Monday, November 14, 2005
Logic often takes a vacation during Big Game week, and apparently it caught a flight out of town Saturday night. Here are a few of the oddities for Saturday's 108th meeting between Cal and Stanford:
-- Neither team has named a starting quarterback for the game.
-- The game is at Stanford, which seems to benefit Cal.
-- Cal is behind Stanford in the standings and the Bears' only win in their past five games was a squeaker at home against last-place Washington State, yet Cal is listed as the favorite Saturday.
-- Bowl destinations for both teams rest on the result, but it is Cal, which is tied for fifth in the Pac-10, that has clinched a bowl berth, and Stanford, which can finish no lower than fourth, might not go to a bowl.
Tackling the issues one at a time: The quarterbacks: Although Joe Ayoob probably will start again for Cal, coach Jeff Tedford is contemplating starting Steve Levy. After completing 59.2 percent of his passes with three interceptions in his first five starts, Ayoob is hitting 42.8 percent with 11 picks in the past four games. Trent Edwards will start for Stanford if his injured left hand is healed enough for him to take snaps. If not, the job goes to T.C. Ostrander, who has completed 44.8 percent of his passes. Given Stanford coach Walt Harris' reluctance to talk about injuries, the Cardinal starter might not be known until game time.
The home-field disadvantage: Stanford is 4-1 on the road, but 1-3 at home, including devastating losses to UC Davis and UCLA. The Pac-10 in general has not been kind to home teams. Of the 35 conference games this season, 20 have been won by the road team, including four of five Saturday.
Switching favorites: On Oct. 2, Cal was 5-0 and ranked No. 10. Stanford was 1-2 and coming off crushing home losses to UC Davis and Oregon. What had been predicted in preseason seemed to be taking place, with Cal picked to finish second and Stanford ninth. Now, though, it is impossible for the Bears to finish ahead of Stanford. The Cardinal's momentum and Cal's recent quarterback problems would seem to make Stanford the pick for Saturday. Surprise, oddsmakers have installed the Bears as a four-point favorite, at least for the moment.
The bowls: Let's begin with the simplest bowl scenario: If Stanford wins the Big Game, the Cardinal are a good bet to go to the Insight Bowl and could play Harris' former team, Pittsburgh, although they more likely would face West Virginia or South Florida. That result probably would leave Cal in the Emerald Bowl at SBC Park in San Francisco, conceivably against No. 15 TCU, but more likely against New Mexico or Colorado State.
If Cal wins the Big Game, the Bears probably would end up in the Insight Bowl, and Stanford would have to beat Notre Dame the following week to get a bowl invitation, which might be to the Emerald Bowl.
Awaiting the outcome of the Big Game as well as the Arizona-Arizona State and Oregon State-Oregon games is the Emerald Bowl, which is positioned to get a Bay Area Pac-10 team, but also could wind up without a Pac-10 team at all; the Emerald Bowl folks want Oregon State and Arizona State both to win. If it cannot get a Pac-10 team, the Emerald Bowl might make a play for Fresno State or an Atlantic Coast Conference team such as Clemson or Virginia to match against a Mountain West team.
If Stanford upsets Notre Dame on Nov. 26 in Palo Alto, it will shake up the BCS apple cart and could mess up the Pac-10 bowl pecking order as well. The Irish are virtually assured a BCS at-large berth, probably in the Fiesta Bowl, if they win their last two games against Syracuse and Stanford. That would leave one at-large berth to the four BCS games, with Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon and Virginia Tech being the top contenders for that remaining spot.