Cal frustrated by No. 8 Stanford's success
When defensive end Trevor Guyton and the rest of California's senior class arrived in Berkeley, Cal was competing for conference titles and major bowl bids while rival Stanford was a struggling team that would have been happy just to make a bowl.
As they prepare for the Big Game on Saturday, the Bay Area rivalry has flipped. The eighth-ranked Cardinal are looking to bolster their credentials for a BCS berth, while the Golden Bears have to be satisfied with playing the role of spoilers.
''It is frustrating for us to not be getting all the wins we want to and seeing them kind of skyrocket up,'' Guyton said. ''We have a chance to bring that back down a bit. That's what we're trying to do.''
Stanford (9-1, 7-1 Pac-12) ended a seven-year bowl drought in 2009, won the Orange Bowl last season and was in the running for a spot in the BCS title game until losing last week to Oregon. That's a far cry from a 1-11 campaign in 2006 that ended with Cal's fifth straight win in this rivalry.
The Bears nearly made it to the Rose Bowl in the 2004 season, finished tied for first in the conference in 2006 and were ranked as high as No. 2 in 2007. But Cal has fallen since then and missed out on a bowl game last year for the first time since 2002.
The Bears (6-4, 2-3) became bowl eligible last week by beating Oregon State. But while the Cardinal have hopes of making it to the Fiesta Bowl or Rose Bowl, the Bears appear headed to a lower-profile game, with the Sun Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl and Fight Hunger Bowl strong possibilities.
''Things are cyclical sometimes,'' coach Jeff Tedford said. ''We were up for a while but they were still always competitive games with Stanford. They always have been. They've done a great job to get it to a certain level right now. But it takes a lot to sustain for year after year, 10 years at a high level. The cycle that goes along you hope that we're 6-4 right now and bowl eligible. But we have the Big Game this week. The expectations and goals are always to play at a higher level. That's what we'll continue to strive for.''
The disparity between the two teams was quite evident a year ago in Berkeley, when Andrew Luck and the Cardinal beat the Bears 48-14 in the most lopsided Big Game in 80 years.
The game got off to a tense start when the Cal players all came out for the opening coin toss, almost leading to a brawl.
''I definitely don't like them,'' Guyton said. ''It's something you grow into when you come to Cal or Stanford. It's built in. It's definitely a mutual respect but a distaste, too.''
Once the game started, Luck threw two touchdown passes and led Stanford to scores on all eight possessions he played, but his most memorable play came when he lowered his shoulder and flattened safety Sean Cattouse on a 58-yard run.
The Bears hope to show that the gap has narrowed significantly in the past 12 months, even though the Cardinal are once again in the top 10 and Cal is unranked.
''Of course we embrace the challenge,'' offensive lineman Justin Cheadle said. ''Every guy likes the challenge. We might be the underdog but we have a lot we're playing for. ... One of my biggest memories as a college football player was winning the Big Game in `09 on their field. That was the greatest feeling I've ever had. Winning the Big Game is a very big deal.''
Luck was also a central figure in that 34-28 win for Cal. With the Cardinal in position to drive for the winning touchdown, Luck threw an interception to Mike Mohamed at the 3 with less than 2 minutes left to give Cal the victory.
Controlling Luck will once again be key for Cal.
''The key is to affect the quarterback,'' Guyton said. ''You don't always have to get the sacks and the quarterback hits but you need to affect him and make him change how he throws the ball or makes a decision. If we get in there and do that and get him on the ground a few times, it will help our case.''
Doing that is easier said than done. Stanford has allowed only seven sacks all season with an offensive line led by NFL prospects Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. But three of those sacks came last week against the Ducks, giving the Bears a blueprint to follow this week.