On Saturday at 4 p.m., the 124th Big Game will kick off at the Farm as the Bears attempt to recover from what can best be described as a disastrous couple of weeks for the program.
In case you managed to avoid the news cycle, Cal was forced to reschedule last week’s game against USC and lost to a lackluster Arizona team after a significant number of student-athletes within the Bears’ program tested positive for COVID-19. However, the blue and gold look to be mostly back in action this week, as the depth chart released by the program Tuesday morning shows most of its previous starters returning.
“There are still a few people out,” said head coach Justin Wilcox, “but we feel good about this group.”
The position that appears to be the most affected is Cal’s offensive line, one of the places that’s vital to see consistency week in and week out. Cal fans will get to take a look at some of the younger talent emerging from that group, including sophomore guard Everett Johnson, who stands at 6’7” and 310 pounds.
The good news? The Bears have a more “traditional” week of preparation for Stanford, according to Wilcox. Cal will need all the normalcy it can muster to beat its rivals away from home.
As such, a win at the Farm is certainly not out of the question. Currently, ESPN has the Bears at a 50.8% chance of winning this year’s Big Game. The betting line suggests a similar outcome, settling at -1.5 in favor of Cal. Essentially, this is Vegas’ way of saying, “We don’t exactly know what’s going to happen.” But hey, who does at this point?
A toss-up on paper, this war will be won by someone somehow. And who knows what cursed reason might determine the outcome?
Right now, the two teams’ passing attacks look eerily similar. Both sit around 60% completion and hover around or below 2,100 total yards coming into the Big Game. However, Cal has the upper hand in the rushing department, sitting at 1,445 yards this year, compared to Stanford’s 949.
Cal fans might not be overly optimistic about these numbers, given that Stanford is pitiful on offense (and defense) this year. But here’s another way of looking at it: The Cardinal have played, essentially, two more games than the Bears have this season given the USC rescheduling and the fiasco down in Tucson. In other words, it’s another reason for optimism.
Cal is just about breaking even at 22.9 points per game and 22.2 points allowed per game, while Stanford is getting 22 and giving up 30. But as everyone knows, the games are played for a reason, and nothing is certain until it’s all zeros on the clock. Well, except for that one time with the marching band.
The history and fanfare surrounding the Big Game are not lost on Wilcox.
“I want the players to understand the history of the Big Game,” Wilcox said. “It’s one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football, and we’re playing the 124th edition. Half the games are decided by a touchdown or less; it means a lot to a number of people.”
This game, to many fans, defines if the Bears had a “good” or “bad” season, regardless of what the rest of the year looked like. Wilcox mentioned that he and the rest of the program certainly don’t buy into that level of hype, but everyone knows that this is a must-win game. A win against Stanford, UCLA and USC would grant Cal bowl game eligibility — something that seemed all but improbable just a few weeks ago.