A win in the "Big Game" over the Cardinal would give the Bears bowl eligibility
The No. 22 Cardinal (7-3, 6-2 Pac-12) have dominated the rivalry over the past decade, winning seven in a row against the Bears and eight times in the past 10 seasons. Stanford seems well-equipped to keep it going, coming into the game with a scoring defense (21.4 ppg) that ranks second in the Pac-12.
California (5-5, 2-5) must prevail in one of its final two games to become bowl eligible for the second time in three seasons. California hasn't traveled an easy road in Pac-12 play. Injuries have hit the Bears hard, with 11 different players knocked out for the season so far this fall.
Stanford owns a 62-46-11 lead in the rivalry series with California. The Cardinal's current seven-game winning streak equals its longest such streak over the Bears.
California at Stanford
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Stanford –16
Three Things to Watch
1. Love making a Heisman Push
Can Bryce Love (above, right) end Stanford's string of second-place finishers in the Heisman Trophy chase? The junior running back is doing everything he can to keep his name in the minds of Heisman voters across the nation.
Love took center stage in Stanford's 30-22 upset win over then-No. 9 Washington. He earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors for the third time this season after rushing for 166 yards and three touchdowns. He extended his FBS-leading touchdown streak to 11 games and finished with more than 140 yards for the eighth time in nine games this season.
It's easy to see that Love has a valid argument to win the Heisman Trophy in 2017. No other running back can touch what he has accomplished this fall. Love leads the nation with 8.96 yards per carry and 1,622 total rushing yards. Love has ripped off 10 runs of at least 50 yards through nine games.
Only one team, Washington State, has managed to hold the junior under 100 rushing yards in 2017.
2. Laird on the rise
In just a few games, Patrick Laird has risen from a third-string walk-on running back to a force to be reckoned with in the California backfield.
Laird enjoyed his finest performance to date in a 37-23 victory over Oregon State, rushing 33 times for a career-high 214 yards. That rushing total ranks in the Top 10 for single-game performances in the Pac-12 this season. Laird also had the 10th-best single-game rushing performance in California history and totaled the most rushing yards by a Bears player since Jahvid Best rushed for a school-record 311 yards against Washington in 2008.
Laird is closing in on a 1,000-yard rushing season, with 796 yards in nine games. His emergence offers a nice balance to the production of quarterback Ross Bowers. Currently, Bowers ranks in the top 25 among FBS quarterbacks in completions per game (22.70), passing yards (2,615) and passing yards per game (261.5).
3. Defensive disruption
Turnovers are guaranteed to play a huge role in the Big Game this season, as both Stanford and California excel at getting opponents to cough up the ball.
The Cardinal lead the Pac-12 in turnover margin by a large margin. Stanford has gained 20 turnovers this season while giving the ball away only nine times. That plus-11 turnover margin is tied with No. 1 Alabama for eighth among FBS teams. The Cardinal did not commit a turnover against Washington and have committed more than one turnover against only two opponents — San Diego State and Oregon — so far this season.
California is tied for eighth nationally in turnovers gained, with 22 takeaways. The Bears have 13 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries, ranking in the top 20 among FBS teams in both defensive categories. They are 4-0 when winning the turnover battle this season.
The only problem for California is that it gives up the ball almost as often on offense as the defense takes it away. The Bears have totaled four turnovers over their last three games and have committed 13 turnovers in seven Pac-12 games.
Traditionally, the Big Game can be counted on to provide tightly contested games and dramatic finishes; a total of 52 games between Stanford and California been determined by one touchdown or less. However, this hasn't been the case in recent seasons. The Bears have lost by an average of 21.9 points in their last seven games against the Cardinal. Stanford has big-play capability behind Love and quarterback K.J. Costello that California will be hard pressed to contain.
Prediction: Stanford 34, California 21
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.