Big Game shootaround

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Do you think Cal coming off a bye-week and Stanford having a major game next week will make a big difference?

Vikram Muller: No. Perhaps a little one, but not anything to change my prediction for the final score. Stanford is vying for a shot at the Pac-12 championship, they are at home against their rival, and they’ve been better than Cal all season long. The bye week might help Cal in terms of overall production, but the final result should still be the typical ground game domination by Bryce Love en route to a Stanford victory.

Andrew Wild: As my embarrassing score predictions throughout the season have shown, I’m generally a pretty big pessimist in terms of Cal’s chances in big games. But it seems like everything is going the Bears’ way in this one, and Justin Wilcox is the type of a head coach that I think could be scary coming off of a bye. On top of that, being slotted in between major games against Washington and Notre Dame really makes it likely for even a disciplined team like the Cardinal to somewhat overlook Cal.

Austin Isaacsohn: I’ve never understood the wild bye schedule in college football, because it gives some teams — like Cal this year — a huge early-season disadvantage and a huge late-season pick-me-up. The Bears getting a full two weeks to rest and study the Cardinal will absolutely make an impact in this game. Stanford has played three games since their bye, and they haven’t had a dominant win in any of them. I get the feeling that this game will be close at the beginning, and Cal’s rest may keep them more in it late.

Can Patrick Laird repeat the sort of performance we saw against Oregon State?

VM: The Stanford rushing defense has allowed roughly 50 yards per game fewer than Oregon State’s, as well as 13 fewer touchdowns. So even if the return of Patrick Mekari bolstered the Cal offensive line to new heights that weren’t reached even before his injury, it’s unlikely Laird is able to find holes as big as the ones against the Beavers.

AW: I can’t tell how real the offensive line’s performance was against Oregon State, but even if they are much improved with the return of Mekari, it probably won’t be enough against the über-physical Cardinal. Laird is a talented back, but he can’t evade 11 defenders. Offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin has shown a willingness to force-feed him the ball in a way I wasn’t totally expecting, so he’ll get his touches. It’s just a question of how the guys up front hold on.
AI: Certainly not another career-high, but he’ll be the focal point of the ground game and should have a nice outing. The coaching staff has shown some ingenuity in getting him the ball, and the Cardinal defense will probably be more keyed-in on sacking Ross Bowers than stopping the run.

What is Cal’s key to stopping Bryce Love?

VM: Cal’s defense has given up 100-yard rushing performances in three games this season, and aside from possibly Royce Freeman of Oregon ─ who actually got injured in the Bears’ game in Eugene and didn’t reach the century mark ─ Love appears to be far shiftier and more elusive of a back. I’m not sure if there is a key to stopping him other than packing the box, and hoping the turnover-causing defense can hold its own without double coverage on pass plays.

AW: We saw guys on the defensive line like Tevin Paul and James Looney have massive games against Colorado in what was overall a disappoint game for the defense. But if those players can keep active in front and move lineman around, it will give Jordan Kunaszyk and the rest of the linebacking crew a chance to catch up with Love.

Would becoming bowl-eligible by beating Stanford in his first year end up with Justin Wilcox being elected chancellor?

VM: Wilcox has already done so much for Cal football in his short tenure thus far, and taking the axe from Stanford for the first time since 2009 would be the cherry on top. If coaching can translate to administrative skills, maybe he even has experience to run a university, who knows? Wilcox for chancellor.

AW: For a team that was projected to be a Pac-12 basement-dweller, I really can’t imagine how huge it would be to beat their biggest rival on the road and break a seven-game losing streak. They have another chance on the road against UCLA next week, but that would be so much less climactic than doing it in Palo Alto.The problem is that a win that big would mean a bigger program poaching Wilcox before the election could get under way.
AI: Hell yeah. Someone’s gonna have to tear down People’s Park and turn Edwards Stadium into a freshman housing unit — may as well be the guy who’s built up the goodwill by bringing the Axe home.

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