Cal and Stanford are two universities heralded for their academics, but they also have produced more than their fair share of exceptional professional football players. As the schools’ football teams clash this year in the Big Game, I wondered what it would look like if the two schools’ alumni also faced off.
So, in honor of Big Game Week, I put together two rosters of currently active NFL players: one of Berkeley alums, and the other of Stanford alums. Here’s which positional group would win if the two faced off.
Cal alum and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers fell to 24th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft, and since then he has punished each team that passed on him. An eight-time Pro Bowler, two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl XLV MVP, Rodgers is one of the greatest players of his generation and is widely considered one of the best passers of all time. His backup on the Cal super team is Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff — a solid option in his own right, who also has a Super Bowl appearance under his belt.
Meanwhile, Stanford has no quarterbacks on active rosters in the NFL, following the retirement of Andrew Luck ‘12 last season; however, this team’s appointee at signal caller, Seattle Seahawks tight end Colby Parkinson, proved himself to be one of the most statistically efficient passers in college football history. Though his opportunities as a passer were limited on the Farm, Parkinson boasts a 100% completion rate and has never thrown a pass that did not lead to a Stanford score. Granted, he threw the ball once for an eight-yard touchdown, but if this limited sample size is at all predictive, we would see Parkinson make throws all over the yard and out-duel Rodgers handily in a Cal vs. Stanford NFL alumni showdown.
Stanford takes this one with ease; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey ‘16 is one of the most impressive dual-threat players in NFL history. His backup, Ty Montgomery ’15 of the New Orleans Saints, has also shown talent as a receiver, running back and return man.
Cal’s Patrick Laird was solid as an undrafted rookie last season with the Miami Dolphins and has also shown dual threat ability. However, the Stanford team will be unintimidated by a back who is most well-known in Miami for being mistaken for an intern during training camp in his rookie year.
Berkeley’s strong starting duo of Marvin Jones Jr. and Keenan Allen constitutes the bulk of the team’s offense and causes trouble for Stanford’s secondary. Allen, who plays for the Chargers, has been one of the best receivers in the NFL this season and is coming off of a dominant performance against the New York Jets, in which he racked up 16 receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown. Jones Jr. has also been a steady contributor for the Detroit Lions for the past few seasons and is a deep-threat specialist with a knack for making contested catches.
Stanford will need a lot of help from McCaffrey and Montgomery in the receiving game as their only NFL receiver is JJ Arcega-Whiteside ’18, who has underperformed with the Philadelphia Eagles since his selection in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Stanford’s offensive dominance takes hold with the ability to use athletic tight ends in the passing and rushing game; Cleveland Browns’ Austin Hooper ’17, the Cowboys’ Dalton Schultz ’18, and the New York Giants’ Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo ’13 would allow quarterback Parkinson to dominate the seams while clearing massive holes for McCaffrey. Berkeley’s starters in Stephen Anderson and Richard Rodgers simply cannot keep up here and are an afterthought in the showdown game.
Both Berkeley and Stanford have produced a strong rotation of offensive linemen in the NFL, but Stanford takes the matchup based on depth. The Falcons’ Alex Mack and the Chiefs’ Mitchell Schwartz have been at the top of their respective position groups in the NFL for years now, but Cal’s lack of depth forces them to bring in their tight ends as their fourth and fifth offensive linemen in the game, where they struggle mightily.
Meanwhile, Stanford has strong offensive line depth led by stars at the guard position in the Steelers’ five-time Pro Bowler David DeCastro ‘12 and the Eagles’ Nate Herbig, who has exceeded expectations in limited time as a starter. The Giants’ Cameron Fleming ’14, the Tennessee Titans’ AT Hall ‘19 and the New Orleans Saints’ Andrus Peat ‘15 round out the group to give the Cardinal a solid starting five.
Stanford’s depth wins out again on the defensive line despite Berkeley’s better top-end talent. Cal alums Cameron Jordan of the Saints and Tyson Alualu of the Steelers have been some of the best defensive linemen in the NFL this season — but you can’t win a football game with two defensive linemen! Stanford’s rotation of stout but not stellar linemen in the Jets’ Henry Anderson ’15, the Cardinals’ Josh Mauro ’12, the Bills’ Trent Murphy ’14 and Harrison Phillips ’18, and edge rusher for the Washington Football Team Casey Toohill ‘20 prove to be too much for the Rodgers-led Berkeley offense.
Stanford’s defensive superiority continues here with the powerful rotation of the Giants’ Blake Martinez ’16, the Colts’ Bobby Okereke ’19, the Texans’ Peter Kalambayi ’17 and the Bears’ James Vaughters ’15. Martinez is a run-stuffing tackling machine, and Okereke has been stellar in pass coverage over the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Berkeley’s only two linebackers on active rosters in the NFL are the Giants’ Devante Downs and the Washington Football Team’s Jordan Kunaszyk, neither of whom are starters and both of whom see limited playing time.
The Jets’ Ashtyn Davis and the Falcons’ Jaylinn Hawkins have shown promise as rookie safeties this season, but Stanford’s starters push past Cal in terms of experience and athleticism. The Texans’ Justin Reid ’18 has been tearing it up this year and most recently racked up nine tackles and a sack against the New England Patriots last Sunday. The Texans’ Michael Thomas ’12 has been a Pro Bowl-caliber special teamer for years, and Baltimore backup Jordan Richards ’15 rounds out Stanford’s group.
Cal has no cornerbacks in the NFL, making Parkinson’s job even easier. 49ers’ Richard Sherman ’10 is not eligible for this team this year because he is on injured reserve, but Los Angeles Chargers corner Quenton Meeks complements the former Cardinal safeties to form a solid four-man secondary to slow Rodgers down.
Neither team has a placekicker but both boast impressive punters. Cal’s Bryan Anger has been a reliable specialist for the Houston Texans this season, pinning teams inside the 20-yard line 20 times this season on 37 punts; meanwhile, Stanford’s Jake Bailey ‘19 has pinned 19 teams on only 27 punts, constituting a better percentage for the New England Patriots. Again, Stanford has Berkeley beat.
All in all, Berkeley’s lack of offensive line and general defensive depth leave them unable to keep up with a Stanford-NFL team that is able to rotate players in and out both defensively and offensively, despite lacking a true quarterback.
Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu.