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California Golden Bears vs. Stanford Cardinal Preview and Prediction

Kevin Hogan

Kevin Hogan

The California Golden Bears will travel 38 miles south along San Francisco Bay to face their archrivals. They have two goals to accomplish by winning the Big Game. First of all, they can secure their first winning season since 2011. Secondly, they can ruin their neighbors' chance of clinching the Pac-12 North Division on the field.

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Stanford's loss to Oregon appears to have killed any chance of reaching the College Football Playoff. However, the Cardinal still control their own path to win the Pac-12 North. A loss to Cal means relying on the Trojans or Beavers to pin a third conference loss on Oregon. 

The Big Game has been played every season starting in 1946. Stanford holds an overall advantage in this series, 48-40-6. As for games in Palo Alto, the Cardinal lead 26-19-1.

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California at Stanford

Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Stanford -11

Three Things to Watch

1. Crush the Rush versus Rush to Crush

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A key to victories for Stanford this season has been suppressing the running game of its foes. When the Cardinal have held opponents to fewer than 200 yards gained on the ground, they have won all eight times. They lost both games when allowing more than 200 yards on the ground.

The amount of yards gained on the ground has factored into most of Cal's victories. The key number is 139. The Bears have lost four out of the five contests in which have gained fewer than that. In contrast, when equaling or exceeding that, they have won all five times.

2. Protect the Ball

It is a cardinal rule (pardon the pun) yet true nonetheless: teams that do not turn over the ball greater improve their chances to win. Stanford turned over the ball twice or more in four games; half of those resulted in their two losses.

Cal has forced 24 turnovers through ten games. In the seven games in which the Bears took away the ball from the opposition at least twice, they won five of those. The Bears need to pick off some passes or recover some fumbles to keep the score close in Palo Alto.

3. 30-Point Barrier

Over the course of the season, 30 points has served as the threshold of victory for the Bears. Cal's record when scoring at least that many is 6-0. The Bears lost all four games when the opposition held them below 30 points.

Stanford has allowed opponents to score 30 or more only three times. One of those was a loss.

Final Analysis

Stanford has to rebound after losing a heart-breaker at home. The Cardinal need to tune out what they cannot control, namely, the fleeting possibility of advancing to the College Football Playoff. They must focus on what they can accomplish on their own: grabbing the Pac-12 South title. If the playoffs are out of reach, at least a Pac-12 conference crown and a trip to the Rose Bowl would serve as nice consolation prizes.

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Cal will have no sympathy for the Cardinal. In fact, the Bears are dying to guarantee themselves a wining season while snapping the five-game losing streak to their cross-bay foes. The game will be a nail-biter but Stanford's edge in talent will prove to be the difference.

Prediction: Stanford 38, California 33

— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.