I can’t really speak to many specific Cardinal-football-related anecdotes before 1998, but as far as Big Games go, tomorrow’s showdown is perhaps the most important one I’ve seen over the last 14 years, at least from a Stanford perspective.
It’s more important than the 2008 shellacking in Berkeley that left the Cardinal one win shy of its first bowl in seven years, or Stanford’s dramatic win in 2000 in the series’ first overtime game, or last year’s dominant 48-14 victory to preserve the Cardinal’s hopes for a BCS at-large bid. And I’d argue that it’s even more important than the 31-13 win in 1999 to secure Stanford’s first trip to Pasadena in 28 years.
That’s because, if you haven’t heard, Cardinal football fans are down in the dumps right now. And justifiably so. College football is cyclical, and with Andrew Luck just two regular-season games from leaving the Farm, there’s good reason to believe that this year is Stanford’s peak, at least for now. After letting last week’s hyped-up game slip away–literally–Stanford’s national title dreams are practically gone, and a Rose Bowl berth would be a stretch as well.
Sure, a BCS bowl is likely to pick up the Cardinal as long as it wins out. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you know anything about Stanford football history, you should be pleasantly surprised whenever you finish in the top-10 two years in a row.
But I’m sorry. The Orange Bowl is not the Rose Bowl; the Fiesta Bowl is not the Rose Bowl. If this season ends anywhere but Pasadena, it’s going to feel like a missed opportunity for Stanford football fans.
Add that to the increasing number of East-coast biased, uninformed “pundits” who are going to couple Luck’s marginal performance against the Ducks with highly irrelevant statistical analysis to try and throw him off the Heisman pedestal he so deserves (Toby Gerhart, you have company), while ignoring the injuries to two of his best targets and the dropped passes by those receivers who did make it onto the field, and this is starting to feel like crisis time.
That’s what makes the 114th Big Game so important. I don’t want to see Stanford beat Cal; I want to see Stanford destroy Cal behind six touchdown passes, 400 rushing yards, two sacks apiece for each of our starting linebackers, multiple pick-sixes from the dynamic Michael Thomas and at least one dominant run by Luck. If there was ever a game where margin of victory really mattered, it’s this one. Cardinal fans need catharsis, and we need it now.
I have a strong suspicion that Stanford football players need catharsis too. And an even stronger suspicion that they’re going to get it tomorrow.
Cal may have the best total defense–and, perhaps more importantly, the best pass defense–in the Pac-12. Remember last year, when the Bears looked to stifle the Stanford attack on a cold, rainy day in Memorial Stadium behind a defense that led the conference in the same two categories? Cal surely had forgotten that little bit of information by the time the Cardinal jumped out to a 45-0 lead in the third quarter.
Cal may have the best brother tandem in the Pac-12 between quarterback Zach Maynard and receiver Keenan Allen. That doesn’t hide the fact that Maynard is easily Cal’s least accurate starting passer in years, struggling for 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season.
And Cal may be facing Luck on the downswing, after just his sixth loss as a starting quarterback. But Luck is 4-1 in the games after those previous five defeats, throwing seven touchdowns and an average of over 250 yards per game.
Rivalry games are way too unpredictable for me to say that the Cardinal should run away with this one. But if there was ever a time when this Stanford team–and this Stanford fan base–could use a blowout, it’s now.
You don’t have to look back very far to find bowl-less seasons that Cardinal fans considered successes–as long as the year ended in a Big Game win. We’re past that era, yet this Big Game is still much bigger than most.
Joseph has a remarkably good memory of past Big Games, considering that he is only a freshman. Make him feel young again at jbeyda “at” stanford.edu.