There's normally a certain amount of tension associated with Big Game. Even during the Andrew Luck Era there was the disheartening loss in 2009 (the last time Cal went home with the Axe), and 2011 was just a three-point victory.
Don't expect any suspense this year, however. The Bears are bad. Historically bad. As they limp into this Saturday's game in Stanford Stadium, the Cal players could be excused if they might be more interested in finally finishing their dismal season than actually competing for the Axe. The Bears are 1-10, and that lone victory was a narrow 37-30 win over Portland State, an FCS team that is in the bottom half of the Big Sky conference. In fact, Cal has lost fifteen straight games to FBS opponents, a streak that stretches back to October of 2012.
These haven't been narrow losses, by the way. This season the Bears have lost six times by 20 or more, and three times by 30 or more. They rank 95th in the nation in scoring and 124th in scoring defense. Every opponent has scored at least 30 points (including Portland State), eight have scored 40 or more, three have topped 50, and USC dropped 62 points on the Bears two weeks ago.
Not only is this the worst Cal team of the past 25 years, it's also one of the worst Pac-10/12 teams during that period. (Of course, the 2006 Stanford Cardinal is on that last also.)
But if there is a lone bright spot in the black hole that has consumed Cal Football, it must be Jared Goff, the true freshman quarterback who has posted phenomenal numbers throughout the year. With 3,314 yards passing, he's only 186 yards short of Cal's all-time single-season passing record. I'm not sure that an accomplishment like that would take any of the sting out of what's sure to be a 1-11 season, but at least it would be something.
My prediction for the game is Stanford 48, Cal 10, but even that feels a bit generous.
For a deeper look into the abyss, I give you the writing team from California Golden Blogs. (You can also read my answers to their questions, as well as Jack Blanchat's from Rule of Tree, over at the site.) Enjoy.
So, the Sonny Dykes era hasn't gotten off to the start that some would've liked. How does the fan base feel about him? Does he still look like the right man for the job?
Kodiak: It's still too early to pass judgement. But eyebrows are raised and the hotseat is warmed up. We knew it would be bad. Didn't think it would be this bad.
atomsareenough: The rough start to the Sonny Dykes era has of course emboldened the skeptics, but I think most Cal fans are willing to wait and see if they can show some tangible signs of improvement next year. He's very personable and approachable, and he's said the right things, so that has bought him some good will... but obviously, at some point we will need to start seeing results. The jury's still out, but this really couldn't have been a worse start.
True freshman Jared Goff has put up some ridiculous numbers, and I'm guessing he's probably inspired an awful lot of hope for the future. How has his season looked? How has he managed the growing pains, and what do you expect to see from him over the next three years?
Kodiak: What started with a lot of promise against Northwestern has ultimately been a disappointment. Stats-wise, he'll likely set a single-season passing record. But from a results standpoint, he was more inconsistent than we would have liked; ie. we didn't see an increase in confidence and ability as the season progressed. Some of that is on the Oline and lack of running game. I don't expect Dykes to re-open the QB competition.
People around the nation might not realize this, but Cal has a rich history over the past two decades of producing outstanding running backs. What's going on at that position now? Who's the next great Cal running back?
What can we expect to see from the defense? Stanford's offense has been inconsistent this year. How might the Bears attack them?
I read a quote from an ex-Cal player this week saying that he worried the current players simply didn't have enough hatred towards Stanford to come up with a big effort on Saturday. Can that really be possible?
Kodiak: No. We all still hate you.
atomsareenough: Any player who doesn't hate Stanford simply hasn't been paying attention to how annoying your entire institution is. No offense. Suffice it to say, I think there will be ample animosity to draw upon.
So if this season is rock bottom, where does Cal football go from here? (I ask this question because if I look over my shoulder, I can still see Stanford's rock bottom, just seven years ago.)
atomsareenough: I'd say there's nowhere to go but up.... But as a Cal guy, I know better. Nothing is ever guaranteed. Ideally though, we get our first string defense back from injury (seriously, we're missing something like 9 out of 11 projected defensive starters going into this year), and the guys who did play this year use the experience to get better. Maybe we get some coaching upgrades on defense too. Also, hopefully an entire year of continuity with the offense will allow guys to play fast and efficiently next year as well. I'm hoping for a bowl team next year. We'll see.
Okay, here it is. What's your prediction for Saturday's game?