Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - November 22, 2013

Big Game rekindles Stanford postseason hopes

While loss to USC may have bounced Cardinal from Rose Bowl, Cal and Notre Dame games offer opportunity

by Rick Eymer

Big Game Week on the Stanford campus started like any other week, with the possible exception of the annual goring of the Teddy Bear by the Leland Stanford Junior Marching Band at the fountain fondly nicknamed "The Claw." It's a tradition known as "bearial."

"You know there is bad blood in the water," Stanford receiver Jeff Trojan said. "We're not very fond of each other. They stole our Axe and I don't like them for that."

One hundred and fourteen years later and he's still holding a grudge.

That's what makes this week so special. Throw out the records and bring in the rivalry. This is a unique week of its own. Forget that 20-17 loss at USC on Saturday. Time to focus on California, which visits Stanford this Saturday for the 116th edition of the Big Game. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

"It's Cal," said Trojan, who grew in Southern California firmly entrenched in the UCLA-USC quarrel. "There's no problem getting excited to play your rival. It's a chance to keep the Axe and dominate Northern California."

For Stanford (6-2 in the Pac-12, 8-2 overall) it's a chance to jump back on the yellow brick road toward a berth in a premier bowl game. For California (0-8, 1-10), it's a chance to salvage what has been a dreadful year.

"You can go 1-11 and if that win is the Big Game, you save your season a little bit," Trojan said.

Former Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham lives on in school history books as much as for going unbeaten in the Big Game, both as a head coach and assistant coach, than for getting the Cardinal into the 2000 Rose Bowl.

Stanford's seven-game winning streak between 1995 and 2001, the longest of the series, all came on Willingham's watch. He also served as an assistant for three years under Denny Green. He's a perfect 10 against the Golden Bears.

"This game should be played in November," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "People on both sides are doing what they can to keep it late. It's going to be a Big Game atmosphere."

The Earth's axis bent a little bit when the Big Game was held in October, for the only time, last year under the guise of the Pac-12 Network's television contract. The world returns to its proper position this time around.

"It's all about tangible evidence," Trojan said. "We're playing for a trophy. You know they are going to give us their shot."

Last year's game featured Josh Nunes at quarterback, Zach Ertz at tight end and Stepfan Taylor rushing for his career-high. Tyler Gaffney was off playing baseball and Kevin Hogan was still a gleam in Shaw's overall point of view. Stanford was ranked No. 22.

Stanford had lost two of its previous three games; Cal had won its previous two games, including a convincing victory over UCLA.

The Cardinal, however, started an eight-game winning streak with its 21-3 win over the Bears last year. California finished the year with five consecutive losses.

Following the Big Game, Stanford will host Notre Dmae on Nov. 30 at 4 p.m. Beating the Bears and Irish should put Stanford in the running for a BCS bowl.

"There's a possibility we can still get into a good bowl game," Cardinal cornerback Wayne Lyons said. "We want to make sure we do everything we can."

Big Game week always help.

"The energy before the game is pretty incredible," Stanford defensive tackle David Parry said. "You can actually feel the rivalry."

Despite Cal's lack of success this season, Stanford won't be overlooking the Bears.

"The loss to USC is motivation enough," Parry said. "We have no room to let up and take it easy on somebody. Cal is a better team than their record shows."

Shaw's sentiments exactly.

"We're looking at a team with athletes," he said. "Regardless of the record they have good skill players and can put points on the scoreboard quickly."

NOTES: Stanford will be without cornerback Alex Carter, who sustained a mild concussion against USC. Shaw said he was being held out for precautionary purposes and should be fine for Notre Dame. Devon Carrington will replace him, with Ronnie Harris and Barry Browning also rotating in . . . Shaw also announced that Stanford's Shannon Turley was named National Strength Coach Association's Coach of the Year. "He pushes them hard during the offseason. He makes them hurt, but makes them better," Shaw said. "Our health is a direct result of that." . . . Cardinal placekicker Jordan Williamson is questionable for the game. He tried to warm up against the Trojans and couldn't go. Williamson visited a doctor to determine exactly what's the problem. He should kick against Cal, but will test his leg first . . . Tyler Gaffney and Ty Montgomery were held out of practices earlier in the week to help each of them recovering from bumps and bruises . . . Offensive guard David Yankey is one of six semifinalists for the 2013 Outland Trophy, announced during a reception hosted by the Greater Omaha Sports Committee, joining of host of Cardinal players who advanced onto semifinal watch lists . . . Trent Murphy, who leads the nation in sacks, was not among the semifinalists for the Dick Butkus Award. Shyane Skov was on the list.

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