Stanford vs. Cal: 4 Reasons Why the Big Game Might Be Closer Than You Think

Kevin LeeCorrespondent IOctober 20, 2012

Stanford vs. Cal: 4 Reasons Why the Big Game Might Be Closer Than You Think

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    The No. 20 Stanford Cardinal (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) travel into Bear territory on Saturday to take on the California Golden Bears (3-4, 2-2 Pac-12) in the 115th edition of the Big Game.

    The Cardinal are coming off a controversial 20-13 overtime loss against Notre Dame, while Cal beat Washington State 31-17 last week. 

    The Big Game is a crucial for both teams, and not only because it's one of the most storied rivalries in all of college football.

    Stanford sorely needs a win to prove that they can win on the road.

    With a win, Cal will drop their losing record to go 4-4 and 3-2 in the Pac-12.

    Although Stanford seems to be the much better team on paper, the Big Game will prove to be a close, competitive matchup, and here's why.

Cal Has Momentum

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    The Golden Bears managed to win consecutive games for the first time this season win their win over Washington State.

    A win against Stanford would mean three in a row against FBS teams, which hasn't happened since 2009.

    Quarterback Zach Maynard seems to have turned the corner after a mediocre start to the season. He rushed for a season-high 78 yards last week and threw for five touchdowns in his last two games. His decision-making still needs work as he threw two picks against Washington State.

    Maynard will have to be on top of his game against a Stanford defense that surely will be looking to knock him down. With his tendency to hold the ball for too long, don't be surprised if he gets shaken up by hard-hitters Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov.

    Cal's rushing defense has also found a groove lately.

    So far in October, they've only allowed an average of 82 yards per game, which is good enough for second in the Pac-12 (only behind Oregon State).

    The defense will have to turn in another good performance against Stanford's star running back, Stepfan Taylor.

Stanford's Road Woes

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    There's no doubt that Andrew Luck is missed by Stanford fans. Josh Nunes has not been able to lead the Cardinal to single road win this season.

    On the road, Nunes has a dismal completion percentage of 48.4 and has thrown three interceptions over two games.

    The entire Stanford offense has been bad away from home. They haven't scored an offensive touchdown and only average 147.5 yards per game.

    To avoid another loss, the offense needs to perform much better, and it all starts with Nunes, even though Stanford has a great running back in Stepfan Taylor.

    Because Cal has such a great rushing defense, Nunes will need to be a passing threat to keep the defense honest. With two of the best tight ends in the nation, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, Nunes really shouldn't be struggling so much. 

    With a loss on Saturday, the Cardinal will have lost two in a row, which hasn't happened since 2009.

Keenan Allen

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    The star of Cal's offense, wide receiver Keenan Allen, may be the most important player for the Bears in the Big Game. He recorded 166 yards and a touchdown against Washington State last week. 

    Already known as one of the best wide receivers in the Pac-12, Allen is going up against a shaky Stanford secondary this week.

    Look for him to have a tremendous game against the Cardinal.

    In his time at Cal, he hasn't witnessed the team bring home the Axe, and this may be his last opportunity if he elects to go to the NFL next year. 

    Also, Allen has the chance to break the school record for career receptions.

    With seven more receptions on Saturday, he'd break Geoff McArthur's record. And what better place to do so than Memorial Stadium in what might be his last Big Game of his college career.

It's a Rivalry

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    Anything can happen in college football, even more so in a rivalry game.

    The Big Game Is one of the most played rivalries in FBS history, tied for ninth, and Stanford leads the series at 57-46-11. 

    This year's matchup is the earliest meeting between the two teams since the very first game in 1892.

    Will we see Cal upset No. 20 Stanford?

    Only once since 2001 has an unranked team beaten a ranked team in the Big Game. It will be a closer matchup than most think, and the spread shows that. The Golden Bears are only two point underdogs.

Prediction

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    Stanford is the better team and should be able to beat Cal to extend their Big Game winning streak to three.

    Josh Nunes will do just enough to lead his team to victory on the road, and Stepfan Taylor will once again show that he's a premier running back.

    Cal will be able to make the game competitive, but it all depends on whether Zach Maynard can make the right decisions with the ball in his hands.

    Keenan Allen will run over the Stanford secondary and also break the school's record for career receptions.

    It all comes down to which team is more focused.

    Don't be surprised if Cal upsets Stanford if Nunes lays another egg.

    Also, a Cardinal blowout of the Bears wouldn't be too shocking either. They are looking to redeem themselves after an emotional loss to Notre Dame and definitely have the tools to crush Cal.

    Prediction: Stanford 27 - California 24