Neither Washington State nor California expected to be fighting to stay out of the Pac-12 North cellar after enjoying promising starts to the season. Still, that's what is at stake for both teams when they face off this weekend.
The Cougars (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) have not been the same team since suffering a come-from-ahead loss to UCLA in their league opener. Washington State subsequently got drilled by Utah and dropped close games to Arizona State and Oregon. Now, following a bye week, the Cougars are looking for ways to shore up a defense that is giving up a league-worst 512.6 yards per game to Pac-12 opponents.
A four-game losing streak has taken the Bears (4-4, 1-4) from a Top 25 team to facing a real possibility of missing out on a bowl game for the third time in four seasons. Everything bottomed out for California in a 35-0 loss to Utah two weeks ago. The Bears totaled 83 yards against the Utes and were shut out for the first time since 1999. Over the last four games, California has averaged a dismal 10.3 points per game.
California holds a 47-28-5 lead in the all-time series with Washington State. The Bears have won the last two games they have hosted in the series.
Washington State at California
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Washington State –8
When Washington State Has the Ball
Moving the ball has not been an issue for the Cougars even while dropping four of their last five contests. Getting stops has been the team's Achilles heel. Washington State gave up a game-winning touchdown in the final minute against Arizona State and allowed Oregon to drive and set up a game-winning field goal on the final play.
Anthony Gordon continues to bust out the usual eye-popping stats week after week. Gordon is the Pac-12's top passer, throwing for 3,387 yards and 32 touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his pass attempts. He has thrown for at least 400 yards in six of his eight starts. Easop Winston Jr. has been Gordon's favorite target with 606 yards and nine touchdowns on 50 receptions. Winston, Brandon Arconado (591 yards), and Dezmon Patmon (537 yards) are all within striking distance of having a 1,000-yard season.
California owns the No. 2 pass defense in the Pac-12 behind Utah, allowing just 212.9 yards through the air per game. Getting Max Borghi some extra carries could end up being the x-factor against the Bears. Borghi has run for 566 yards and seven touchdowns through eight games. He averages 7.3 yards per carry and has three 100-yard games to his credit in 2019.
When California Has the Ball
Since starting quarterback Chase Garbers went down with a shoulder injury in late September, California has gone into full hibernation mode on offense. Forget about scoring points. Even generating first downs is a chore for the Bears. California ranks dead last among Pac-12 teams in virtually every major offensive category.
Garbers has received clearance to finally do some football drills, but he won't be available to start against Washington State. That means either Devon Modster or Spencer Brash will get the call at quarterback. Brash made his first start against Utah and threw for 47 yards on 7-of-19 passing. Modster hasn't fared much better in his three starts, totaling 364 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. The junior has completed just 46.1 percent of his pass attempts this season.
Christopher Brown Jr. might be the closest thing to an offensive weapon for California at the moment. Brown has tallied 504 rushing yards so far this season. But the junior has experienced a major drop-off in production as the season has progressed. Brown has averaged just 2.9 yards per carry over his last six games after averaging 5.3 in Cal's first two games.
Both Washington State and California are in a desperate situation after once entering Pac-12 play ranked in the Top 25. Each team needs wins in two of their final four contests to get bowl eligible. The Cougars seem better equipped to get there. Washington State has some defensive weaknesses, but it is still potent enough on offense when it needs to be. The Bears are an absolute mess on that side of the ball. Short of shutting the Cougars out, there isn't much hope for California to win this one.
Prediction: Washington State 24, California 10
— 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.