There was a time not too long ago when the only the game that really mattered on the Stanford schedule was this one, the Big Game matchup with the California Golden Bears. Mainly this was because Stanford teams weren't good enough to have any higher aspirations. The best fans could hope for was a win over Cal and a year with the Axe.
Things have changed. If a program is to have national expectations, every game must matter. Oregon coach Chip Kelly talks about this constantly as he downplays his school's rivalry with Oregon State and claims that they have eleven rivals every year with each game holding equal importance.
So as we get ready to play this game, I thought it might help to take the temperature of the Cal Bears and their fans. I think it's safe to say that, in general, Stanford fans' dislike for Cal cannot begin to compare with the sheer hatred Cal fans harbor in their hearts for all things Cardinal, but the two gentlemen from California Golden Blogs (atomsareenough and TwistNHook) were more than civil as we talked about this. (When you're done reading their side of the interview here, please check out the answers that Scott Allen of Rule of Tree and I gave them over on their site. And if you've got the time, you can help Scott and me figure out some mysterious aliases like they have.) Anyway, read on...
I recently had a troublesome conversation with a Stanford alum I met in a doctor's office. We were talking about the football team, and he said, "The only game that really matters is Cal." I love Big Game, I love the Axe, I love the rivalry, and I hate losing to you Cal Bears, but I can't understand this attitude that nothing else matters as long as we beat Cal. Where do Cal fans sit on this issue?
Aside from the wins and losses, what has this season been like for Cal fans? Have the games in the City still felt like home games?
It's been a weird season. The AT & T games have not felt like home games. This is especially true since very few students have shown up. Further, the ticket pricing led to MANY empty seats. :(!
Tell me about Zach Maynard. Big things were expected of him, but he's kind of had an up and down season. Is this just as adjustment to the Pac-12, or do you think this is who he is? What are his strengths and weaknesses, and what do you expect of him in the future?
A little of Column A, a little of Column B. I was personally very bullish on Maynard at the start of the season, but after seeing several games I think his ceiling isn't quite as high as I was hoping it was. I like his mobility, I think he's capable of throwing a very nice ball. He's got a lot of athletic ability, and I think he's grown over the course of the season... But that said, he's a very inconsistent player, and he's not really got very good touch on his passes, and I don't know if that's going to get fixed next year. After the UCLA debacle, it feels like we've leaned a little more on the run game, and it's allowed him the past few games to concentrate on being more of a game manager, and to his credit, he's been effective in that role. Honestly though, it's hard to know what to expect out of him from one game to the next, so who knows what we'll see next season.
It seems like you guys always have a dangerous running back, and this year it's Isi Sofele, who's coming off the best game of his career against Oregon State. Stanford fans, meanwhile, are still having nightmares about Oregon's LaMichael James. What are the chances that Sofele has a big game during Big Game? What makes him effective as a runner?
I think the chances are pretty decent. I've been very impressed with Sofele's development over the season. The O-line has also been getting better at opening up holes for him, but that hasn't been the whole story. He's been really running hard the past few weeks, going through contact, gaining extra yards. He's small and quick but he's also really strong and tough. In practice earlier this year, one defensive player described him as being tough to tackle, like a bowling ball, and we're starting to see that toughness show in games. He's been taking a pounding and yet he still looks remarkably fresh. I'm expecting a good game from him on Saturday.
I think it's mostly a perception issue. Even in the Oregon game, he completed over 65% of his passes, right? You guys have had a number of receivers and tight ends go down to injury, and that's naturally going to affect the passing game somewhat, but he's still an elite QB, and this downfall business is probably overplayed. That said, I'm hoping to see our front 7 at least get in his face and hurry him up a little.
Give me a prediction for the game, complete with a final score.
I think we hold you guys to about 30 or less, but it's an open question whether our offense will be able to score that much to make it a game. You guys will probably win but I'm relentlessly hopeful about my Bears, so here we go, 30-28 Bears, Tavecchio kicks his 3rd field goal of the day as time expires to give us the upset.
Since you asked me this question, I'll fire it back to you. Who do you want to punch in the face?
It's still Jim Harbaugh for me. I really can't stand that guy.