The Biggest Game: Cal-Stanford 2009 and the Bay Area Football Hierarchy
Something tumultuous can happen this weekend in northern California.
No, it has nothing to do with UC Berkeley's protests against the Regents' 32 percent tuition fee hike; nor does it have anything to do with the fact that Cal's Memorial Stadium is located on a fault line.
However, one foundation does have a chance to undergo a seismic shock on Saturday—and it is that of the Bay Area's college football hierarchy, which has so far been largely set in stone since 2002.
It used to be nice and easy to tell which was dominant football program, as former Stanford coaches Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris combined to go 16-40 (and needless to say, bowl-less) on the Farm between 2002 and 2006—accumulating just one more win between them than the number Jeff Tedford amassed during his first two years in Berkeley.
Meanwhile, the battle for the Axe had become such a joke in recent years that the boys from Berkeley beat the Cardinal 27-3 on the road while using a third string quarterback in 2005.
Enter fiery, no-nonsense coach Jim Harbaugh.
In his first year on the Farm, he led the Cardinal to an upset over a loaded (albeit floundering) Bears team.
But he has done more than give his team a fluke win; he has returned the program to relevance and bowl contention (potentially for one in Pasadena) in 2009, which has more than earned him his private $50,000 bathroom.
In a year where Cal was once again smelling Roses during the preseason, he debunked the notion that the Bears shall be the Bay Area's team to shake up the Pac-10.
His squad has already triumphed over Pete Carrol & Co. at the Coliseum not once, but twice—and it's difficult to decide which victory was more shocking.
After vanquishing the Trojans (and college football gamblers everywhere) as a 41-point underdog in 2007, Stanford dropped 55 points, 27 in the first quarter, on USC this past Saturday.
The victory, which is starting to make Cal's 2003 upset a more and more distant memory, came just one week after pouring 51 on an Oregon squad that had embarrassed the Bears in Eugene.
Thus, over the course of two games against the leaders of the nation's toughest conference, the Cardinal left the college world speechless. In consecutive weeks against the Ducks and Trojans, the Bears were left touchdown-less.
And the talent gap that was so cavernous between the two schools is starting to shrink, as well—and can continue to do so assuming Harbaugh doesn't bolt.
After all, it has been the running back from Palo Alto who has shredded the conference, while recording his best performances against top opponents to become a Heisman contender.
It has been young gunslinger Andrew Luck who has played like a seasoned veteran, while veteran Kevin Riley from Berkeley has resembled a freshman at times.
Indeed, Stanford's step (nay, leap) forward this year has helped make the 112th edition of the Big Game a competitive rivalry again. The Cardinal's impressive 7-3 record marks the first time since 1993 that both rivals entered the contest above .500.
This Saturday, however, will be more than just the battle for the Axe, as the title of the Bay Area's hottest college football program is potentially at stake.
Cal is currently in possession of both, but its grasp may be on shaky ground.
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