As Stanford and Cal fans trek from across the Bay to watch two hobbled programs clash in the 124th Big Game, money will be pouring into Vegas sportsbooks from across the country. Despite winning the Big Game last year, Stanford’s flagging program (3-7, 2-6 Pac-12) is a 1.5 point underdog against a weak Cal team (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12). While California does not allow sports betting, we will break down the different bets that are available to those in the 29 states that do.
The standard odds for a spread bet are -110, meaning that risking $110 would return $100. After opening as a 5.5 point favorite, Cal is currently favored by only a point and a half. The drastic line change came with the announcement that Stanford sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee is probable to play. Stanford has not looked strong against the spread this season; the Cardinal have covered only three out of their 10 games so far and have done so only on wins.
Despite having started only seven games this season, McKee has been under center for all three of the Cardinal’s covers. Though McKee has been far from dominant following Stanford’s upset of No. 3 Oregon, his presence on the field is a game-changer: the point differential in Stanford losses without McKee is a whopping 27.7 points. Vegas knows all, but this time, it seems that Vegas has underestimated how debilitating the Ari Patu/Dylan Plautz/Isaiah Sanders/Jack West quarterback rotation has been in McKee’s absence. While Vegas has acknowledged that McKee’s return will substantially impact the Stanford offense, the sportsbooks do not seem to realize that the difference between McKee and the other Cardinal quarterbacks is far more than a single score.
The over/under is currently set at 45.5. The total has gone under in six of Stanford’s 10 games and five of Cal’s nine. With Cal sporting a respectable rush defense (fourth in the Pac-12) to defend Stanford’s paltry rushing attack (last in the Pac-12), the Cardinal will have to rely heavily on McKee’s arm. If McKee can successfully target the receiving core of senior wide receiver Michael Wilson, junior wide receiver Elijah Higgins, sophomore wide receiver John Humphreys and sophomore tight end Benjamin Yurosek, we should be able to count on the Cardinal for 20-27 points. The key here will be how well Stanford is able to defend the Bears’ rush. With both teams likely scraping the bottom of the barrel to find an edge on the ground, the Stanford defense could be due for a resurgent week against a Cal team that is likely out of shape following a COVID-19 outbreak.
Both offenses may struggle out of the gates as Cal recovers from 44 positive COVID-19 cases among players and staff and McKee takes his first snaps in three weeks. With a Stanford offense that has made its (feeble) name in the second half, the under 21.5 first-half total looks appealing.
Ultimately, fans should not expect a shootout; for Stanford to retain the Axe, they will have to grind out a gritty game, digging deep for motivation in a lost season. Despite having lost five straight, McKee’s return should inspire confidence in Stanford bettors.
Two-leg same-game parlay +301 (Risk $100 to win $301)
Stanford ML (+110)
Under 45.5 (-110)
Editor’s Note: This article is for entertainment purposes only. This is not gambling advice. If you have a gambling problem, call 1-800-GAMBLER for help.