Stanford gets its trip to the Rose Bowl this season and the Cardinal could very well be playing the conference champion. But, the showdown won't be for the Pac-12 title and the Cardinal will be missing one of its key players.
Stanford (6-5, 4-4 in the Pac-12) claimed bowl eligibility for the sixth year in a row as senior running back Remound Wright ran for four touchdowns in a 38-17 victory over host California last Saturday in the 117th edition of the Big Game at Memorial Stadium to take the Axe for the fifth consecutive season.
Six straight years of reaching a bowl game matched Stanford's longest streak of six-win seasons since the Great Depression.
Which bowl game the Cardinal will play in remains to be seen and depends upon the results of this weekend, when the Cardinal meets host UCLA at 12:30 p.m. Friday, and the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 5.
Stanford will be playing the Bruins without wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who suffered a shoulder injury against the Golden Bears. The Cardinal hopes to get him back for the bowl game.
"We take the mindset that the next man up is the best man up," Stanford safety Jordan Richards said. "You have to replace him and we have a talented group of receivers who can do so. We have to pick him up."
The conference has contracts to fill seven bowl spots and there are currently eight teams who are bowl-eligible, with Oregon State and California needing a win to make it 10.
The Rose Bowl game serves as one of the semifinal rounds of the BCS playoff system this year. Oregon (10-1, 7-1) likely will be there unless the Ducks fall out of the top four.
Should Oregon get beat in the next two weeks, no Pac-12 team will appear in the Rose Bowl game and the conference champion will be sent to another of the top bowls.
Stanford, unless it upsets the No. 9 Bruins (9-2, 6-2), will be relegated to a minor bowl game unless the Foster Farms Bowl committee thinks the Cardinal will help fill up Levi's Stadium on Dec. 30.
Stanford has beaten the Bruins six straight times, including the Pac-12 Conference title game in 2012.
The Cardinal has the eighth-best record in the conference, which means it could be slim pickings. At best, Stanford is looking at the Las Vegas Bowl or Cactus Bowl.
A win over UCLA would brighten the outlook. The Bruins would miss the Pac-12 championship game if they lose and probably would end up in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. The winner of the Arizona-Arizona State game would advance to the conference title game should UCLA falter.
"We still look at each other as rivals to a certain degree," Stanford coach David Shaw said of the Bruins. "We look at both L.A. schools that way. It's not as close in proximity as Cal, but it is a rivalry in and of itself. This rivalry is special and it has its own unique slant."
Stanford enters the game ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense (16.5), sixth in total defense (289.7) and 10th in passing defense (176.9).
The Cardinal has allowed 30 or fewer points in 33 of its past 34 games and its 93-game streak of scoring at least 10 points is intact.
"This game is huge for us, regardless of what it means to them," Richards said. "It's a good team, a team that has been successful throughout the year. It comes down to being in the right place at the right time and making plays when they do come."
Blake Martinez, who had two interceptions and forced a fumble, led a stout Cardinal defense, which held Cal to 17 points. Martinez became the first player to record two picks in the Big Game since 2001.
Kevin Hogan finished 15-of-20 passing for 214 yards and rushed for 46 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.
The rushing score was Wright's first in five games and third on the season, while also marking the fourth time Stanford scored on its opening drive in as many contests.
Stanford's late first-quarter punt came after it failed to score against Cal for the first time in five drives dating to 2013. Prior to punter Ben Rhyne's debut, Stanford had scored on 11 of its past 15 drives against Cal.
Wright is the first Stanford player to score four rushing touchdowns in a game since Stepfan Taylor ran for four scores against Arizona in 2010.