Fall sports calendar

The Daily Cal sports staff compiles a no-fail list of the top games to catch across all major sports

10/20: Football vs. Stanford
This one needs no introduction.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s in October or November, in Berkeley or Palo Alto — it can be on the moon, for that matter. It’s always going to be the Big Game, a name the Super Bowl couldn’t even have.

Let’s take a look at the scouting report. You’ve got Josh Nunes, two-time Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck’s replacement, pitted against an improving senior quarterback in Zach Maynard, who nearly matched Luck in last year’s three-point loss. You’ve got two of the nation’s most underrated running backs in seniors Stepfan Taylor (17th in the country in rushing yards) and Isi Sofele (18th). And you’ve got Stanford’s duo of All-American caliber linebackers, Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov, trying to break up curls to a potential breakout player in Richard Rodgers and screens to a future first-rounder in Keenan Allen.

In the end, though, it’s not about player matchups or statistics or last year’s result — it’s about Cal versus Stanford, public versus private, East Bay versus South Bay, blue and gold versus cardinal and white. That’s why it’s the Big Game.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

11/2: Football vs. Washington
On Nov. 2, the Cal football team will have its shot at revenge when it hosts Washington at 6 p.m. For the first time in his football career, Tosh Lupoi will step foot into Memorial Stadium as a member of the visiting team. And for the first time since Lupoi’s defection last January, the Bears will have a chance to prove to him it was a mistake.

The shadiness involved in Lupoi’s departure has been well publicized, and fans and players alike are still livid. Cal will also be looking to avenge a 31-23 loss in Seattle that came down to a Bears’ 4th and goal, as well as a 16-13 loss in 2010 that ended Cal’s season and sent the old Memorial Stadium off on a sour note. The Bears haven’t beaten Washington since 2008, and finding revenge on national television could be a sweet way to reintroduce Memorial Stadium to the rest of the country.

All that mixed in with two potent offenses with a myriad of weapons matched up with Washington’s porous defense — featuring two-time Cal commit and ultimate defector Shaq Thompson — and the Bears’ inexperience behind its defensive line should make for quite the show.

— Connor Byrne

8/31: M. Soccer at Virginia
As the men’s soccer team settles into a much-anticipated season, it faces one of its biggest hurdles of the season this Friday against Virginia.

The Cavaliers have one of the top squads in the country, which Cal will try to take down away from its home field.

Last year, Virginia finished with a 12-8-1 overall record, earning its record 31st consecutive trip to the NCAA Championship. Seniors Will Bates and Ari Dimas, who were on the squad in 2009 as freshman, winning the national championship, will lead the Cavaliers this year.

The past two years have certainly been underwhelming for Virginia, with two early-round exits in a row. This match will show the Bears how far they have really come since their underwhelming 2011 season.

— Karan Karia

9/30: M. Soccer vs. UCLA
Since 2002, the Pac-12 title has gone back and forth between Berkeley and Westwood each year.

But after winning the conference in 2010 and the subsequent talent exodus to the MLS, Cal withered out of the two-team title race, leaving No. 2 UCLA with the Pac-12 trophy and no challengers to the crown.

After an abysmal 2011 campaign, the Bears showed signs of a program rebound in its 2-1 season opener victory against Santa Clara, but they are still likely years behind UCLA.

The first match between the two Pac-12 rivals on Sept. 30 at Edwards Stadium will diagnose how far behind Cal is to the Bruins. After losing stars Chandler Hoffman and Kelyn Rowe to the MLS, UCLA is looking awfully shaky for the No. 2 team in the nation. Their 3-2 loss to No. 6 New Mexico in their season opener didn’t give off the impression that the current UCLA team will replicate their semifinal run in the NCAA tournament last year.

If the Bears can put on a solid performance against the Bruins, perhaps their climb back to the conference throne will be shorter than expected.

— Seung Y. Lee

10/26: W. Soccer at UCLA
In the preseason 2012 Pac-12 Women’s soccer coaches poll, Cal (2-2) was chosen to finish third. No surprise to the Bears, traditional powerhouse No. 5 UCLA was chosen to finish above them, and there are plenty of reasons why.

Last year the Bruins only dropped one game in their stellar 16-1-4 overall record and a 8-1-2 record in the conference, placing them in second in the league. In Berkeley, UCLA battled the Bears to a tie after two overtime periods.

That was last year, but a year later the Bruins team looks exactly the same. With ten of its 11 starters returning from last year and a schedule with 7-game and 4-game homestands, this team fully expects to contend not only  for the Pac-12 title but also the national title.

UCLA (3-0) has had consistent play thus far this season, scoring two goals in each of their first three games and beating No. 22 Illinois 2-0.

Cal will play the Bruins on Oct. 26 at Drake Stadium. Although UCLA has only three seniors on the roster, most have one year of college play under their belts. In Cal’s third to last game of the season, the Bruins will certainly provide a tough road challenge to the Bears.

— Austin Crochetiere

11/4: W. Soccer vs. Stanford
When it comes to pivotal games in the season, Cal teams can usually look to their games against rival Stanford as a top candidate.

However, Cal’s Nov. 4 game home in Edwards Stadium against the No. 1 Cardinal is significant to the overall course of the season for much more than the rivalry aspect.

Stanford is coming off the programs first national title after two straight NCAA runner ups in 2009 and 2010. The squad is the favorite to repeat as Pac-12 champs, especially after a nearly flawless 25-0-1 overall record.

The squad began the season returning 47 percent of its scoring from last year due to the graduation of three All-Americans, injury and national team call ups and already has suffered as a result.

Stanford was able to throttle No. 25 Santa Clara, 6-1, and squeak past No. 6 Penn State, 3-2, but was upset by West Virginia, 1-0.

Although the Cardinal’s 25-game winning streak was snapped and the squad seems more vulnerable this year, they still are an imposing sight in the last spot of Cal’s 2012 schedule.

The Bears sustained a 2-0 loss in Palo Alto last season, but this year’s squad will take advantage of its strong midfield to control the last contest of the regular season before the NCAAs.

— Austin Crochetiere

9/19: Volleyball at Stanford
Cal volleyball will open their conference play with an important test. The Bears’ Sept. 19 game at Stanford goes beyond a simple rivalry.

The Cardinal fell to Cal, 3-1, on two separate occasions last year. Though graduated outside hitter Tarah Murrey was an important factor in both those victories — making 15 kills in the first and 23 in the second — so were the players that now make up the Bears’ senior leadership.

This match will give Cal the chance, long before the Big Spike in November to see if they can rework their offense to fill important holes. It will be one of the Bears’ most challenging games, given how early it is in the season, but it will also be a key test of how the squad has adapted to their new lineup.

— Alex Matthews

10/14: Volleyball vs. UCLA
It goes without saying that, as members of the Pac-12, Cal volleyball faces a tough schedule, and it’s even more self-evident that the most challenging of those games will be against UCLA.

Even with a schedule that includes two other teams ranked ahead of the No. 17 Bears, the top-ranked Bruins will be anything but a break about halfway through conference play.

In a year when Cal is struggling to fill offensive holes from their last two graduating classes, UCLA’s top scorers have just hit their stride. Seniors Tabi Love and Rachael Kidder led the team in kills last year. Kidder’s 574 topped Cal’s most recent superstar Tarah Murrey in her senior year kill count by just short of 100.

The Oct. 14 home game won’t necessarily be a blowout: the Bears played their opening games with some of their most experienced players benched with injuries. Still, even Cal’s most experienced scorers will have to step up their game to keep up with Love and Kidder.

— Alex Matthews

9/23: M. Water Polo at USC
The Cal men’s water polo team will face it’s first important test on September 23rd at USC.

Although the Bears are likely to see some of the top teams in the NorCal Invitational the week before, the USC away game will reveal if the Bears added depth can make up for the lost experience of 13 players from last year.

The Trojans are coming off of their fourth consecutive National Championship with plenty of young talent and experienced coaching to lead the team, USC looks to be a top contender down the stretch.

The Bears’ last NCAA tournament appearance ended in an 12-10 overtime loss at Spieker Aquatic Center in 2010. USC won the tournament again last year in Cal’s home pool, but the Bears were absent from the NCAA tournament after an overtime loss to UCLA in the MPSF semifinals.

— Warren Laufer

10/6: M. Water Polo vs. UCLA
Two weeks after the USC game, the Bears will play their toughest home game of the season when the UCLA Bruins come to Spieker Aquatic Center for an MPSF conference game on Oct. 6th.

There will undoubtedly be strong emotions after the 7-6 loss in the semifinals of the MPSF tournament ended the Bears’ hopes of playing in the NCAA tournament in their home pool.

The Bruins lost, 7-4, in the NCAA final last year but lost only three players that saw significant playing time. The already young team also brought in one of the most talented recruiting classes in the country. Although head coach Adam Wright has yet to announce redshirts, the Bruins are likely to have more depth than they did last season.

The Bears are likely to meet the Bruins in the NorCal and SoCal Invitationals in the weeks before the conference game, but the MPSF game will be significant for both national rankings and seeding for the MPSF tournament.

— Warren Laufer

9/28: Field Hockey vs. Stanford
Cal women’s field hockey is set to face No. 5 Stanford, their toughest Pac-12 competitor Sept. 28, on Maxwell Family Field.

The Bears faced Stanford three times last season, but the first two faceoffs resulted in the Cardinal edging out the Bears. It wasn’t until the end of the season, at the NorPac championship game, that Cal was able to beat its tough competitor.

The Cardinals are currently 1-1 in their 2012 season. This past Sunday, Stanford fell to No. 1 Maryland, losing to them by one point.  Cal recently fell by the same margin to the same team.

Despite Stanford’s higher ranking, the Bears recent attacking game plan has proven that they are a force to be reckoned with — despite what rankings may suggest.

— Wendy Moreno