Big Game has big meaning for No. 7 Stanford
The nuances of Stanford's Big Game rivalry against California are still a bit new for Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck.
That was evident when he showed up at the luncheon kicking off the week wearing Golden Bears colors - a blue dress shirt and blue and gold tie - because he has few options when it comes to dress clothes.
It's an excusable oversight considering Luck grew up in Europe and Texas, where the rivalry between the Pac-10's two Bay Area schools doesn't get top billing.
''I didn't know too much,'' he said. ''It was always about Texas-Oklahoma or Texas-Texas A&M. I knew about 'The Play.' My redshirt season I saw how passionate the rivalry was and how the fans got into it.''
Now that Luck has seen the passion he wants to enjoy a win when the teams meet again Saturday in Berkeley. The seventh-ranked Cardinal (9-1, 6-1 Pac-10) have lost both meetings to Cal (5-5, 3-4) since Luck arrived on The Farm - the only team Stanford has played more than once and not beaten in that time frame.
Luck watched the loss two years ago as he sat out his first season at Stanford and then struggled last year against the Bears, completing 10 of 30 passes for 157 yards and a game-sealing interception deep in Cal territory late in a 34-28 home loss.
''It would be nice, personally, to avenge some of the mistakes I made in last year's game,'' Luck said. ''It will be a hostile environment, but a fun environment. They are tough, physical and put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.''
Cal showed how good its defense can be in last week's 15-13 loss to No. 1 Oregon. The Bears held the high-powered Ducks to just one offensive touchdown and 317 total yards of offense - well below their season averages of 54 points and 567 yards coming into the game.
That kind of performance has been typical for the Bears at home, where they have allowed fewer than 10 points per game.
''I thought they dominated Oregon. They were lights out physical and are a tremendous defense,'' Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. ''It's the biggest test for our youngsters and a chance to prove their mettle.''
But dealing with the Ducks' spread option attack is far different from Stanford's power running game and prostyle passing offense led by Luck.
The Cardinal are ninth in the country, scoring 39.8 points per game, with an offense that is equally adept at moving the ball on the ground with Stepfan Taylor and a host of other backs as in the air with Luck throwing to receivers like Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen
''Last year we definitely did put a little bit more focus on trying to shut down Toby (Gerhart) but this year they're definitely more balanced and we're going to have our hands full,'' linebacker Mike Mohamed said.
While Stanford still has realistic goals of making the Rose Bowl or another BCS game, Cal is playing for much smaller achievements in a turnaround from recent years in the rivalry.
The Bears need a win either against Stanford or at home in the regular season finale against Washington to become bowl eligible for an eighth straight season.
''If someone said we were going to be 5-5 at this point we would have said that you're crazy, We had a lot higher expectations and unfortunately some of the games didn't turn out our way,'' Mohamed said. ''We'll just focus on this next game, trying to get that win and a bowl game would be great but right now we're just worried about the Big Game and a bowl game would be extra.''
Normally a struggling team like Cal might have trouble getting up for a game a week after coming so close to playing spoiler against the No. 1 team like the Bears did.
That's not the case this week with their biggest rival coming into Strawberry Canyon.
''I'd be more worried if it wasn't the Big Game,'' offensive lineman Chris Guarnero said. ''I feel our guys will be focused and ready to go. Memorial (Stadium) will be hopping and a cool atmosphere so it'll be a fun game. We want to keep the Axe in Berkeley and it would definitely make our season that much more if we kept it in Berkeley.''