitive, Stanford has only managed to pull out an away victory over the still-struggling Washington State. On the flip side, Stanford has played extraordinarily well at home, and has yet to lose in a game in Stanford Stadium.
The offense has been particularly effective at home, especially after managing to even outscore Oregon. The Stanford offense put up 184 points in just five games at home. Luck was not surprised at being able to score on Oregon and is anticipating similar things in the games to come. “As an offense, we have always had confidence in ourselves,” said Luck. “We approach each drive with a scoring mentality, and while we are going to play three great defenses in the upcoming weeks, we still expect to put points on the board.”
Also important to Stanford’s success has been sophomore phenom Chris Owusu ‘12 on special teams. He has returned kickoffs for three touchdowns and continually gives the offense good field position. Owusu made a definite statement to Oregon on the opening kickoff of the game, going 80 yards and setting up the Cardinal’s first score. Stanford’s effectiveness in the kicking game has allowed them to get momentum early and score first.
Should Stanford come out from the start of the game with an aggressive offense and kick return game, they may gain a distinct advantage over an opponent that has already shown its tendency to play flat against a hot team. Cal, though, will likely be competitive even though they have been inconsistent over the course of the season.
Stanford has a good chance of being able to move the ball well on the Bear’s defense and to emerge victorious. If Cal rebounds from their recent loss, the game may be tougher than expected but still winnable for the Cardinal, which will need strong student support to fully take advantage of playing at home.